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Internet Site Helps Fathers Hone Parenting Skills


By Carrie P. Jenkins

By combining real-life stories with the privacy and convenience of the Internet, two BYU professors say they have found a way to reach fathers on their own terms.

Without ever having to expose their emotions and problems, men seeking parenting help can now turn to the FatherWork home page to read about other fathers’ encounters with their children. These personal narrative accounts, say David C. Dollahite and Alan J. Hawkins, can be used to build understanding and encourage good fathering.

The focus of the home page, located at https://fatherwork.byu.edu, is on “good fathering, not good fathers,” the professors emphasize.

“What we mean by this is that we aren’t stuffing our pages with a lot of statistics about how good men are at fathering,” says Dollahite, an assistant professor of family sciences. “We’re also not offering therapy that should be done in a counseling session.”

Instead, FatherWork is a collection of real-life stories gathered from men throughout the last three years by Dollahite, Hawkins, and BYU students.

For instance, under the category “Fathering Special Needs Children,” one father says, “I felt like a fool. I didn’t know what Down’s Syndrome was, and they came in the room and said, ‘We think your son has Down’s Syndrome.'”

The father then explains his reaction to this news and his realization that his son’s disability made absolutely no difference in how he felt or how much he loved this child.

Another father tells how he will take his child with spina bifida fishing from the window of his pick-up trick parked in a stream. It was something he learned in caring for his father, who loved to fish but grew too old to be in the fast-moving current.

And some stories are more routine, such as the one of the father who learned his daughter would not respond to corporal punishment.

Then the story ends and a new one begins. There is no discussion, no analysis, no “what can we learn from this scenario?” says Dollahite. “We want men to draw their own conclusions. What we hope is that fathers–and mothers and children and grandparents–will see new and creative possibilities to care for children. We want these stories to motivate them to draw on their own capabilities.”

At this Internet site, fathers’ true stories and experiences take the center stage. The FatherWork home page has collections of stories on fathering across the life cycle, fathering in challenging circumstances (divorce, economic hardship, children with special needs), and fathering in ways to encourage children’s development (moral/spiritual, emotional/social, cognitive/academic, and physical/athletic).

Dollahite and Hawkins believe that stories are good teaching tools that invite readers to reflect on their own lives without telling them how to change.

The professors also want to hear from the users of their home page. While FatherWork is not an on-line chat forum, readers can submit their own stories. On a regular basis, the professors will expand the home page to include new stories.

All stories will contribute to the ongoing research Dollahite and Hawkins are conducting, saving the expenses of traveling, interviewing, recording, and transcribing interviews, while allowing the researchers to collect information from all over the world.

Ironically, the professors say, the final goal for their new home page is that fathers will not spend much time with it. “Really, we don’t want fathers to spend an inordinate amount of time here,” says Hawkins, an associate professor of family sciences. “Rather, we hope they use this home page to get new ideas and strengthen their motivation to be good fathers, then log off and spend time with their children.”

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