Posted: Saturday, September 18, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 11:37 pm, Fri Sep 17, 2010.

Nurturing the fatherhood connection By Joanne Beck

BATAVIA — No matter what their age, boys and men long for a particular role model in their lives, Reggie Cox says.

There are an estimated 40 to 50 percent of homes that lack a male role model, the Rochester pastor said. He is working to feed that need with a weekly support group.

And pizza.

“There’s a hunger for that father, a hunger for that man,” Cox said. “We don’t even know why we’re angry or jealous or hurting. There’s been a hole in our heart … we’re looking for that father connection.”

What it is …

Cox is providing that link through his group, Fathers Matter to Kids. It’s a 13-week program to offer some education, fellowship, Godly inspiration and experiences of others. He established his first group 12 years ago in Rochester and plans to open another one next week in Geneseo. His goal is to branch out to surrounding counties, including Wyoming and Orleans counties.

His Batavia group has grown from three members six weeks ago to 21 at this week’s session. It meets from 6 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday at Assembly of God Church, 24 North Spruce St., and dinner is included. Participants range from age 14 to about 60 and are from varying economic, educational and ethnic backgrounds. They are brought together by a need to want to be the best fathers they can be, Cox said.

The rate of fatherless homes is creating an “epidemic” in America, he said, and is even worse in the inner cities.

Who it is …

An absent father can include someone who divorced mom and moved out, has been kept from his children by mom or other obstacles such as substance abuse or has been incarcerated.

It can also be a guy who is a workaholic and is just never home, Cox said.

Tony Micucci can relate to that scenario. In fact, it’s his father’s strong work ethic — dad spends a lot of time on the job — that brought the 16-year-old to his first meeting six weeks ago.

“I’m trying to get a better relationship with my dad,” he said. “I’ve been learning a lot of stuff. We were asked ‘what do you wish you had when you were younger?’ and I wished I had a better relationship with my dad, so it would now be running smooth.”

Tony may have more influence than he thinks. After attending a few sessions, Tony’s father came to a group meeting with him. That time spent focusing on fatherhood seemed to help built their rapport, the 10th-grader said. He and dad went fishing. Tony has learned not to let opportunities like that go by.

Cox isn’t just a spiritual leader and teacher. He’s got his own story to tell. His father and grandfather were alcoholics who didn’t offer a boy much instruction or guidance. Instead, Cox looked at sports figures or people in the media to establish that missing bond. Although playing football eased some of his angst, Cox followed in his dad’s footsteps by becoming an alcoholic and struggling a bit through life. But as he says, “my misery becomes my ministry.” He learned from his mistakes and is a recovering alcoholic whose biggest role model is now his own father.

“He’s ultimately my hero. He got clean and sober and changed his life,” the proud son said. “He’s been sober for 35 years. I’m after other men to see the change in them. Strengthening the relationships between fathers and children can have a major impact in the future success of those children and in the success of future generations.”

Training the trainer …

At least half of the men who have attended Cox’s group are married or with significant others while about three or four younger guys are single dads. Each week’s gathering includes a topic for discussion with a guest speaker, video and/or handouts. The goal is to get someone lined up to lead future programs so that Cox can move on to other areas.

This week’s focus was to define a healthy relationship. Oftentimes people bring “baggage” into a relationship that greatly affects its success, Cox said. Some men shared their particular issues, such as previous relationships, having kids, being a teen with a child and dealing with jealousy and being “really protective.”

Again, Cox shared from his personal life. He has been married twice and can attest to the desire to talk about what the woman did wrong. That doesn’t solve anything, he said.

“I’ve gotta talk about what I didn’t do,” he said. “I’ve been married for 17 years. Hopefully, we can see areas where we can improve. What is it I can do? It’s about examining the boy in you. Is it the boy in you making decisions or the man in you? The boy will jam you up.”

Alex Nesbitt, a youth worker from the Genesee County Department of Social Services, is a group co-facilitator. He shared that one key to his marital success has been an encouraging wife. She always wants him to do better, he said, never worse.

Pastor, participant, paradigm …

Cox, who operates Changing Lives Worship Center in Rochester, said that while some of the members are more public leaders, anyone’s heartfelt words could be gleaned for future use.

There is a sincerity amongst group members that isn’t always found with men, Dann Neale said.

“Some young men have an odd concept of fatherhood: a masculinity and pride that they fathered children. But often that’s where it stops,” the city resident and veteran father said. “I share from my own experience and what the Lord has revealed through that experience. I think they’re here to genuinely seek out some information and guidance.”

Neale, president of the GCASA board, has many connections in Genesee County. He was asked by Social Services to serve as a mentor and he’s got plenty to share. He and his wife Beverly have four grown children and have recently become foster parents to two youngsters. He leans toward the spiritual side with his use of scripture as guidance. During the group he pulled from the Bible to suggest that women love to be loved and men love to be respected. Scripture can get twisted and some people have interpreted that to mean that men can lord over their women, but it’s more about love and respect, he said.

“Look at your spouse as your equal,” he said.

A community effort …

Organizers are looking into daycare services so that any fathers who have child care duties in the evening can bring their kids with them. Cox is grateful for the free use of Assembly of God Church, for group leaders who have shared the cost of dinner each week and for those in the community who have given time as a mentor or guest speaker. Next week’s topic will be domestic violence and feature a visit from YWCA’s Domestic Violence program staff.

With 10 children of his own (five sons and five daughters) Cox hopes to train enough people who will take over each of the groups he establishes throughout this region. He is also hoping that someone will help sponsor the groups in the future.

Neale believes that Cox has planted something important here.

“The idea has been seeded by him,” Neale said. “Hopefully it will provide a service to the community.”

For more information, go to: or call (585) 284-2445.

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