It isn’t everyday that 150 men attend a PTA-sponsored event focused on parenting—with no wives in sight.
The free event on Wednesday, Feb. 23, on the topic, ‘Raising Boys Into Men of Character: An Evening for Dads,’ was sponsored by the PTA, and featured guest speaker, Mark Wollan.
Mary Beth McCullum, Los Cerros’ PTA Parent Education Representative, and the event’s organizer, says that while it may seem surprising that so many men, representing some 24 schools from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, would come to the event, she had an instinct that it was needed.
In September, when she was asked to organize an event for dads and boys to balance out those offered for moms and girls, she says she jumped at the opportunity, and approached Wollan, who has spoken on parenting topics in local schools for the last five years.
She says her husband, Craig, has also been inspired by him in the Men’s Fraternity program at , where Wollan is also an Associate Pastor focused on community and family life.
Wollan says, “It takes a community of men to raise a boy into manhood.” She credits the strong attendance at the event to a “felt need” amongst dads.
From his experience facilitating groups of parents and men, he says it’s clear that, “Guys want to be great dads.”
“It’s something they care deeply about,” he says, “but don’t commonly have the context to explore it.”
Wollan, himself a father of three, including a teenage son, says he wanted the talk to be relevant to the concerns and challenges local dads face. He met with a focus group of eight dads from Los Cerros in November to get “greater clarity about their top needs and desires.”
The program focused on challenges boys face in middle school—physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially. It also covered what sons need from their dads, with the intent of creating an intentional fathering “game plan.”
Wollan also led the group in a discussion of the challenges that dads themselves face, such as balancing career and family, meeting the needs of multiple children and their wives, as well as lack of downtime for themselves.
McCullum, along with a small group of women, including Los Cerros’ principal, Phyllis Roach, ran the event.
McCullum says she was most struck by “how engaged” the men were.
“They weren’t quiet at all,” she says, “and were asking tons of questions.”
McCullum says, “Our principal just about fell on the floor,” and she told McCullum that she had never seen men participate so enthusiastically in her career.
Wollan says in his typical parenting seminars “85 percent of the people who come are women."
He feels the event format was appealing and worked for those who attended because of the shared camaraderie with other men, and the awareness that “I’m not the only one experiencing this.”
Don Busboom, a father of four, including two sons, who attended the event, says, “a lot of dads are searching, and want more out of their relationships with their sons.”
He agrees that men “desire to be the best dad they can be,” and found the conversations he took part in to be “refreshing.” He says he felt “validated” that he wasn’t alone grappling with the tensions of feeling the pressure to provide, as well as being a proper role-model.
Kent Wisenor, also a father of four, including three sons, says the event was appealing because “there are rule books for everything, but there are no good rule books for being a good dad.”
“We’re all coachable,” he said.
Wisenor says he took away tools to be more “intentional” in his parenting, and felt inspired with ideas to help his sons “feel special” at their milestones.
Wollan says he hopes the event is “a starting point” for local dads, and that they feel “equipped to run with it, “ continuing to find ways to connect with one another.
McCullum says she would like to see the program featured in other schools, and says that the event surveys she received were “overwhelming positive.”
Eighty percent said that they would do something differently in their parenting as a result of the event. She also says 97 percent said they would recommend the event to others if it were held again elsewhere.
“Men came and were hungry for the information, and thrilled with what they got,” McCullum says.