Shon Hart speaks very frankly about the faulty fathering that was at work in his own household. It’s a tender subject, but one he’s willing to open up about given what he went through.
“I had been waiting all my life for my father to speak to me – to my destiny to help me with who I am,” he says. “ His advice when he finally wanted to have a sit down? It was to go play the field as much as possible. My dad gave me permission to be reckless.”
Hart says it was “crazy” for his father to give the kind of advice he did to a son about to make his way in the world.
“I went for years broken,” he says.
It was searing experiences like this that left Hart wanting more and drove him to found InvolvedDad two years ago. The nonprofit organization focuses on responsible fathering and re-examining the impact of fatherhood absence. It’s something Hart’s organization tackles on a real, virtual, emotional, financial, and spiritual level.
“The work I do, I was called to do,” he says enthusiastically.
InvolvedDad provides tools and guidance that can help fathers solve countless problems. It offers training sessions, literature that informs, coaching, and an initiative called Man 2 Man University held in conjunction with Genesee County Healthy Start that helps fathers in their journey to build strong family units. It also helps fathers with child support issues through the Friend of the Court, which keep the father directly engaged.
“We do this to help restore the family,” Hart says.
According to the InvolvedDad website, “research shows children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, and exhibit positive social behaviors compared to children with uninvolved fathers. In addition, committed, responsible fathering during childhood has been shown to contribute to children’s math and verbal skills, curiosity, and emotional security.”
It was through working as a counselor and as a pastor though that Hart quickly saw he wasn’t alone. Starting his own nonprofit gave him a channel to focus solely on fathers and their families. In the process, it turned into a sort of ministry of its own, one he says he loves.
“I started holding classes at Café Rhema in downtown Flint, which grew really fast from a few dozen men to hundreds by the end of the year,” he says. “The classes became a place for them to talk about pain and trauma, and the things missing from their fathers.
“They also talked about where they dropped the ball. Because of what they’d experienced, these fathers wound up doing things their parents did,” Hart says.
Prison bars can put a very real division between dads and children. A job Hart landed shortly after graduation working with men who were incarcerated showed him just how painful this separation could be, particularly because most every man he met there had also had a father who wasn’t around.
“There’s a commonality with men in prison,” he says. “Many grew up in single-parent homes and had absentee fathers, or were raised by grandparents. They break down crying in our meetings. What we do lets the hardest of the hardest man open up.”
Hart came to Michigan from his hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1993 on a football scholarship to Michigan State University, from which he holds a bachelor’s degree in counseling. After graduation, he wound up staying in the area, got married, and now makes his home in the University Park neighborhood downtown.
Earlier in the month, he attended a community forum focused on the north side of Flint held by the Ruth Mott Foundation. He had received a $75,000 grant, which helped him start InvolvedDad.
“It was great to be around other people who want to change the city,” he says of the day that brought together other nonprofits, local media, and civic foundations, as well as many concerned citizens. “What I like about the Ruth Mott Foundation is the approach. They ask questions, people give them answers, and then they try to execute.”
The approach is one Hart utilizes as well through the work he does. Absentee fathering, he says, is bigger than most people think. “It’s an epidemic.”
The issue is also something he brings to light as a motivational speaker and author. His book, From Average to Elite, comes out January 1.
Hart has received calls for his program to expand, especially for aspects to be used in social media in some format.
“They need it, and it is necessary,” he says of the population he serves. “So many men are hurting. I create a platform for them to be transparent.”
For more information on, visit involveddad.org.