October 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW6

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Fatherhood . . . Classes for Unconventional Dads

This article describes educational programs taught by the Ohio State University Extension in Butler County, Ohio, for men yearning to establish roles of fatherhood. The issues identified are taken from program pre-/post-survey materials taught in the curricula to measure behavioral changes. Program graduates have shared how needs were met and expanded horizons on fatherhood.

James L. Jordan
Extension Agent-4-H Youth Development
Ohio State University Extension, Butler County
Hamilton, Ohio
Internet Address: jordan.247@osu.edu

Not there, Irresponsible, Inactive, Self-disappointed, Junkie Dad

Loving, Caring, Fun, Serious, Firm, Honest, Responsible

The above words are one unconventional father's descriptive view of himself in response to the question, "What are some words that describe you as a father?" The first line was his pre-survey description before the program began, and the second line was his post-survey words after 15 weeks of Fathering Skills classes (1 day per week for 1 hour). Other fathers in the class described themselves as: "protectors, understanding, gentle, unfulfilled, regretful, more aware, hopeful, attentive, sometimes impatient, sheltering, and teacher."

All the men who participated in the Fathering Skills classes were unconventional fathers and residents of the Butler County Juvenile Justice Rehabilitation Center (JRC) or the Southwest Ohio Serenity Hall, Inc. (SOS Hall), a rehab center for addicts. All the men had different fathering needs based on their age and the age of their children. Many had limited to no involvement in their children's lives.

Teen Fathers in JRC

The Juvenile Rehabilitation Center was built to serve eight southwestern Ohio counties. The teens have committed crimes that are not severe enough to send them to the Juvenile Department of Correction. However, they are severe enough to hold them back from society. The JRC is a boot camp setting composed of three wings for boys and one wing for girls. Each wing houses 10 to 12 residents. The residents attend year-round school, working on their GED and in counseling sessions detailing how their crimes have affected their victims and society.

There were 10 teen fathers in the first class. Five more teen fathers were added as others were court assigned to the JRC. The curriculum, developed by Purdue University's Douglas Powell (1994), is called "It's My Child Too!" The lesson plan of 6 to 8 week covers fathering skills that the teen fathers were lacking.

The participants each had at least one child under the age of three, and six were expectant fathers. Two of the teens were raised in single-mother households, four were raised in single-father households, eight were from two-parent households, and one had been a ward of the court for several years. Four were members of organized gangs.

A survey instrument was developed and reviewed by an Ohio State University Extension 4-H Youth Development specialist. Reading level was taken into consideration. The same survey was used at the end of the program to measure behavioral changes to the statements. Each teen was given a composition book to use as a journal. All journals were used weekly, recording information taught and participants' own personal thoughts about being teen fathers.

Key issues were identified in the survey. The first key issue was "A child has different behaviors based on the act being done by the child." The teens learned how an infant, a toddler, and a pre-school child can react differently to the same act. Many had not known that you do not shake a child. Those with toddlers learned not to explode when the child asks "why?" all the time but to just give the child an answer.

"Disciplining your child is teaching, not punishment" was the second key issue identified. Many only knew of one form of punishment (spanking) and were amazed at the different forms of discipline available. Many questioned the fact that disciplining is teaching because they had not recognized that before. Many only knew about punishment from spanking, hitting, or verbal abuse.

The third issue was "Diapering and toilet training your child takes a great deal of time and understanding." Many of the teen fathers thought diapering and toilet training was a mother's job. They did not see how effective a father could be in this area. A diaper derby was held using two life-like baby dolls to see if participants retained what they were taught by having them repeat the sequences of diapering.

The fourth key issue was "Dads need to play with their child." Playing with toys was foreign to them. A play box with inexpensive toys, games, and homemade play dough was assembled. They learned you can have fun without spending a great deal of money. Most important, they experienced what it was like to play with their child.

Throughout the unit many expressed interest in how child support payments were developed, where they were paid, and how they were used by the custodial parent. A search conducted on the Internet for a curriculum covering these issues resulted in the purchase of one from the University of Minnesota Extension.

Responsible Fathering Skills for Mature Fathers

The SOS Hall had been searching for a parenting program for their residents who would be returning to their families after completing the drug/alcohol rehab program. The SOS Hall staff met with Extension to evaluate the curriculum offerings to see which would be the best fit for their clients.

The SOS Hall serves men who have been addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Nearly all of the 35 men at the Second Street facility have been in prison for drugs and come from throughout the Ohio. All of the 36 Butler County men at the Fair Avenue facility had the same addiction but most been to county jail rather than prison. The age of the men ranged upward from 18. Each resident's term at the facility was 4 to 6 months.

The need for parenting classes was identified by the counseling staff because many of the men desired to improve their fathering skills. Most were being re-introduced to their families after long absences. Several curricula were reviewed and altered to meet the needs of the unconventional fathers.

A survey of 25 statements was constructed to measure each participant's response. The survey was administered before the first class and again at the end of the course to measure behavioral changes. An Ohio State University Extension-Program Development and Evaluation specialist reviewed the survey. Change in behavior could be noted by comparing the answers from the pre-surveys to the post surveys.

The first key issue was "There are barriers between me and the mother of my child." The men were taught how damaging it is to their children to argue in front of them. They were also taught to expect unexpected situations when they go to pick up their child due to the mother being in other relationships.

"Fathers who eat only fast food are teaching their children unhealthy eating habits" was the second key issue. The men were taught how to prepare foods that were fast, nutritious and economical. Living on fixed incomes, many of the fathers do not have the spare change to go to fast food restaurants. Preparing foods at home allows time for communication, teaching measuring skills, and trying different kinds of foods.

The third key issue was "Fathers lose power if they give children choices." Many of the men had no idea that giving children choices, within reason, allows children to make a decision and defend their choice. The power of choice is an important tool in decision making that will help develop critical thinking skills in children.

The final key issue was "In order for my children to learn what to do, I must punish them." Many of the men come from homes where this was the norm. They really changed their views after the "methods of communicating" lesson about enhancing listening skills.


The two groups (teen fathers & mature fathers) demonstrate the importance men place on their role of fathering. The lessons are designed primarily for the needs of the audience based on their responses to the surveys administered at the start. The curricula are designed "cafeteria style" so they can be altered and rearranged to meet the needs of the participants.

The views stated at the beginning of this article are typical of the fathers who have been served by the course. The program is being expanded to other agencies throughout the county. Program successes are the result of the teaching style and meeting the needs of the class participants.


Powell, D. R. (1994). It's my child too!: An educational program of The Father Project. Center for Families in collaboration with Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.