Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute resident Aaron Poarch grew up without a father. His stepfather died when he was a teenager and just quite recently met his biological father. He and three other siblings were raised solely by their mother.
His story is an example of a growing problem in America: Father-absence.
In 2010, 24.7 million children lived in biological father-absent homes, according to 2011 data from the National Fatherhood Initiative.
The survey also found that 91 percent of fathers agree the country is experiencing a father-absence crisis.
The crisis has reached Terre Haute.
Many men in the area do not have a father-figure in their lives, according to Larry Swan, Men’s Outreach Coordinator for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, a non-profit known for its services assisting low-income pregnant women.
But the problem doesn’t end there. When men like Poarch become fathers, they are clueless.
“There’s nothing in my life to show me how to raise a child,” Poarch said.
This is a problem because “the men needed to know how to be a good father just as much as moms needed to know how to be a good mom,” Melisa Frederick, Director of Client Services at Crisis Pregnancy Center said.
In response to the spiraling problem, Crisis Pregnancy Center started programs in recent years specifically tailored to “help them [men] be a better father [and] be a better man,” Swan said.
And the programs started just in time for Poarch, now a father of a 15-month-old daughter and a son on the way.
Two of the programs he attended are “Earn While You Learn” and “24/7 Dad Fatherhood Program.”
He found the two programs to be unique.
The “24/7 Dad Fatherhood Program” is a men’s support group that meets once a month. Under the program, participants learn about key fathering characteristics such as masculinity, discipline and work/family balance.
But participants also learn they can count on each other.
“It lets you know you're not alone. You get to see there are other people in the same shoes,” Poarch said.
While the support group only touches on basic issues, “Earn While You Learn” gets to more specifics.
It is a one-on-one mentoring program (that is available for both men and women) where participants and mentors meet once a week to discuss topics ranging from basic child care to personal topics about manhood.
At the end of each session, participants can “earn” credit to purchase baby supplies at the Crisis Pregnancy Center’s boutique.
It is a useful motivator for participants.
“The first [attraction] obviously is the boutique because I didn't have a job. To be able to help support my family in any way, shape or form made me feel a lot better,” Poarch said.
But after participating for two years, he gained more than just “daddy bucks.”
"It's given me a lot of info about how to take care of my child physically [and] emotionally," Poarch said.
He said he learned basics like how to take care of wounds and how to manage sleeplessness, issues that may be simple to others but can be stressful for new parents.
He did not only learn from the two programs but also from his personal experiences parenting his daughter, Elizabeth. Armed with his new knowledge and experiences, he is now mentoring others participants of the “Earn While You Learn Program.”
“As a mentor, I give them any information they want or seek,” Poarch said.
He said he also gives emotional support and advice. He hopes to be a counselor for young adults in the future.
The father-absence crisis can be averted, after all.
Swan said he works to "see men step up and be the man, the husband, the father they're supposed to be.”
“Aaron can teach his child. We're talking about reaching generations through this program. He's gonna have a son and his son is going to need a father as well as his daughter,” Swan said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 and firstname.lastname@example.org