By Karen Stokes
Dennis Walton is a proud father of three, but fatherhood for him wasn’t always easy.
When he was a young, inexperienced father, he faced so many challenges that the mother of his children ending up leaving with the children.
“I had to fight for six long years to get my children back in my life,” said Walton, co-director and outreach coordinator at Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative.
“I did a lot of soul searching. I needed to focus myself and mature. I persevered and through it I started to work with the Fatherhood Initiative and worked with other men and realized it wasn’t just me, other men had challenges.”
Mayor Tom Barrett and local leaders sponsored the 10th annual Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, Fatherhood Summit on Oct 16 and 17.
The two-day event offered resources to help men through breaking the barriers that prevent them from becoming better fathers, husbands, and men.
Over 1,000 men gathered at the event held at Destiny Youth Plaza, 7210 N. 76th Street, which offered workshops, legal counseling, presentations, job and health fairs from area businesses, and social service agencies.
Milwaukee County Veteran Services, Fedex, Goodwill Industries, Community Advocates, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were just a few of the vendors.
“The summit helped me out with my child support, said Tommy Tate, 59.
I try to encourage everyone else to come out because it’s a nice program.
I’ve been going to the Fatherhood Summit for the past two years.”
“This event allows us to communicate the importance of the role of fathers. Without strong fathers, you won’t have strong families,” said Walton.
“As we help men deal with all the setbacks in their lives, like no driver’s license, child support, healthcare, criminal record expungement, education and job training, all of these things are the barriers that men are dealing with today that’s keeping them from being engaged.”
Walton continued, “When a child is a troubled child there’s probably not a father in the home. And if he is there, he needs to be a better father, so us being able to draw over 1000 men this weekend proves that men want to do better.”
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative and the U.S. Census Bureau,
• 57.6 percent of Black children, 31.2 percent of Hispanic children, and 20.7 percent of white children are living in homes without a biological father.
• 90 percent of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
• Girls without fathers in their lives are two and a half times more likely to get pregnant as teenagers.
• A child who comes from a fatherless home is 68 percent more likely to use drugs or alcohol, more likely to become sexually active at an early age, and three times more likely to commit a violent crime.
• 85 percent of all incarcerated youth grew up in a fatherless home.
Dell Williams, program director of the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, has been involved with the Fatherhood Initiative Summit for 10 years.
The first year, he came as a client, looking for help with a visitation issue after a divorce. The next nine years he came as a worker.
“I was separated from my wife, and visitation was an issue and I wasn’t sure what I needed to do,” Williams said.
“This led me to some people in the court system and child services. They helped me find out what my rights were.
The next time I went to court I was prepared, and I received excellent visitation and reasonable child support. It all worked out pretty good.
Because of the help I received, I wanted to help other fathers.”
Walton also is committed to help other fathers who experience some of the same adversities as he did earlier in life.
“The most shocking thing is when you’re going through something, sometimes you think it’s just you,” Walton said.
“There are thousands of men going through the same thing.
That’s what made me commit to helping other men.”