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The Role Of Passion In Fatherhood Work

Passion or passionate are words frequently heard in conversations and discussions to describe feelings about working in the fatherhood field. However, examining the role passion plays related to work in the fatherhood field has yet to be explored. In an effort to gain greater insight into the role of passion in fatherhood work and to gain perspective on how it relates to work in the fatherhood field, individual interviews were conducted with community-based fatherhood program directors and staff members who are part of the statewide SC Fatherhood Initiative. The SC Fatherhood Initiative programs focus on working with low-income fathers most of whom are noncustodial fathers.

Individual interviews were conducted with 16 persons, six fatherhood program directors and ten program staff. The directors and staff work in the 11 Fatherhood Initiative program sites throughout South Carolina. The mean numbers of years the program directors and staff have worked with the fatherhood programs is nine. The range was between two and 11 years.

The four questions asked of each person were: (1) How do you describe the term passion as it relates to work in the field of fatherhood? (2) What are positive aspects of passion (if any) related to fatherhood work? (3) What are negative aspects (if any)? (4) Based on your experience in the fatherhood field, can one be an effective worker without passion for the work?

The views and perspectives of the fatherhood directors and staff (respondents) on the questions were very similar. Therefore, their responses were synthesized and reported using their words in conveying their perspective on each question.

Responses to the first question, "What does passion as it relates to work with fatherhood mean to you?" is congruent with a definition of passion in Webster's New College Dictionary (2008), "strong emotion, boundless enthusiasm" (p.823). The fatherhood directors and staff viewed passion as having a deep desire to help; a feeling in ones heart and soul to help people; a willingness to help others reach their goals; having a heart for what you do; a desire, commitment, faith, and not allowing obstacles or negative forces stop you.

Positive Aspects of Passion

The directors and staff members expressed a number of positive aspects of passion related to working in the field of fatherhood. They viewed passion as a force that inspires the drive, motivation and stamina needed to do the work. They described passion as the thing that motivates them to go beyond what the job says they have to do.

The myriad of complex situations and problems participants bring to fatherhood programs can cause frustration; providing proper service leading to real change for the person and/or situation is time consuming. Change happens slowly. Passion serves as motivation not only for the fatherhood directors and staff, but also to the fathers. It encourages them to continue their efforts to overcome obstacles and barriers encountered in order to achieve the ultimate goal of being good fathers positively involved in the lives of their children. One respondent stated, "Having passion for the work is what gets you through the valleys experienced in the process of helping."

Passion for fatherhood work is a major contributor to not giving up as things get tough. The care and convictions shines through to the fathers via the passion to help shown by the directors and staff. It encourages them to know that someone really cares and is not merely going through the motions. One respondent expressed it this way:

Fathers know it (passion) when it is there; they can feel it. It is an unspoken thing. Having that someone who encourages them, in spite of mistakes that they have made helps the fathers to keep going. The passion, caring, support, determination, and non judgmental attitudes of the directors and staff are key factors in facilitating the process of developing trust between program staff and the fathers.

Being passionate about fatherhood work helps one to be compassionate. One respondent stated that if there is no passion, one would tend to look at the fathers from a negative perspective based on where they are and their life situation upon entering the program. Another respondent expressed the importance of the relationship between passion and compassion, "You need passion to have compassion to help change mindset and behavior."

Negative Aspects of Passion

The downside of passion as it relates to work in the fatherhood field manifests itself as the over-extension of its positive aspects. Fatherhood directors and staff described it as being too passionate, e.g. caring so much that one becomes overly involved in the fathers' lives. Negative aspects of feeling too much passion are demonstrated through actions such as: taking on the fathers' burdens; finding it too hard to let go which may be crippling to fathers' motivation; and becoming overly involved with helping others; hence excessively neglecting ones' own personal needs.

Being too passionate about fatherhood work can generate intense behaviors that may be characterized or experienced as too aggressive, overbearing, and pushing forward harder than the person (father) wants to go. The worker begins to lose perspective on when to stop, becomes intimidating to others potentially causing the fathers to go into a shell. For example, a positive aspect of passion was given as not being willing to give up; not settling for less when you know that the fathers can have more and do more; or wanting more for the fathers than they appear to want for themselves. Statements such as these as well as direct statements from some respondents indicate that there must be a balance and discipline to the workers' passion if passion is used in a manner that benefits, not hurts the helping process.

Having too much passion can have serious negative consequences. It can operate in a way such that the worker becomes so wrapped up in and driven by passion that commonsense diminishes. One can become blinded as a result of being too close to the situation or issue, become too narrowly focused and lose the ability to hear or see other things or the wider picture. Such actions do not support the overall mission of fatherhood work nor does it help men reach their goals.

Undisciplined passion may cause workers to take on the problems of the fathers and become burdened; become too involved with a few versus the many who need services; and experience burnout. Decision making can become clouded to the point where decisions are made from the heart rather than looking at actual needs, available data, and defining logical actions to take in order to achieve desired results. One respondent stated that a result of undisciplined passion is, "Pouring everything you have into the process of helping and you are left disappointed when the father does not do what he is supposed to do in order to achieve favorable outcomes." Others expressed experiencing feelings of failure after giving their all and seeing the goals or notable steps towards the goals not being achieved.

