June 8, 2002 – The third annual Fathers' Night Out on Wednesday is expected to reach out to more men than ever in the territory, providing them an opportunity to join together and explore the challenges and rewards of fatherhood.
Fathers' Night Out, an outreach of the Fatherhood Collaborative of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, is timed each year to fall just before the observance of Father's Day. It's an entirely volunteer program in which individual men and men's groups host small gatherings of men in their homes, at work places, in churches, at social gathering spots or anywhere else that works.
"The focus of Fathers' Night Out is to really increase the community's awareness of what fatherhood is all about," Dee Baecher-Brown, CFVI executive director, said. The men typically spend between an hour and a half and two hours sharing their experiences as sons and as fathers and discussing their role within the community. "It's a sharing of how important men are in the lives of our children," she said.
Her husband, Richard Brown, is the force behind Fathers' Night Out. He said the meetings can sometimes help participants to see how they can do more for their children, and also can be a way for men wanting to help others to reach out to other men.
The goal of this year's Night Out is "100 groups and 1,000 men" across the territory, Baecher-Brown said. The first event, in 2000, had 53 group meetings reaching about 500 fathers. Last year, there were 23 meetings that reached nearly 300 men.
From the first year, seeds were sown at Fathers' Night Out that in several instances led to ongoing get-togethers by men who wanted to keep talking, and who found the small-group format valuable for give and take.
Brown, who changed careers from banking to teaching at Charlotte Amalie High School two years ago, said he believes it likely that many of the young men caught up in the local community are lacking a father or a father figure in their lives. "If we are to have any hope of keeping our communities and neighborhoods safe, it will require that we celebrate the importance of fatherhood and manhood," he said.
There is still time for men and men's groups to volunteer to host meetings throughout the territory on Wednesday night. Printed discussion guides will be provided to help hosts serve as facilitators for dialogue.
"In the past years," Baecher-Brown said, "we have had a real cross-section in participation." The program, she said, helps fathers who may not have a strong self-image realize the importance of their role in their children's lives.
Each Fathers' Night Out participant this time will receive a T-shirt emblazoned across the back with 10 Tips for Fathers. "Once you recognize the shirts," Baecher-Brown predicted, "you'll see them everywhere."
Twenty-four hours after Fathers' Night Out and three days before Father's Day, the Fatherhood Collaborative also will be hosting a visit to St. Thomas by Jonetta Rose Barras, author of the book "Whatever Happened To Daddy's Little Girl? — The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women." Barras will read from her book, sign copies for purchasers and engage in dialogue at a gathering set for 7 p.m. Thursday in Tillett Gardens.
Barras brings a woman's perspective to bear on the fatherhood issue, one reached after years of self-examination and study. "There are so many mothers parenting as single parents," Baecher-Brown said. "Sometimes it's a lot of work just to involve the father in the child's life."
Barras's book focuses on her own experiences in childhood and later through marriage, divorce and raising a daughter of her own, while also including accounts by many other black women. She writes that she had been abandoned by three different "fathers" by the time she was 8 years old. Her book identifies what she calls the "fatherless woman syndrome," and the ramifications of fatherlessness for women.
Brown said Barras's point of view is an important one that fathers need to understand. "Ms. Barras is a fresh voice for us," he said. "The conversation around fatherlessness is usually from a man's point of view."
Baecher-Brown said Fathers' Night Out is scheduled near Father's Day in an effort to acknowledge all fathers in the territory, and to celebrate those "good fathers in our community who are so often overlooked."
Although St. Thomas will be hosting the largest number of meetings on Wednesday night, groups also will be gathering on St. Croix, and a much larger number than previously will be getting together on St. John, Baecher-Brown said. St. John is a major participant in the program and boasts one of the longest-running fatherhood groups in the territory, she said.
Men and organizations interested in hosting or attending Fathers' Night Out gatherings who have not already made arrangements are asked to call the Community Foundation at 774-6031 on Monday.
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