Since 1896, Family Service of Greater New Orleans has offered an array of mental health counseling, psycho-educational and social service programs in the community, clients’ homes, and schools. It recently added a class called NOLA Dads to its long roster of services.
Lawrence is a father. A new father. He’s 22 years old, and his daughter, La’Naya, is one year old. He likes to tell her things.
“You important. you sweet. You kind. I love you," he says. "And then I repeat it about five times. That’s what I do. I do it all the time. Even when she sleep.”
Once a week, Lawrence takes a class on how to be a father. It’s called NOLA Dads.
“I’m glad I’m in here, because you know I’ve never been no daddy so I need to learn what I need to, learn to do what I got to do, to be able to be there, or whatever it is,” says Lawrence. “Might not have no money, might not be able to fat up with gifts, but as long as that love and caring count, I’m all about it. So there’s a whole lot more that I can learn.”
Lawrence’s NOLA Dads class is at the Day Reporting Center, which is part of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. It’s a program to reduce recidivism for people on probation and parole, a place where there are classes on anger management, employment and education. Lawrence’s Fatherhood class is run by Family Service of Greater New Orleans.
Patrick Carter is the facilitator for NOLA Dads. “Family Service finds a need to come back and help in the community," he says. "They noticed that all programs are geared toward women, so Family Service put something together to come out and help the males in the community.”
Through Family Service of Greater New Orleans, Carter teaches about eight classes, all around the city, every week.
“I find that us as males, we want help but we don’t want to be looked upon in a certain kind of way for asking for it,” says Carter. “Because society places us in a certain kind of role, so it’s kinda hard for us to say, 'Look I need help,' because we don’t want to be looked upon as weak or afraid or less of a man," he says.
“I mean, I’ve never been asked about how do I feel as a man about anything. Basically just suck it up, tough it up, and make it happen. As opposed to the other side of it: changing my thinking so I can be better and do better things for myself, family and community.”
Carter gets the NOLA Dads class going by having his students answer questions about parenting. Then they talk about them. Here he is with another student, Joseph:
“Let’s get to this part on the back, where it says 'Three things I can do right now to help my child do well in school.'”
“My first one is help him every day with his homework when he comes home,” begins Joseph. “Reward him for the good things he is doing in school, and the third one to like stay up on him, make sure I stay up on him so he can do the right thing. Because once I let off he may take off and go the other way. So keep that in there."
Carter jumps in. “I tell you some other ways too. Let your kids see you actually doing the things that they do in school. So when your kids come home and never see you read or anything, and you tell them to read, why would they want to read?”
“Dad don’t read, that’s what they gonna say,” says Joseph. “Dad don’t read.”
“It’s the same thing,” continues Carter. “Writing too. If they never see you write — kids want to imitate you. They pick up everything you do. They put on your shoes, they want to put on your clothes. Even if it’s you reading the paper, or you writing down a grocery list or anything, they need to see you reading. They need to see you writing. Simple as that.”
“They want to do what their parents are doing," echoes Joseph.
“They gonna ask you, what you doing?” says Carter. “I’m writing in my journal, I’m writing a story. Come on sit down and write a story with me.”
Before I left the NOLA Dads class, I asked Joseph, who’s 23, with a young son, if there was anything else he wanted me to know?
“NOLA Dad is a great program,” he says. “It’s helping me to succeed with my child and teach him better, give him that structure that I wasn’t given.”