When Barry McIntosh used to give presentations about young fathers, he'd open with a straightforward question: "Are moms important?"
The response is pretty obvious. "What a stupid question to ask! Of course they’re important!" McIntosh says with a chuckle. So he follows up with another. "But, you know, are fathers important then? And the subtext of that is, well, maybe there’s a question around that."
McIntosh is the founder and former director of the program Young Fathers of Santa Fe, which helps coach and support teen dads.
He's retired now and has turned over the directorship to his close friend and colleague Johnny Wilson but McIntosh still stays very much involved with the cause. "There are so many programs for mothers, and there’s very few programs for fathers," says McIntosh. "They want to be great dads, but they don’t know how."
He has a point. When it comes to teenage parents, most national programs do focus on the needs of the teen mother, often leaving young fathers overlooked. So when they want to play an active role in their kid's life, it can be hard for them to know how — and the long list of daddy duties can be intimidating and confusing.
That's why Young Fathers of Santa Fe provides guidance and assistance for every step a father might take — from helping obtain visitation rights to talking to their kid about the birds and the bees.
"We had a guy come in and he said: 'I've gotten a letter from the state that I owe child support. I didn’t even know I had a kid!'" McIntosh recalls. But they took a breath and came up with a plan of action to help him become the father his kid needed.
"Eventually, he was getting overnights and he was being part of his kid’s life as any other dad would be."
"It could be getting a job, finding housing, could be raising the kid, taking the kid into child care, getting a good babysitter that you can trust," enumerates McIntosh. "We’re not necessarily gonna tell them what to do, but we’re gonna help them come up with solutions to their own problems."
Of course, the young moms are very much welcome to be part of the process. "They love it, but there’s usually a little trepidation at first," says McIntosh. "They think it’s a bunch of guys talking about their girlfriends." On the contrary, it's a bunch of guys talking about how they want to build a family.
Young Fathers of Santa Fe also does a lot of work around reducing teen pregnancy through their other program, the Future Men Project.
"It's working with seventh- and eighth-graders, sometimes sixth-graders," adds McIntosh. "Trying to help them realize what it means to be a man and a responsible man, so that when they’re ready to become a father, this is a planned child."
Considering New Mexico has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, a program like this has the power to change a lot of lives.
"It's helped me out a bunch because I didn't know any information about being a father," says Marcus Vigil. Vigil is one of the young fathers in the program; he entered in 2010 and is now on the advisory board, helping educate other young fathers on the responsibilities of parenthood and how to prevent early pregnancies.
Vigil's advice to other would-be fathers? "Don’t be scared. Don’t get afraid," he says. "Just work at being a father because you can do it and it could be the best thing that could happen in your life."
When these young fathers start paying it forward and mentoring the future generation, that's when you know the program has done something special.
"I continue to go back, and I stay engaged," says Vigil. "Just try to participate so that I can make a difference in someone else's life."
"This is the exceptionally cool part," adds McIntosh. In fact, one of the young fathers he worked with, Richard "Vivo" Cornejo, started his own program in Texas focusing on the same cause.
Truly amazing things can happen now that these men know they have the support they need to be the best dads they can be. "There is always somebody that will help, that wants you to be a great dad," says McIntosh.
"If you want to be a great dad, you can do it. You may have to do it yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone."