Breaking the Cycle and Becoming a More Nurturing Father
Julio’s life was turned upside down when he lost his two-year-old daughter to gun violence while she was in the care of her mother. Julio then entered the Compadre Y Compadre program, run by United Way Partner The Children’s Shelter, after a recommendation from Child Protective Services.
“I have to be the voice for my daughter and speak for her, so having Compadre y Compadre in my life has definitely helped me understand that I am not alone,” Julio said.
Julio found a support system that helped him through this difficult time by connecting with other fathers in the program. They meet once per week and discuss whatever issues they are dealing with at home, all for the sake of learning to become better parents. “It really is just a bunch of fathers wanting to do better,” he says. “We have to get over this stereotype that we have to be perfect parents. It’s not to tell us that we’re bad parents, it’s to make us better ones. It’s just to make us more self-aware of ourselves and of our parenting for our children and breaking cycles.”
Julio became a father at a very young age with his first child. Coming from a broken home, he wishes that he had programs like this when he was first becoming a father. The biggest surprise that Julio discovered in the program: He was an authoritative parent and a self-described ‘my way or the highway’ father. Growing up, he thought that was the way it was meant to be.
“That was the machoism of ‘I pay all the bills, I put clothes on everyone and that’s my only job’,” Julio says. “I wasn’t even thinking about being a nurturing father as I do today. If I didn’t have this program, I would have thought that being a provider and a protector was enough, and it is not. It’s about nurturing your children.”
Now, his eyes are opened to a new way of being a father. His relationship with his son today is what he wanted for many years from his own father. “The same relationship that I deeply wanted with my father, I have that now with my son. And that is life-changing not only for me but for him. It has broadened my son’s view on life, his dreams, his goals, his ambitions, and he’s only five years old.”
United Way provides this support to families through the Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) grant. Through HOPES, United Way can provide a variety of services for families with children ages 0 to 5 years old. This is a critical time frame for children and parents, as 90% of a child’s brain develops in the first five years of life.
Compadre Y Compadre, one of the programs made possible through United Way and HOPES, aims to strengthen the male caregiver’s role as a father, provider and teacher. This 15-week program helps participants build their parenting knowledge, which enables them to build stronger, more nurturing relationships with their children and families.
Julio is especially grateful for how the lessons he has learned have brought him closer to his children.
“It is about having that relationship where they can come to you and talk to you about anything that they are feeling,” Julio said. “It’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to be sad or it’s okay to feel any type of way. It’s having that relationship now with them so I can help them process their feelings. That’s one of the biggest things that I get to enjoy today is that my parenting skills have changed.”
Services like this don’t just help parents become better caregivers for their children, they can also help prevent tragedies like what happened with his daughter.
“It was very unfortunate and it could have been prevented,” Julio says. “That’s why I support programs like this. She was shot by the boyfriend and if maybe the mother or him would have known more about taking care of children they wouldn’t have had guns around.”
United Way invests in programs like this that support families like Julio’s. HOPES programs offer vital resources for families like home visiting services, parent support groups, parent education, early literacy promotion and more. Services like this help parents connect with their children and develop their parenting skills.
With the support he received, Julio has been empowered to be the best version of himself that he can be for his children. He is breaking a cycle he inherited from his own father and has built a foundation of compassion for his children. Now, he wants to serve as a mentor in the Compadre y Compadre program and hopes that fathers everywhere can find the same support he found.
“I hope it births many programs for fathers. It has helped me understand that there is no perfect parent, but that a trying parent is an awesome one.”