When you are having fun and living a bit recklessly, not really thinking about the consequences of your actions, change is the last thing on your mind. But when your child is affected because you were out partying, or you hit rock bottom because of the bad choices you made, it can be a revelation for some. It can be a cause for change.
That’s where the Fatherhood Is Sacred group comes in. Led by Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Archie Kashoya, Fatherhood Is Sacred imparts wisdom to fathers and mothers in Indian County about improving their lives, as well as the lives of their families.
Fatherhood Is Sacred has been going strong since 2002, when it was first established within the Community. The program’s curriculum originated from Community members, and now it is spreading to different communities all over Arizona, the country and even in Canada.
“We have other chapters in Sells, San Lucy, Gila River and Peach Springs; we try to network work with all of them,” said Kashoya. “We are reconnected with them, so it will be as it was a very long time ago—we are all related, just in separate villages.”
The group’s participants “are their own referral and support system, which I think works better when people are looking for change,” said Kashoya. Participation in Fatherhood Is Sacred is voluntary; mothers and fathers can attend alone, whenever they wish, or the participants go out, bring in the people they once hung out with, and get them to also join the group to better themselves.
“They see the change [in themselves], and [that has led] some of the participants [to go out and] get others interested” in making their own lifestyle changes, said Kashoya.
Some of the participants in the group are not Community members, or even Native American, but they have ties to the Community through their spouses or children who are Community members.
“We don’t push them away (non-Community members); we take them in as a father to a Community member,” said Kashoya. “We want their kids to be safe, so we like to help the parents out.”
A Life-Changing Experience
Several Community members and their spouses believe that in Fatherhood Is Sacred they have finally found a program that suits their needs and can address their individual issues as fathers, mothers or family figures through group support.
Some participants are very open about sharing their life experiences with the group.
“I am a recovering addict and was in the LARC (Local Alcohol Reception Center) at the time when I was asked to join [Fatherhood Is Sacred],” said Virginia Mack. “I went on to rehab and then to a sobriety house, and now I have my own home now and have been clean for three years. I have all three of my children with me, and now I am learning how to be a grandmother. Through this counseling it has made me a better Community member and a better parent and grandmother by staying clean.”
Mack has become a facilitator and works for the SRPMIC Health and Human Services Department. “I am here to help my group, help my family, and help my Community; this is how I give back, by offering my services,” she said.
Community member and group member Monica Sampson said that she has learned a lot from Mack. “I know where she came from and know her past, and she has made a complete turnaround,” said Sampson. “She is a totally different person, and it makes me strive to be the person that she has become. I told her at one time that I envied her and her relationship (with her husband); you can see their bond, and how when one spouse is down, the other picks them up.”
Gaining Peace of Mind
Group members realize they have a lot in common when they share their stories about where they came from; the majority come from dysfunctional families. Tony Macias, Community member and Fatherhood Is Sacred participant, credited the group for keeping him on a straight path.
“Archie had been asking me to join the program for many years,” said Macias. “I was still out there doing my thing, and every time I had to attend court he would always stop me and ask me when I would come to the group.” Macias always pushed it off, but then one day he finally decided to attend a Fatherhood Is Sacred meeting. He ended up liking the program and the curriculum.
“Attending the program gives me peace of mind,” Macias said. “I don’t do any of the things I once did, such as being a drug abuser and an alcoholic. We are a family here, and we communicate with each other and help each other up when we fall. We don’t condemn anyone; it’s about helping each other.”
Fatherhood Is Sacred is showing Macias how to be a father, even though his child is an adult now and is incarcerated. Macias feels that he can still at least try to guide his son back onto the right path once he is out. He said, “Some of us who didn’t have a father didn’t have the proper guidance to be a better father. I thought being a better father was hanging out with your kid, drinking and drugging. I thought that was bonding.”
Now he realizes that is not the way. “I look at where he has ended up in life—I was his “buddy” and not a father. I hope I can change that,” Macias continued. “You cannot change anyone but yourself, but I am going to try; if he chooses not to change, then that’s his choice. You know it’s the choices that you make in life that can change our lives; this is a good choice I made, coming into this program. A lot of people that came here made a good choice and got help, and a lot of them were able to get their children back.”
Tyrone Anderson, who lives in Phoenix, has been part of the group for three years. In the beginning, he said there were many skeptics telling him they (he and his wife) were not going to make it and they would never get their children back. “But we did, and we are also off welfare,” Anderson said proudly. “We are not where we want to be just yet, but we are getting there. This group has a lot to do with [the improvement in] our situation.”
Community member Serena Juste attends the meetings every week to show her support. “As a supporter of this group, I know all of [the members], and I am glad these young couples look up to each other. I think that is what makes this a great opportunity for them to learn from others,” said Juste. “I see a lot of growth from what they have learned.”
“We all know each other in this group, and I believe that we are all a success story sitting in this group every week. We all want to change our lives,” said Mack.
Sampson said that she and her boyfriend are planning to get married.
“I would tell people to come and give the class a chance,” she said. “Just come and listen one day, and if it applies to you, then that door is always open. We are a support group—mothers and fathers just wanting to change our lives and work on our parenting skills,” said Sampson. “Our goal is to have a safe and happy family. We start at one parent at a time, but we are working on changing the Community.”