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Reaching Out to Men

July 2001
By: Paula Smith
Brian is sitting on the floral-print sofa in your waiting room. His NASCAR sweatshirt and grease-stained jeans are a stark contrast to the tidy room with its dried-rose wreath and its watercolor painting of a mother nursing her baby.


Photo by Terry Wild

He nervously runs his fingers through his already disheveled hair. His right knee jiggles from a mixture of angst and anger. His eyes are wide with fear and pain.

As you step into the waiting room, he leans forward, almost imperceptibly, with a look of hope and then slumps back into the sofa. He is ashamed of what he has done; yet, he knows that he can't fix this problem and you can't fix this problem. No one can.

What do you say to the Brian's, Darrel's, and Jason's who sit in your waiting room?

For every woman your ministry serves, there is a man. He might be a boyfriend, a one-night stand, or even an abuser or rapist. Most of the guys you meet (or just hear about) will seem more like boys than men, but all of them are longing to be real men.

The problem is that most of them don't know how to be real men. Perhaps half of them have been reared without their fathers, and many of those who grew up with their fathers at home don't have healthy relationships with them. According to "Father Facts" (The National Fatherhood Initiative's compilation of research on the effects of fatherlessness), both adolescent males and females who grow up fatherless are more likely to participate in sexual activity at an early age and, thus, are also more likely to have children out-of-wedlock. At the same time, TV, movies, and sports have filled them with negative images of fatherhood and even manhood itself.

Now Brian, Darrel, and Jason are in your waiting room while counselors talk with their girlfriends. They have tried to show that they are men by having sexual intercourse, but things have not turned out as they expected. They are faced with a problem they are not equipped to solve and are experiencing emotions they don't know how to manage.

You have a genuine opportunity to help them grow into the men God has designed them to become. God's plan is for men to be the leaders in their families -- to be protectors and providers. It takes work to become a good father, even for those who seemingly have all the advantages, but all of the guys who walk through your doors have the potential to make it.

Take some time to evaluate how your center responds to guys.

*Are they welcome in your center?
*Are they surrounded by flowers, frills, and women's magazines, as Brian was, or will they find pictures, magazines, and brochures that are likely to appeal to them and make them feel not so out of place?
*Are your volunteers and staff comfortable talking with them?
*Has your staff been trained how to minister to guys according to their unique needs?
*What is the underlying attitude towards the guys?
*Do you have male volunteers and/or staff members?
*Do you have programs geared specifically for guys (counseling, support groups, parenting classes, post-abortion groups)?
*Do you have any incentives for birthfather participation?
*Are the birthfathers encouraged to be a part of the decision-making process for the child's future?
For every woman your
ministry serves, there is
a man. The problem is
that most of them don't
know how to be real men.

"Father Facts" also states: "Children who live absent their biological fathers, on average, are more likely to be poor; experience educational, health, emotional, and psychological problems; be victims of child abuse; and engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological mother and father." All these things put the fatherless at a disadvantage.

By learning more about the effects of fatherlessness, you will better understand the compounded damage that occurs when fathers and father-figures are absent across generations. The knowledge will help you minister more effectively to the young men and women who enter your center. Many of them will be suffering under the shadow of fatherlessness. All of them -- men and women -- are making decisions that will determine whether their children will be fatherless. They are looking to you to help them with these important decisions.

Work with your board to develop a vision for . Educate your board members on the issues and show them the needs you have encountered in the lives of your clients. Ministering to men is a natural outgrowth of your ministry to women and their children. Think of creative ways to start including them. Start with one or two ideas and build on them as you go.

Equip your staff to minister to men, and make your center a place where men are welcome. Have men evaluate your center's décor and make suggestions for making it more male-friendly. Recruit men from local churches to get involved with the center -- from maintenance to counseling. Just having men present in the center can put the guys more at ease. Consider holding a training seminar about ministering to men. (Loving and Caring has a seminar called "Defending the Cause of the Fatherless.") Develop relationships with local services for men -- church groups, local fatherhood initiatives, drug and alcohol abuse services, etc. Obtain counseling and educational resources that are geared for men.

We need to invite Brian to get off the waiting room sofa so we can counsel, disciple, and mentor him, teaching him how to be a man and a father. Every child has two parents. When we minister to their mothers and their fathers, everybody wins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paula E. Smith is Product Development Director for Loving and Caring, Inc., 1905 Olde Homestead Lane, Lancaster, PA 17601, a ministry providing support, training, and materials to life-affirming organizations. Paula can be reached at mail@lovingandcaring.org or by calling 717-293-3230.

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