Know What it Means to be a Dad? Think Again

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Left to right: Bob Stien, his daughters Gabriella and Celina, and his wife, Enid Weishaus.

Perceptions about what it means to be a dad have changed over the years, but obstacles remain when it comes to encouraging men to reach beyond the traditional role of fatherhood.

Opportunities to share their feelings and learn from other men are increasing but still scarce, said Bob Stien, who has been involved with issues related to fatherhood in Rockland County and beyond for decades.

For the seventh year, Stien will be part of the Annual New York Fathering Conference, an event he helped launch when there was a dearth of resources for men.

“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 the Upper Nyack resident, who has two grown daughters: Gabriella, 35; and Celina, 31.

“There were certainly programs,” Stien added, “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.”

The Fathering Conference, which previously was held at the Westchester County Center, will be presented in a free, two-session Zoom format on Nov. 9 and Dec. 9. Both sessions begin at 6 p.m.

Stien, who is preparing to become a grandfather at age 70, remains committed to fostering engagement between men and removing barriers that inhibit fathers from becoming involved in all aspects of family life.

“Men are often not as inclined, and I hope this is shifting, to share with each other and their children,” he said, “and my desire for decades has been to inspire men to look at that and to see a change in that area, because it’s something where we all lose. Children lose, mothers lose, the fathers themselves lose.”

The conference’s move into the 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. Because we’re online people can do this more easily.”

Stien’s community involvement goes beyond issues of fatherhood. An avid conservationist and outdoor enthusiast, he’s a board member of the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain. He also runs maple sugaring programs at Marydell and River Hook.

When asked what it means to be a father, Stien replied: “To be the best man I can be and be present in my children’s lives in ways that are appropriate so that I’m respecting what they need and want from me at any point and time.”

Strengthening involvement

The theme of this year’s New York Fathering Conference

is “A Time to Restart, Refocus and Renew.” The event spotlights the impact of lifelong learning on fathers and their families.

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

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.

Participants will be able to join separate breakout groups focusing on various 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.

Among the organizations involved are White Plains Youth Bureau,

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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