Fatherhood looks different to every dad. That’s why we’re taking an in-depth look at fatherhood with key experts, regular parents, and everyone in between in this mini-series, “The Fatherhood Experience.”
This week we spoke to Bruce Murray. Bruce is a Father Advocate and Case Manager with MVNA, the community care extension of Hennepin Healthcare, providing visiting services to dads and has taught parenting classes in partnership with the FATHERS Project. He is a husband and father that spends his professional time connecting fathers to resources that support them in being the best dads they can be.
Tell me about what you do professionally.
I connect with dads in Minneapolis and support them and their parenting. You want to make sure that dads are connected to their children and that they’re part of their children’s lives: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. At MVNA, we want to support dads in everything that involves the relationship with their children and individual wellbeing and ensure that they have what they need to be a successful father and a successful person.
I go into the community and meet with dads, provide case management, connect them with all types of programs and resources: the FATHERS project, employment programs, food shelves, personal needs, educational needs — anything that involves dad and children. With MVNA and Hennepin Healthcare, I want to make sure that whether he’s in the home or out of the home, Dad has the support he needs.
What have been your biggest successes in this work?
Just connecting with multiple different dads at different ages and stages of their life and meeting them where they are. Engaging with dads during the pandemic has been really difficult with a lot of nonprofits and other resources being shut down and having really limited resources. But we’re still able to connect with them so they know that they have someone to call that will support them and guide them to some of the resources out there.
I’m proud that I can still connect with fathers dealing with custody situations, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Many are just dealing with “how to survive” day-to-day. You know, being a minority, a Black man, and a father, engaging intentionally with other fathers, and learning how to support them, is really what it’s all about. Being that contact that I think dads need, that’s a success.
Seeing fathers start to be a bigger part of their child’s life… that’s a difficult thing to do, but sometimes all it takes is being ready to say: “Hey, I’m here. I support you. What do you need? What can we do? Let’s try to figure out how we can do this.” Also, it’s best to start small, so that dads don’t feel more overwhelmed than he may already be.
What’s the best way to connect with men in the community you serve?
You know, dads recognize BS right away. I don’t go in there making promises and giving them hope when I know I can’t do something. Be real, be authentic, and be in the moment. This is reality, right? Give it to them raw. Talk to them and look for that connection. I tell men: “Look, I’m not trying to get in your business to be in your business. I’m trying to get in your business to get you a business.”
Let them know that you’re a human too and that you’re going through things too. You’re not a robot. Oftentimes, I’m working with men that weren’t privileged growing up. Sometimes I reflect and ask myself: “How did you get out of some of the trials and tribulations you went through? How do you deal with things as a black man? How do you deal with being a husband, a spouse?” It’s about speaking from my own experience as a man as well as from my professional training and experience.
I can identify with a lot of men I work with, and hopefully they can kind of see themselves in me and feel like “man, he cares.” Some days they might fall off and come back later, but there’s always a dad that’s in need. Don’t be scared to use your voice in a positive way; your reputation will precede you. Say what you mean, and work with integrity.
What do you hear from dads about interacting with the healthcare system?
A lot of the fathers I talk to don’t have healthcare. Just like a lot of young dads don’t have life insurance. I see opportunities to ask, “have you connected with the county? Have you looked into medical assistance?” And it can get complicated, because if you miss the monthly premium for MNsure, you can lose it. To keep medical assistance, you have to do things like income statements.
Healthcare is a place where we have a lot of disparities, but healthcare is needed. We need healthcare to bridge the gaps faced by many communities. There are healthcare gaps in minority communities, especially with Black men! It’s so necessary but a lot of dads aren’t even getting yearly physicals. It’s like they don’t want to know about their physical health, or they feel invincible. But there’s high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, and all kinds of stuff is going on that often is preventable. It’s important to be in tune with your kids — being ready to talk about those emotions is a skillset to build. Children need the nurture and love of a father. Parents and caretakers are their first teachers.
Healthcare is a spectrum. Mental, spiritual, emotional, physical — all of this plays a part in adequate healthcare, being a healthy father, and raising healthy children. We gotta connect with dads and let them know it’s OK to be vulnerable, to hug, to play. They don’t hear this stuff. A lot of people are in survival mode, and getting to the next step requires a network, resources, and support. Dads need to feel that support.
On the subject of healthcare, what’s one message you want to send to all the dads out there reading this?
I tell men a lot of the time we suffer in silence. We suffer in silence. We won’t tell people that we’re hurting emotionally, mentally, or physically. Many times, we’ll just self-medicate to cover up the symptoms or withdraw. Too often men just keep going until it’s too late. We need to let men know that it’s okay to ask for help and figure out what’s going on with them.