Support Group for Fathers Helps Dads Grow as Parents
Before founding Father Time, Jeff Johnson ran a parent support group that was mostly attended by moms. But after a few years, Johnson, a child and family counselor, with an MSW from the Rutgers School of Social Work, started to see a need for a group tailored specially for fathers and the challenges they face as parents.
With the help of a handful of committed fathers from Keansburg, Johnson launched Father Time. The co-led support group helps fathers strive to be the best dads they can be while navigating the pitfalls of parenting, from stubborn toddlers to acting out teens.
“We help fathers commit to a path of growth as a man, a dad and a role model. Every man can make decisions about how they want to steer their family ship, and when they have a room full of co-pilots it really helps,” says Johnson, who works as a child and family counselor for the Port-Monmouth Road Elementary School.
Member Mike Elton joined in 2007, sixth months after his son died of a drug-related overdose. He was looking for “a comfortable place to talk,” after the pain of his son’s loss. Soon Father Time became a lifeline in helping him to heal and to become a supportive grandparent for his three grandchildren. Today he is actively involved with them, taking the grandchildren to hockey games and dance competitions and providing love and attention.
“Unfortunately children don’t come with a manual. You have to learn as you go. Father Time has given all of us a safe place to talk about our struggles and to listen. Some of us are married and some are single dads. We share ideas and always have each other’s back. We call ourselves ‘brothers. That is what we have become,” says Elton, who recently spoke at Keansburg High School about the dangers of drug use.
The Father Time group, which is funded through a grant from the Children’s Trust grant, meets weekly on Wednesday nights and has 40 active dads and many volunteer supporters.
The meetings become a mixture of friendship, peer support, laughter, “chop breaking,” and community service. A cherished Talking Stick is passed and members have an opportunity to share where they are on their fathering journey Fellow members listen with compassion, offering suggestions and support.
Father Time has successfully hosted many community activities that attract hundreds of people. All events are free and open to the community. They host two fishing derbies each year, an annual camping trip at Cheesequake State Park, a dad’s retreat, a pictures-with-Santa dance, and a father-daughter dance.
“It’s a great feeling being able to bring kids and families together. There is a core group of dads in this town who are really invested in giving a hand up to fellow community members, and advocating for dads across the state, this is inspiring,” Johnson said.
Parts of the Bayshore community were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and recovery has come slowly to many residents. Father Time has been a strong resource for assistance.
“Our group has been an amazing support to each other emotionally and by ferreting out helpful resources. These guys know what a real resource is and what is not. Their homes are affected; their emotions are affected; their families are affected; their children are affected with residual trauma. Since Sandy it has been even more important to have this network of peer support,” says Johnson.
Johnson and the members are currently invested in finding sustainable funding sources for Father Time, as their current grant from the Pascale Sykes Foundation expires in July 2015.
Johnson and his wife Diane, who also graduated from Rutgers School of Social Work, have two daughters, ages 23 and 21, and a 16-year-old son. He encourages social work students and all social workers to learn- in the places that are not so traditional, and to seek out “the richer side of families,” and work as community organizers.
For more information, visit Father Time.
For more information about how to develop a co-lead parent support group, visit http://www.pa-of-nj.org