Last week a father’s child committed an act of violence against another father’s child on the streets of Chicago. Unfortunately, this week will be no different. For some communities, it is the lack of present fathers that contributes to the violence we are seeing. But just having more fathers present is not enough. Far too many of our dads have been a negative influence on our communities which perpetuates the ongoing violence we are witnessing.

When fathers are not present to shape the development of their sons and daughters, young men and women are left to navigate the tricky path of adolescence – which can be treacherous and deadly in some communities – with one less guiding influence. The results have been disastrous. But when fathers are engaged in positive ways, their impact extends well beyond the youth within their own households. Research shows that actively and positively involved fathers have an exponential impact on youth in their surrounding community at large.

However, we cannot expect fathers to help reduce the hurt that is plaguing our communities until we help them heal from their own pain and trauma which they pass on to their children. Fathers need a space to talk about their problems, their successes, and their failures. Black and Brown fathers particularly tend to avoid traditional therapy or counseling services, even though we are a population in dire need of these resources because of the racial and social inequities we have experienced for generations.

In Black and Brown communities, men rely on each other for guidance and support, and we pass those learnings down to our children. However, far too many fathers, due to generational beliefs that men should not talk about their feelings, teach their children – especially their sons – to suppress their feelings which then manifest as aggression when conflicts arise. Positive fatherhood begins not with the birth of a child, but by healing the person called dad and addressing the issues that may have affected him since his own childhood.  

When fathers lack the tools and opportunity to learn self-awareness and recognize their own trauma, anger or sadness, their children deal with the consequences of a person in their lives who does not have a healthy relationship with himself. This leads to men perpetuating unhealthy relationships with their children and setting unhealthy examples or being largely absent from their lives. When fathers have a negative presence in their homes and communities, they have a devastatingly detrimental impact on youth that then perpetuates the violence we are seeing. 

Programs like Children’s Home & Aid’s Thriving Fathers & Families provides a space for men to heal, understand their journeys, address their issues, and accept their responsibility to help guide their children and positively contribute to their communities. Our fathers reflect on their own lives as youth – what influenced them, what type of role models they had, and what type of role models they wanted. Fathers use these reflective moments to think about the type of examples they want to be for younger generations, and how they can proactively support each other and their youth to choose alternatives to violence as a means of addressing conflicts or getting their basic needs met.

Only when fathers are supported in their own healing can they truly help disrupt the violent and vicious cycle of youth causing hurt and harm that is becoming increasingly harder to heal from.

Ed Davies is the Director of Family & Community Engagement and the Thriving Fathers & Families Program at Children’s Home & Aid.