Why do so many men grow up using aggression as a way to meet their needs? What are some concrete steps they can take to shift those behaviours? What is a good society’s response to family violence?
These are just some of the questions Agape House addresses through its “Caring Dads” initiative.
A 17-week program for men who’ve been known to be unsafe for the women and children in their lives, Caring Dads offers a space for examining the attitudes, actions and values that shape family relationships.
“It gives them a chance to dig into both their own traumas and their behaviours toward partners and children,” says Gord Funk, a program facilitator. “The hope, the intent, is to change those behaviours so they can become healthier and safer to be around.”
Having grown up in Grunthal, Funk began to work with men in an informal capacity while living in Australia. He’d listen to their stories, look beyond the stereotypes, and try to recognize them as complex human beings, most times with genuine aspirations to be good partners and fathers.
“There’s an unfortunate reality that a lot of men have had really poor upbringings,” he explains. “And knowing that people who’ve experienced pain cause more pain, there becomes a cycle where more and more people are caught up in situations that aren’t safe. Our program in Steinbach will start to address that.”
Funk also points out that the actual clients of Caring Dads are women and children, and that perhaps the only leverage the program can have in their lives is with men.
“A good society’s response is to come alongside these men, work with them and try to rehabilitate behaviours, harnessing that latent desire inside most people to be better parents,” he says.
Jayme Friesen, Mennonite Central Committee’s Abuse Response & Prevention Coordinator, echoes the notion that prevention begins by working with the people causing unsafe family environments.
“If we really want to reduce and prevent abuse from even happening,” she says, “we have to actually come alongside the people who are perpetrating it. Often it’s the men in the home – not always – but those are the statistics we see, so to really create a shift in culture we need to work with men and ask why they resort to violence.”
Part of the Caring Dads intake staff, Friesen adds that the process begins by gently exploring how a participant was raised, and the fathering they, themselves, experienced.
“It’s hard to say to oneself, ‘I’m someone who causes harm,’ so there’s a lot of shame that enters the space,” she says. “Part of our work is to actually help bring that shame into the light, because more shame isn’t going to produce change. So let’s look at where this pain has come from, and then think of concrete steps to shift behaviours.”
For example, the program will examine gaps between a participant’s choices and the hypothetical choices of an ideal father. It’ll then work on filling those gaps so men can recognize problem areas and begin to make small, self-initiated interventions, such as simply taking a few seconds to leave a room, reset and then re-enter what might have previously been a volatile situation.
Those little things, says Funk, are the seeds from which change is born. If Caring Dads can help participants incorporate those changes over the lifetime of a family, then children will grow up to be better parents as well.
Offered through Agape House, Caring Dads relies on social service providers for some referrals, but they’d also like Steinbach and the southeast to be aware of the program and its availability to partners, sons and brothers whom families may be concerned about.
“Do we just walk past these men?” asks Funk, “or do we come alongside them and say, ‘Yes, I am willing to help you, I will work with you, it’s not always going to look pretty, but we’re going to make some change, and ultimately there’s going to be a child who can run into your arms and feel safe’.”
Agape House can be reached by calling (204) 326-6062, and the local crisis line is (204) 346-0028. Community members can also inquire about the program by filling out an email form on their website.