Steady attendance. Empowering curriculum. Enlightening conversation. Urban Light Ministries’ Dads Discussion Group is off to a strong start.
A group of seven men have been meeting weekly this fall at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at COHatch The Marketplace in Springfield. The weekly topic? The fine art of fatherhood. The group is still open to new joiners, call ULM at (937) 408-1050 to register or for more information. ULM supporters can help by referring fathers in their social circles to the group.
Facilitating the free one-hour discussion groups are Urban Light President and CEO Eli Williams, a long-time local advocate for children and fathers, and James Cooper, a former South High School basketball standout and Wooster College All-American. “I want to provide an opportunity for dads to come together to bond and talk over issues they may be facing,” said Williams. “The majority of the phone calls I get are from fathers and people who love them who have children in an estranged situation and are facing barriers to having access to their child. It is very heartbreaking that a father can’t see his children.”
Cooper knows what it is like to be one of those fathers and knows the challenges of fatherlessness. “Being a father is everything for me, especially me growing up without a father,” Cooper said. “I know what it is like first-hand. I don’t want my kids to feel like I felt growing up. I work with so many young men who don’t have a father. You feel frustrated, angry and lost. But you can overcome it, making the best of the hand that you were dealt,” he continued. “Instead of playing victim and being angry, try to learn from your own mistakes. Enjoy life the best you can. The ‘poor me mentality’ leads to disruption, which can lead to prison, drugs, sometimes even death.”
Participants are gaining a lot from the discussions, which cover a variety of topics, including managing co-parenting when the romantic love is gone, making the most out of parenting time, healing from a hurtful past, achieving and maintaining holistic health, loving your children the way the Father does, and being your children’s POPS (Protector, Order-keeper, Provider and Stabilizer).
“There’s two words that come to mind: insight and comradery,” said Ben Peshek, who last month became a step-father after marrying the love of his life, Ashley. “Understanding different points of views has been important for me. It’s wonderful having the different perspectives of the ages that are part of this group. The different experiences that each man in this group gives from different backgrounds and different perspectives have been so helpful,” he continued. “It is interesting to see that some things are not really that different when you are dealing with a child. You can see it in the guys’ faces. You see a lot of love, and it ends up being a lot of love of the Father because we are all believers.”
Bruce Lemley, who has two grown children, says the discussion group provides much more than just an education on childhood. “There’s also some inner healing,” he said. “I thought I was done (healing), but I wasn’t. I’d call it father healing, from the father wound. I was surprised. So it is healing from a deeper level. Jesus is still in the healing process. He is forever in the healing process, and He waits until we are ready.”
That healing has been the goal of Urban Light’s fatherhood ministry for the last several years, using resources like Williams’ book, “Father Love.”
“I’ve found it is helpful that fathers know there are dads who have been in that situation and have learned from it,” he said. “There are things that can be shared that can help fathers through these tough times. Sometimes it is difficult overcoming past mistakes. For men struggling financially, taking care of himself and his kids through child support, life can really be tough for a guy who really wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t have the resources to do it.
“Providing an intimate setting where men can feel confident, they can actually open up and have other men in the room affirm and encourage them, even become a mentor,” Williams added. “Good outcomes can happen when you get men together in a safe place. It’s uplifting, it’s a rare opportunity; I’ve learned a lot from other men through this and have been able to share it.”