By Callie Langford
“The program gives you a different perspective on the way you’re parenting and the effect of your parenting. We get [fathers] to think about what it looks like when a 3-year-old looks up to a towering, upset father. It’s about being self-reflective.”
Jose Olazagasti, a Fatherhood Specialist at SAFE, says that in presenting these alternative perspectives to men and trying to bring awareness to those moments, they are helping them to understand the way they’re coming across to their kids. Then it becomes a tool to find a way to calm down and to be the more nurturing and healthy parent that kids need.
Jose’s role as Fatherhood Specialist means that he works one-on-one with fathers and facilitates fatherhood groups to help dads gain positive parenting and relationship skills, to prevent families from neglecting or abusing children and entering the Child Protective Services system.
When working with fathers, Jose says, “I don’t really like my title here… I’m not a specialist in this room. I’m a father. I’m just somebody who wants to have conversations about figuring out ways to be more nurturing. I can’t really recall the last time I just talked about stuff that worries me. It’s okay to voice those anxieties. Often in society and in our culture we don’t have space to do that.”
Jose says that a lot of his work with fathers has to do with encouraging self-care: “If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the energy or patience to take care of other people.”
Jose also mentions the importance of modelling behavior: “The foundation is modelling, being better for yourself and thus modelling good behavior for your kids, and giving a solid example of healthy ways of living… that’s part of prevention. Thinking about how am I living, how am I coming across in life? How do I interact with people and with my kids? What do my kids see? In modelling those habits and that healthy lifestyle, fathers can see what it takes to be a healthy individual in society. They can see that it’s okay to be emotionally nurturing towards your kids.
“I try to get them to think of moments that kids are mimicking, and the accuracy with which kids mimic and regurgitate the things they see and hear. You want those things to be good! But you have to be non-judgmental. You can’t put yourself under intense pressure. Kids will witness you being impatient or upset sometimes. It’s about balance!”
For the men who come into this program, Jose says that SAFE is “willing, no matter their past, to help them start from zero to improve. That’s our idea. We don’t ask many questions. If you’re here to be better, we’re here to work with you. But we must take full accountability for the past. I’m not here to acknowledge your blame game. You have to want to be more nurturing for kids. “
Jose, who speaks Spanish, is especially proud of starting a Spanish-language fatherhood group: “It seems like they haven’t had a room to talk about things in a manner that is relevant to them. It makes fathers more comfortable to be in a room where everyone speaks Spanish, and a few people might be from the same place as them. There’s a level of calm. It lends people to be more vulnerable and open. My main job in the first 5-10 minutes of the group is to remind everyone that no one is judging them and this is confidential. They realize they haven’t had those moments enough, and the struggle with language can be even more isolating.”
Jose admits it’s a bit different to have a man focused on fatherhood, who just works with men, in a domestic violence center, but says, “If there’s anybody that needs to be brought to the table, it’s men... to build self-awareness and acceptance, to get rid of denial and accept that there are consequences to their actions. Not every father has the same horrible story. Some are survivors themselves. Whether they come in individually or in a group, they all just want to try and get better.”
SAFE is a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, both long-standing and respected human service agencies in Austin serving the survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence. SAFE’s goal is ambitious and simple: stop abuse for everyone. Learn more about their merger here. Learn more about their services and programs, campuses, and locations of services at safeaustin.org.
CASA Partners Advocacy June 2017