A Father’s Love
The picture of Anthony Gay holding his five-year-old son, Noah, allows us a glimpse into his life. The two are on a “Dads Matter Too” float displayed during a community parade. Little Noah is content, eyes closed after finding comfort on his Dad’s shoulder. With strong arms around him, it is time to sleep.
Across the state, fathers are experiencing these same touching moments with their own children – the result of focused efforts of the Department of Children and Families emphasizing the unique role fathers play and empowering them to actively take part in their children’s lives.
It took Anthony almost a decade of work to be at this place in his career, and most certainly, his life. By chance, he attended an “Engaging Fathers in CPS Training” at the Academy for Workforce Development back in 2009. As a Social Work Supervisor, and father of two children, the content moved him. He realized gaps in his own work, and that the Department did not “Do great with fathers we did not connect with.” Anthony realized, “I did not have my own biases in check,” and left the training determined to make change.
Three months later, a position opened at the Academy and the student now became the teacher. As the lead for fatherhood engagement training, his influence was received by internal DCF staff across the Agency. Concurrently, regional offices commenced structured activities to promote the key roles of fathers and to develop strategies for inclusion in case planning.
Upon returning to the Waterbury Office in 2012, Anthony was asked to take over the Region 5 Fatherhood Engagement Leadership Team (FELT) by then Office Director Patti Zuccarelli. Originally, the role was “supposed be given to someone else,” according to Anthony, yet it was Patti who advocated for him to be the lead. “The legacy will always be connected to Patti,” Anthony states regarding the success of this work, “She never told me ‘no’ and always helped me figure out the how.”
The initial FELT work commenced with a staff survey regarding their impressions of fathers and to clarify outcomes. Involving community stakeholders and locating a “community dad” who could assist in changing the perception of DCF in the community soon followed.
The efforts were tireless.
Having passion does not always mean results are easy to achieve. Despite a newsletter created to hear the “phenomenal stories” about fatherhood engagement, many staff remained resistant to embracing this new way of thinking. When a particular worker was proud of their efforts, he told Anthony, “I would share my story but my peers would get upset” or another disclosed, “I trust this - but I do not.”
The work identified that one key barrier to fatherhood engagement and involvement with their children actually rested with the mothers. Anthony states, “Mothers can be the gatekeepers to provide information on the father which might not necessarily be true. This may negatively impact his relationship with his children.” This scenario was personal for him. Anthony knew what it was like to be excluded from periods of his own daughter’s life.
The work did not stop.
Listening forums occurred with fathers across the Region. An office “lead” and community “lead” were established to provide insight internally and externally to enhance the message forward. Momentum was growing.
In January 2014, Anthony’s son, Damion, was fatally injured in a car accident at 23 years of age. This man who enriched the lives of so many Fathers and children, our leader, was now in immense pain. A “Storm was inside me,” he would recite. “Every day was rain”. Through tears, Anthony talks openly about his relationship with Damion and his regrets of not being at more of his son’s events. The school plays and sporting contests. Enjoying those quiet moments where it is just you and your children. “I missed a lot,” he would say.
Parallel statements he has heard time and time again by other Fathers.
Anthony’s actions as a Father were influenced by his relationship with his own father. A hard working man with only a 3rd grade education, he worked 2 full-time and 1 part-time jobs to support his family. As the provider and protector, he was not frequently home, enjoying quality time with his children or seeing them participate in activities. He was doing what he thought was best for his family.
After his Father’s death, Anthony assumed part ownership of his parent’s house. Attached with it came the financial burden requiring him to take care of his mother and siblings.
Being a young father and facing financial strain, Anthony’s mindset was to repeat what was modeled for him in his own family – a familiar scenario with those men Anthony meets in his daily work.
Anthony was intent on “not being a burden,” to Damion. He did not want Damion to feel the financial strains he did so his actions became one of provider and protector, in the way he thought best. “Work, work, work is what I did.” He stated. Well intended, yet not without a price.
He looks back now and recognizes what he did was what he knew at the time, not unlike the thousands of fathers who have come to the Department’s attention since this work began. They repeat the behaviors of their own fathers.
“Be present” he will say when asked about the biggest meaning in Damion’s loss. With your children he emphasizes, “Be consistent in their lives.”
Powerful words Anthony now imparts to Fathers now across the state.
At a time in his life when it would have been easy to step away from the work, Anthony’s loss only intensified his passion. It also impacted his relationship with his newborn son.
Almost 10 months after Damion’s death, Noah was born. In biblical terms, “Noah means re-birth,” Anthony states. A new beginning. “The storm over me lifted after he was born and I became more at peace.”
“I wanted to create a sense of security for him.”
In Anthony’s office, pictures of Noah are proudly displayed as well as the drawing of a fish his buddy made for him in pre-school. “For the first two and a half years, I walked him to sleep at night. I don’t miss anything of his,” he states.
Anthony has been at every medical appointment, school function, party and event with Noah. At the end of the day, Noah “runs and jumps into my arms when he knows I am there.” Anthony points out. “He holds my hand when we walk into school, all the way into the classroom.”
Statistics are clear on the outcomes of children who have two involved parents; they perform better academically, socially, emotionally and psychologically.
How does one truly measure a child’s sense of security with a loving father?
Maybe the best insight into Anthony’s relationship with Noah rests with these words. “He is Linus and I am his blanket”.
Anthony has a calmness surrounding him when he speaks about his life. Constantly deflecting the credit to others for the success of his work. Using his own experiences as motivation, he desires to do even better for other fathers and recites plans to re-brand the fatherhood work, of a newly developed mission statement and the creation of a diligent search tool social workers can use to locate fathers absent from a family.
Social media is now widely utilized to spread the awareness of fathers. Messages on the “Dads Matter Too” Facebook page come from fathers not only in other states, but other countries. Men are referred to him by individuals he has never met. “I received a call the other day from a man who was calling on behalf of his friend in California. He wanted some advice.” Anthony states. “People recognize the Dads Matter Too t-shirt when I wear it in grocery stores.”
The principles of fatherhood are now embedded in the Department’s values, seen in the daily interactions staff display with families and have been acknowledged nationally.
Because of who he is as a person and a professional, Anthony Gay has moved this work forward, despite the barriers, obstacles and personal pain.
Perhaps the true legacy of our work may rest in the impact it has on those individuals who will never know our name. They will never turn and thank us, but because of our efforts, they live more productive and healthier lives.
Fathers and children who do not even know Anthony Gay have felt his impact. He has done his part to change their lives. The impact is intergenerational.
On behalf of those children who can now rest their tired heads on the strong shoulders of a father and on behalf of the men who can truly be present in their children’s lives, let us take this opportunity to say……….to you……….Anthony……….