Some fatherly help

BY EMILY INMAN | APRIL 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Before I shut my eyes to take a nap with my dad, I wrapped my hand around the plastic heart-shaped necklace I’d bought for him.

I figured this would ensure a wakeful tug if he got up to leave, but when I awoke my plan had failed. He was nowhere in sight.

I was only 3, but my heart beat as if it had endured years of stress. In time, I learned that during these periods of absence, my dad was out buying drugs. I felt fatherless for years and needed someone to fill that role.

MAD DADS, Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder, is an organization that provides fatherly role models for youth experiencing childhoods similar to mine. They also focus on decreasing gang violence, advocate for community development, and promote the sanctification of families. MAD DADS was founded in 1989 in Omaha by a group of African-American men hoping to give back to the community. Not only are these programs beneficial to the community, they are also essential.

Today, MAD DADS has chapters throughout the country and internationally, but it still maintains its grass-roots structure.

I spoke with Cedar Rapids chapter President Isaiah Jones on Thursday. He said he and other members wanted to start the chapter in order to concentrate on current problems in Cedar Rapids affecting the youth and community, mainly the Southeast Side. Current projects include after-school Little League baseball and basketball teams, exercise walks, door-to-door education, and other like activities, all of which are conducted by minority fathers volunteering their time and efforts. MAD DADS is also collecting surveys from the community to find out people’s needs and what they would like to see in the program.

But the group has many more goals in mind. The members would like to open a youth center in the area, a supervised environment in which youth can hang out and build positive connections. The community has a vital need for this center.

Many minority youth in the impoverished areas of Cedar Rapids return to an empty home after school because their single mothers work two jobs to make ends meet. They also return to an area that is not very safe for a youngster to be left home alone. In some cases, the home itself is unsafe because of drug and alcohol abuse or even child abuse and neglect. This results in children becoming lonely, neglecting their homework, and in many instances becoming involved in gang violence. The center would give kids a place to look forward to going to after school. It would also keep them active, engaged in homework, and safe away from gang and other violence.

Jones also hopes to get a program going in which kids could be hired for small chores or jobs — such things as cutting the grass, taking out trash, fixing up homes and community buildings, etc. The program would teach the kids responsibility, explained Jones, while at the same time beautifying the community and teaching them to appreciate the area.

Fathers are an important and essential part of a child’s life, especially for minority youth and, specifically, young black males. As I gravely know, it’s hard to grow up with a drug-abusing father.

The situation hampers a child’s ability to have fun, enjoy learning, and be safe.

Single-parent homes are equally as damaging. When the single mother, or in some cases father, works two jobs, the child needs another figure in the home to not only take care of them but to serve as a guide and role model as well.

My “uncle” Earl, one of my dad’s best friends, served as that father figure in my life for many years. He filled those voids left by my dad. Luckily my dad sobered up in 2001. But without uncle Earl being my fatherly role model during the years before my dad’s sobriety, I know I would not be the woman I am today.

However, for many of Cedar Rapid’s minority youth, a family member or friend is not available to fill that father void. That is why the MAD DADS program is essential.

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