When my maternal grandfather died, a stream of men came to pay their respects to my grandmother and mother. The men cried as if they had lost their own father, and in a way they had.
My grandfather was a barber: keeper of secrets, dispenser of advice and a great listener to creative storytellers.
He also engendered trust. Men would come and sit in his chair, confident that their hair would be just right by the time he handed them a mirror and spun them around to see the back as well as the front. Not only did they come back to Granddaddy regularly, they brought in their sons and often dropped in for conversation, even when they didn’t need a haircut.
For generations, being taken by one’s father for that first haircut and being introduced to the fraternity found at barbershops has been a highly anticipated Right-of-Passage.
“It’s that intimate a relationship. It’s not all about the cut; it’s also about the relationship,” said Kenneth Braswell, director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees President Obama’s Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative and has launched Fatherhood Buzz, an eight-city pilot outreach program designed to disseminate information about responsible fatherhood and parenting.
Fatherhood Buzz will kick off Saturday at more than 100 barbershops in eight cities: Albany, N.Y., Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. and after this weekend will expand to Baltimore, Boston and Wilmington, Del., and other cities.
Braswell told BlackAmericaWeb.com barbershops were targeted because they are natural community hubs that bring together men from all walks of life, “from the pastor of the church around the corner to the thug coming to get sharp because he’s gonna hang out all night, all hanging out in the barbershop in harmony.”
Conversations range from last night’s game to employment to relationships to fatherhood.
“When I go to the barber, he asks ‘How’s the wife? How’s the kids? How’s that project?’ It’s someone you know every two weeks you’re going to see. (And) If it’s a hot enough conversation, then the rest of the barbershop gets involved,” Braswell said.
Fatherhood Buzz aims to take what’s already familiar to men one step further.
“There are some key conversations that always come up,” Braswell said. “Child support, not the mechanics…it’s always around the pain of it. When that comes up the program will make sure that barbers are more equipped to provide information that can help (customers) navigate the system, explain what child support is really being used for. The work is about helping men, but ultimately the work is about the healthy environment for children.”
Braswell said the focus of the Buzz will change quarterly. For the program’s launch, the emphasis is on economic stability and parenting, but future topics could be education, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, relationships or marriage.
On Saturday, in addition to discussions about responsible fatherhood, there will be giveaways, networking opportunities and information about local and national resources will be distributed.
Shop owners can sign up for Fatherhood Buzz at www.fatherhoood.gov or by calling 1-877-4DAD411 (1-877-432-3411) for parenting tips, parenting programs and additional resources.