Can a lifer in a Michigan prison become an effective father to his kids?
June 13, 2008
I thought about the question in the title for this post when I read this Detroit Free Press story by Jeff Gerritt about an inmate at the Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit. He writes about a 39-year-old inmate father who has a college age son who regards his father as a positive example to be copied.
The son talks with pride about his lifer dad and what he has meant in his life. The story raises the issue about prison dads and their importance to their kids.
I view the question from a couple of important perspectives. At the Deerfield Correctional Facility in Ionia, a team of volunteers and myself led a Long Distance Dads program from the National Fatherhood Initiative. We took groups of inmate dads through a 12-week program exploring fatherhood.
These inmate dad and grandfathers, young and old, black and white, married and unmarried, had a chance in a small group setting to examine their relationship with their own dads and then look at what a good dad looks like. For many of them, it was a struggle because they had no point of reference.
Most did not have a productive relationship with their own fathers, while many had no relationship at all.
The job description for a father, other than the biological portion, was a complete mystery for many.
Many would say that kids are better without such perceived losers as fathers. They see such men as being totally useless in the lives of their children.
How important was your father in your life? Be honest. Some can smile with pride. But many others frown when they think about their non-inmate fathers. They missed something and it was what their fathers had to give them.
Dads are important to their kids. Their role is vital to the development of their children.
For many of us, our father's absence left a gap in our lives that will never be filled. It's hard to talk about and it's something that most folks don't like listening to.
I'd love to hear both presidents candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, talk about their dads and what their role or non-role played in their lives.
This needs to be an issue on any candidate's agenda.
But most don't have the courage to talk about it with transparency and vision.