Last Saturday morning, I surveyed a church sanctuary full of men of many shapes, sizes and descriptions. They were dads, uncles, grandfathers and dad like persons. They had come from Charlotte and surrounding towns. This was the Man Up Charlotte Conference. These were men on a mission to address fatherlessness.
The leader asked those gathered to consider becoming more engaged with their own families and then reaching out to other kids who need father figures. Inspired by his words, these men prayed together, raised their arms in worship and sang along with the vibrant contemporary band. Eventually, some 400 men locked arms in a symbol of unity. It was moment full of emotion evident in the faces and heard in the voices of the men joined together. A call to action. A collective response.
In a time when others around our country are arguing about social issues ranging from immigration to gun control; and, where people are dividing themselves by economics, race and political party,
I watched as this body of men put away those differences. Together they focused on the one thing that might well help solve the other issues on the list. They focused on making the world a better place for the next generation. They discussed leading, coaching, and mentoring, but mostly they talked about taking action. In a county where race relations and economic mobility are stifling progress, I listened as these men challenged themselves to be part of the solution.
Former NFL stars told stories of how their own fathers had been essential to their growth and how their dads had been surrogate dads to other kids in the neighborhood. They spoke of coaches who had been role models and shown them the ‘right path”. They recalled that star athletes were often blessed with engaged coaches and mentors, but the kids without athletic ability, the quiet and unassertive ones often went without similar support. They appealed to men to find those kids – the ones who live down the street or sit in the back of the class – and connect.
Local pastors and other experts led discussions about accepting responsibility as men and becoming more effective as dads. They suggested ways to use their time, talent and treasure to reach children. One pastor spoke about the difference between a man who sees his children as an obligation and a “dad” who believes his kids are gifts. Speakers reminded us that in Mecklenburg County alone, there are some 41,000 homes where no father is present. Bottom line, they encouraged dads to “man up”.
With the conference leadership setting the tone, throughout the day I felt only positivity. No excuses. No pessimism. I heard affirmative reaction to a real need. I wondered why other groups struggle to come together like this? Why can’t others lock arms in support? The answer is the one that I have heard before – again and again. These men are “dads”. Ask them and they will tell you. Their highest priority is the welfare of their children. They seek to be what I call Be There Dads. They understand the power of presence. So, they begin with what they have in common rather than what keeps them apart. They share. They listen. They seek to understand. They learn. They find solutions. They commit to action – for their children.
I left the conference with optimism. I saw men who entered as strangers leave as brothers with a common purpose. I saw men commit to helping kids other than their own. Those transformations refreshed my faith in my fellow dads. I hoped that maybe soon we all can recognize that our neighbors live in places beyond our own cul-de-sacs. Perhaps if we can start with what we share, we can work through what we do not. Maybe the key to productive conversations is starting with “tell me about your kids”.
I know that not all the men in that sanctuary will take action. But I know some will. Some will change the way they engage their own children. Some will reach out to the “kid down the street”. For now, that will be enough. On Saturday, 400 men threw pebbles in the pond. Ripples of engagement began to spread. Ed Glover, the conference leader says we change the world “one block at a time.” At Be There Dad, we have once again heard our call to action – spreading the power of presence “one child at a time”.
Be There Dad was recognized by the Man Up Conference leadership as one organization that can help men become more involved in the lives of children. If you want to give your time, talent or treasure, please contact me at [email protected]