The group investigated for this paper is the Nurturing Father's Program. I encountered the Nurturing Fathers Program while working for my state's child protective services division (DCFS). The NFP is an evidence-based, 13-week training course designed to teach parenting and nurturing skills to men. Each 2 1/2-hour class provides proven, effective skills for healthy family relationships and child development" (Nurturing Fathers, 2012). The goal of the program is to help men transform themselves into nurturing fathers by enabling cognitive, behavioral, and affective changes in the group participants. The NFP program has been used successfully in a wide variety of contexts, including, but not limited to schools, preschools, churches, government child-safety programs, and the military.
This particular NFP group meets at First Presbyterian Church, 270 Franklin Street, Quincy, MA on Tuesday evenings from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. There is no charge for participation, and group participants are given dinner. At this location, there are about 20 participants in the group. They ranged in age from 26 to 55. They were an ethnically diverse group, consisting of a mix of American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African-American, Hispanic or Latino, White, and some other ethnicities. Most of them are fathers, although some of them are male caregivers who are not biological fathers. Furthermore, the men have various relationships with their children or the children in the home; some of the men are custodial parents, while others have visitation rights. Moreover, the men came from various parts of the social spectrum. At the time of my observation, one of the fathers was a physician going through a divorce, while some of the fathers had criminal histories. Not surprisingly, many of the men had committed domestic violence offenses. What they all had in common was that they were seeking to change their behavior in a positive way, to benefit their relationship with their children.
The overarching goal of the group is to enhance the parent-child relationship. It attempts to do so by targeting several areas for parenting enhancement. First, it focuses on the fathers, hoping to increase their own feelings of self-worth in the hope that doing so will increase their empathy, attachment, and ability to bond with their children. Next, it teaches appropriate disciplinary procedures and discourages the use of harsh or abusive disciplinary practices. NFP teaches age-appropriate developmental expectations (Nurturing Fathers, 2012). NFP facilitators help the fathers reach their goals by teaching them: how to structure safe, stable, loving families; how to discipline in a positive manner; how to communicate effectively in the family environment; how to stop fighting; anger management; problem-solving; and how to work as a team with the family unit (Nurturing Fathers, 2012).
Excerpts of process
For the excerpts of process, the facilitator will be referred to simply as "Facilitator" and the participants will be referred to with the use of an alias. Each of the excerpts features an instance where something occurred in the group that impacted group dynamics
Excerpt One: This occurred on the first day of a new session, and I overheard two of the participants talking.
John (leaning over to the guy next to him): Why are you here?
Bob: The judge won't let me see my kids unsupervised till I do this.
John: What happened?
Bob: My wife and I got in a fight, and things got out of hand.
John: Did you hit her?
John: See, here's your mistake. You didn't hit her hard enough. Hit her hard enough the first time, and the bitch isn't gonna call the cops, she's not gonna complain; she's just gonna do what you tell her to do.
Excerpt Two: This is the facilitator speaking to John from the excerpt above, several sessions later
Facilitator: How long has it been since you've seen your daughter?
John: Well, she's busy.
Facilitator: How long has it been?
John: I said she's busy.
Facilitator: And you haven't met your grandson, yet?
John: I told you she's busy.
Facilitator: Bob, we also know your daughter lives less than 10 minutes away from you. You aren't helping yourself or anyone else not being honest. How old is your grandson.
John: He's three, damnit, and he's the only reason I'm at this circus!
Excerpt Three: This occurred during a discussion of positive discipline
Abe: Now, I don't agree that spanking can't be part of positive discipline. I'm not talking about beating a kid; I'm just talking about a normal spanking.
Facilitator: What do
Mark (interrupting the facilitator): Abe, where you spanked as a kid?
Abe: Yeah, all the time. And I turned out okay.
Mark: No you didn't. None of us here, did. Men who turned out okay don't have to go to classes to learn how to be dads. So, shut up, listen to the facilitator, and, god's sakes, quit hitting your kids.
Dave: I get what you're saying about trying to get along with your ex-for the kids' sake, but you don't know my ex- it's impossible.
Fred: They're all impossible.
Dave: The bitch is sleeping with my cousin. How am I supposed to get along with someone who is sleeping with my cousin?
Facilitator: Are your kids clean?
Facilitator: Are your kids clean?
Facilitator: Does she keep them fed?
Facilitator: Is there homework done? They doing well in school?
Facilitator: Their house clean?
Dave: Dude, you're missing the point. She's having sex with my cousin.
Facilitator: No, dude, you're missing the point. What you're telling me is that what she's done to you is more important to you than how she takes care of your kids, and what I'm telling you is that your romantic relationship is apparently over. As you have pointed out several times, she is sleeping with your cousin. But she is still the mother of your kids, and it sounds like she's still doing a great job there.
Excerpt Five: This occurred in the context of the group members discussing the challenges that they faced in everyday parenting. There was much discussion about diapers, late night feedings, bed wetting and the other challenges parents face.
Kevin (scoffing): Bunch of whiners.
Kevin: You guys are a bunch of whiners. My baby cries. My baby shits its diaper. Whiners.
Dave: Were you even around when your kids were in diapers?
Kevin: I couldn't be there.
Abe: That's crap, Kevin. You made the choice to break the law; you made the choice to go to jail. You chose not to be there. So don't call me a whiner because I'm exhausted since I woke up at 3 this morning to clean my son's sheets, and then had him pee on me in my bed at 5. I'm tired, but I'm there.
The first excerpt reveals a conversation between two of the men, both of whom have apparently committed family violence. This is an interesting dynamic to bring into the group, and some might believe that a man with views like John's should be excluded. "Pregroup contact refers to the securing of appropriate members for the group that is being planned and the preparation for their participation in the group" (Malekoff, 2004, p.83). However, the reality is that men like John have children. Men like Bob are going to be in contact with men like John, men who do not hold other men accountable for violence, but who encourage violence. This is a dynamic that has to be dealt with. In fact, attitudes towards women can really impact parenting styles, particularly the father-daughter dynamic. No one directly addressed this exchange when it occurred. However, in excerpt two, the facilitator is challenging John, asking him about seeing his daughter. He was in the group because his daughter refused to even allow him to meet her son until he had completed some type of counseling. All these dynamics were revealed over the course of group work. Looking back, I have to agree with the facilitator's decision to allow some of these revelations to come organically.
One of the issues that occurred in this group, and which I understand occurs in many NFP programs, is the debate over the appropriateness of physical discipline, particularly spanking. In this scenario, it led to a confrontation between two of the members. Abe asked a legitimate question about spanking, one that was bound to occur in the context of the group, and the facilitator was prepared to answer that question when Mark interrupted. What is not conveyed in the script of the excerpt is that Mark's voice was raised and he was very upset. I made me think that the facilitator should have intervened, particularly since one of the group's rules was no interrupting. However, Mark clearly had some strong feelings about spanking, and it may have been just what Abe needed to hear. "In any confrontation, the task for the worker is to allow intense feelings to surface to the degree that the…