A point that was echoed by many was that as a result of their passion for the work, they have not spent enough quality time with their own families. Frequently going beyond the call of duty, or well beyond minimum requirements, result in loss of personal time eliminating time and attention from their own families. This unfortunately hurts rather than strengthens their families.

Effective fatherhood worker and passion

A unanimous "no" was their response to the question, "Can someone be an effective fatherhood worker without passion for the work?" Two respondents' statements summarize the perspectives voiced by their fellow co-workers.

One cannot be an effective worker in the fatherhood field without passion because the work is not easy; the hours are long and varied; the pay is low; and, there are many demands on your time while at the same time you have responsibilities to take care of your own family.

Another respondent put it this way:

No one can be an effective worker in fatherhood without passion for the work. You don't make much money; and, there are too many problems to deal with daily. It is a purposeful job. If you don't have passion for the work, you will not be able to help others.

Many spoke of the work as a commitment to the mission of helping fathers get their lives on track to become better men and fathers. Without passion for the work, one will not be able to help others. It was described as coming to work just for a paycheck.

Analogies were used to describe the essential role passion plays in being an effective worker in the fatherhood field. One respondent used a vehicle as an analogy. "Passion is to effective work in fatherhood as oil is to an engine and gas to a carburetor or fuel injection system." Another respondent used the analogy of the role of light in darkness.

Men come to us in darkness and despair. Having passion and operating with passion for fatherhood work enables you to be a light to fathers to see where their efforts can get them. You are then able to change hopelessness into having hope.

Implications and Recommendations

Exploration of the role of passion in fatherhood work from the perspective of experienced fatherhood program directors and staff yielded useful information for consideration in hiring and retaining personnel to work in the fatherhood field. The information suggests that hiring persons with a passion for the work rather than just focusing on credentials and previous work experience outside of the field is important. Finding people with knowledge, skills and passion for the work is not easy. As was reiterated by the respondents, passion for the work acts as a motivating force that helps them and the fathers walk through the process of their journey especially when things are tough. Persistence and perseverance are needed to see the process through. If enough evidence of a candidate's level of passion is not apparent during the initial hiring process, looking specifically for indicators of such during the probationary period is highly recommended.

Retention of staff is extremely important in fatherhood work. Passion for the work is a great contributor to ones longevity. Building meaningful trusting relationships with the fathers is essential to the success of fatherhood work. When fatherhood staffs experience constant turnover it closely mirrors inconsistent relationships lived by fathers prior to coming to the fatherhood programs. Thus, it is important for fathers as well as for the success of the program to maintain a high level of consistency with staff members effectively performing their work.

Actions, behaviors and feelings previously identified as a result of undisciplined passion, or lack of balance related to passion, contribute to burnout and become threats to staff retention. This suggests that specific attention be given to providing support to staff is beneficial as it helps them deal with the tendency to do too much at the expense of themselves and their own families. Specific actions to help prevent burnout may include the following: staff retreats to relax and bond; refrain from consistently overburdening staff with work impossible to complete within their paid time schedule; being as flexible as possible in allowing staff to schedule comp time aligned with their personal needs; and providing incentives to celebrate commendable work.

A question was posed from an administrative perspective from a respondent about actions to take when passion begins to wane. First, talk with the person to explore likely causes for the change. Second, get the person's opinion on what he/she thinks will help the situation. Third, find some action oriented measures to address the situation such as arranging some variations in the worker's regular duties; provide some different yet interesting duties, tasks, responsibilities, or project for the person. Fourth, consider providing some time off or reassign the worker to other duties if possible. In short, providing a break from regular routine duties can be helpful in allowing the worker an opportunity to rejuvenate and prevent burnout.

Passion for fatherhood work helps the respondents cope with the issue of low wages. Although it was clear that their primary reason for working in fatherhood was not money, they acknowledged that workers have families to support and low wages do not incentivize continuing work in the fatherhood field. Financially, nonprofit organizations are experiencing difficult times. Nonetheless, it is recommended that as much as possible active pursuit of various avenues be explored and implemented to increase the income of fatherhood workers. As demands on the workers' lives and resources increase, it is important to be proactive in finding ways that will contribute to strengthening their families as well.

The negative impact of passion shared by the directors and program staff brought to light that fatherhood workers experience some of the same obstacles faced by the fathers they serve. Many fathers desperately want to see and be involved in their children's lives. Often their deep passion to see and be with their children prompts actions that results in increased difficulties. Fatherhood programs provide a constructive outlet to learn how to discipline their passion and achieve positive outcomes. What may not be readily apparent at a surface level is that both workers and participants deal with some of the same issues regarding passion and fatherhood. The issues may be enfolded in different situations for the various groups; however, if directors and staffs recognize this phenomenon, it may help them become aware that as they (the workers) experience undisciplined passion, it is also an issue for the fathers they serve. Thus, through helping themselves they may be better able to help others.