Redefining What it Means to be a Dad

The 7th Annual New York Fathering Conference, spotlighting the impact fathers have on their children and their community, is being presented as a free, two-part virtual event in November and December.  

This year’s theme is “A Time to Restart, Refocus and Renew,” with sessions scheduled via Zoom starting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 9 and Dec. 9. 

Speakers and workshops will focus on strategies to enrich, encourage and support opportunities for dads to establish and strengthen good family relations, and to explore employment and educational avenues. 

Over the years, the event has been attended by more than 1,750 fathers and professionals from Westchester, around New York and seven other states. The conference has been virtual since 2020 and was previously held at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. 

One of the conference’s organizers is Bob Stien, who headed the planning committee for the inaugural gathering and remains involved. 

“I felt there were many men who wanted to look at who they were as fathers, to become better fathers, and they didn’t really know where to go,” said Stien, who has two grown daughters. “There were certainly programs, but we felt we wanted to do more in that arena, so men could find programs and settings where they could learn from each other and learn from professionals.” 

Stien has witnessed a shift in traditional expectations over the years, although hurdles remain. 

“I see more opportunities for men to engage with each other certainly than years ago,” he said. “I think there’s still a way to go yet. But I do believe that men are more present. They are more engaged in their children’s lives, yet often still don’t have the opportunity to sit with other fathers and talk with them and listen to them and learn from them.” 

The conference’s move into a Zoom format lacks the immediacy of face-to-face interaction, but has presented opportunities for wider participation.  

“I believe that when people can gather and share it’s a more rich and different kind of exchange,” Stien added. “But one of the advantages is that we have people from seven states. They used to have to fly in, now it’s on the screen.” 

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The Nov. 9 session features a keynote address by National Urban League CEO Marc Morial. He and other speakers will focus on strengthening father-family involvement, sound finances, education and employment. 

The theme of the Dec. 9 session will be self-care for young fathers and staying well in the age of COVID-19. Speakers had not been announced at press time. 

Participants will be able to join separate breakout groups focusing on related topics during the sessions. 

The conference is sponsored by the Stronger Families New York Coalition, and includes government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other individuals working directly with fathers and families. 

Frank Williams, executive director of the City of White Plains Youth Bureau, heads the conference’s planning committee.  

Among the organizations involved are Family Services of Westchester, Ministers’ Fellowship Council of White Plains & Vicinity, Mount Vernon Youth Bureau, the federal Administration for Children & Families, Westchester County Executive’s Office, and Westchester County Department of Social Services. 

Attendance is free but registration is required. Visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/7th-annual-new-york-fathering-conference-tickets-180251967487#listing-organizer or contact Donna Linder at 845-883-6060 or donnalinder@childfindofamerica.org. Child Find of America serves as the event’s fiscal sponsor.

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About the Author: Robert Brum