Fathers Support Group Live
June 23, 2021
On the morning of Saturday, June 19th, the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s Fathers Autism Support got together for their monthly discussion, just as they have been doing since the fall of 2019. But instead of their usual, private meeting, which has evolved from a circle of chairs in a conference room at the Institute to Zoom meetings that span multiple states and time zones, the group opened up their space to an audience. “Hopefully you can hear what community sounds and feels like,” said one of the group’s leaders, Dr. Michael Hannon, an Associate Professor of Counseling at Montclair State University, who introduced himself as “a husband and father to two dope children.” Though Hannon and Dr. Robert Naseef, a clinical psychologist, author, and the father of an adult son on the spectrum, directed the conversation, the group operates under a support group model, which allows every member of the group the opportunity to share their stories. “This isn’t a program, there’s not a workbook. It’s a lot like catching up with a bunch of people in a similar situation over coffee.” said one father.
While many support groups exist for the parents of children on the spectrum, there are few that are limited to fathers. The specificity of this group has been instrumental in helping several of the members open up. “The first meeting was a sigh of relief. I needed this,” said one of the dads, who, like many others, initially attended at the request of his wife, who suggested he might “benefit from a third party” after his children were diagnosed with ASD. “It’s hard work to be socialized to think that boys and men are generally allowed to express heterosexual lust and anger, and anything else is considered feminine, or weak, or vulnerable. We can reframe what strength looks like.” Hannon said. Dr. Naseef added, “Learning to listen and speak our inner truth is an action. It’s not the unique territory of women.” Another father said, “It really can take courage and humility to make ourselves available to receive the wisdom that we need.”
Many of the group’s members talked about how valuable the diversity and neurodiversity of the group, not only in race, faith, location, and background, but also in the age range of children, has been to them. “It helps put me in perspective,” noted a father. “This group is a reminder to take joy in the journey. It’s nice to have a place to talk about these things and be heard and understood. It helps me be a better father. To love my son better.” said another.
Both Dr. Naseef and Dr. Hannon made a point to highlight that the event was being held not only during Father’s Day weekend, but on Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the news of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation finally reaching enslaved people in Texas in the summer of 1865. Naseef took a moment to acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that Juneteenth had been declared a federal holiday at the same time voting rights are under attack across the United States. As the discussion was coming to an end, Dr. Naseef recalled a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” “When we can keep our fingers on the pulse of those who are being marginalized, like our children…our children, our family members, can help us bend that arc toward justice.”
You can watch the full discussion below: