ONCE UPON A GENE - EPISODE 009
The Washington State Fathers Network
Along my own journey, I've felt passionate about capturing the perspective of fathers, grandfathers and other male caregivers. As moms, we may have an easier time connecting with other moms at therapy, school and on social media. My husband, a father with a child with complex needs has had a different experience than I have. I want to ensure we're both taking care of ourselves individually. I'm constantly reading Facebook posts about moms wishing there was someone for their husbands to talk to about their child with healthcare needs.
Louis Mendoza, the Manager of The Washington State Fathers Network, is helping to give a powerful voice to men who have children with healthcare needs. Some of his work involves connecting men with each other socially, providing them with resources, telling their story, advocating for change and promoting inclusion in their communities.
How does coming from a background of having typically developing children put you in the Director platform for the Fathers Network?
I spent the early part of my career on the corporate side as a corporate trainer focused on training individuals to be supervisors. Then at one point, I became a stay-at-home dad and did that for over ten years. When the kids were old enough to be in school full time, I realized I had six hours or so of my day where I could be helping out with the family income. To get around the problem of not having to worry about daycare during school breaks, I decided I'd go to work for the school district to have pretty much the same schedule my kids had. The school district invited me to interview for a job in the special needs contained learning center. With no background or experience with children with special healthcare needs, I was very intimidated. I interviewed, got the job, did it for ten years and really liked it. I liked being involved with the special needs community and really liked working with the parents. While I was working with fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Woodmoor Elementary in the Northshore School District, I was introduced to Kindering and began doing some volunteer work there and eventually began working for the Fathers Network.
In several of my moms groups, we talk about not knowing what the dads are going through, that we're alone, that they don't talk much and the Fathers Network is great for bringing them together.
It's a challenge to get men to be involved with something like this and there's no real good answer for how to engage them. The Fathers Network was established in 1978 and was started as an assignment for a group of graduate students. They were given the assignment to create support groups for fathers, grandparents and siblings who had someone with special needs in their life. The Fathers Network became part of Kindering in 1985 and has filled the need of helping men engage with other men who have a special needs child in their life. When two people have a child, whether the child has special needs or not, dads tend to be more removed because in our society, even where both parents are working, it's still primarily the norm that the mom takes kids to school, doctor appointments and after school activities. Dad is a little removed with what's happening with the kids, but when you add the special healthcare needs component to it, there's even more isolation. Mom tends to have a better social network and she's willing to tap into that network and ask for help where dads become more isolated and not asking for help or talking to anyone. Even where the diagnosis may be different, the opportunity to meet other men or a group of men who are going through the same experiences with their children, can be really powerful. That's why the Fathers Network was created- to create those connections, supports and resource