PATERSON ― It was the first quarter of the AFC Championship on Sunday afternoon, and the men gathered at the Crossroads Community Center were growing a bit antsy.
The 8-foot-long screen on which they were supposed to watch the big game was blank because of technical difficulties with the livestream.
But no one left. That’s because this gathering was about more than just watching football. These were Paterson fathers with their sons and grandsons, looking for a chance to bond.
“Fathers are an important part of the family structure,” said Douglas Goulding, wearing a black shirt with the words “Fathers Matter.” “For some reasons, people think Black fathers don’t love their children — but look around.”
The football viewing party was just the latest weekend event sponsored by a community group called Go FAR (Fathers Advancing and Reconnecting). Other outings included a trip to the U.S. Open last summer and a kayaking excursion.
The Go FAR program was the brainchild of Carolyn McCombs, the executive director of New Destiny Family Success Center on Ellison Street. McCombs realized her services were focused primarily on women and children — as is the case with many social services in the city — and she wanted to extend her reach to the men in her community.
So she wrangled Goulding, who had a history of coaching tennis and running a youth ministry, to spearhead the program.
Goulding, who raised three children as a single father, believes that youngsters who grow up with men in the household have a positive experience that can in turn improve their communities.
“A child is less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to do better in school,” Goulding said.
He credits the late Charles Ballard for much of what he preaches today. Ballard, who by his own admission was a deadbeat father, had a change-of-life moment during a stint in prison in which he vowed to become a fixture in his then-estranged son’s life. And he stayed true to his word.
In 1982, Ballard founded the National Institute of Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization in Cleveland, and he toured nationally. Two decades ago, Goulding met him at a conference and became a faithful disciple of his teachings. The timing of the encounter was uncanny, as Goulding had recently become a single father after a divorce. U.S. census data says about 9% of children across the nation live without a father in the home, regardless of race. In the Black community that rate is higher, with about 22.4% of Black children growing up fatherless, according to the census.
Goulding said the history of broken families in the United States has deep historical roots that begin with the separation of families in slavery. He believes that legacy has continued into modern times with mass incarceration of Black men that separates children from their fathers. This history is destined to repeat itself, as fatherless children tend to become absent fathers themselves, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Ballard believed that tackling fatherless families required healing men who themselves grew up without fathers. Go FAR does this with bonding events and with weekly support group meetings.
At the start of the second quarter of the AFC Championship, the technical issues were solved and the livestream of the game appeared on the projector screen. “There we go,” Goulding said, with his fist thrown triumphantly into the air.
It was just in time to see the Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco score a 2-yard touchdown, putting Kansas City up 14-7. There wasn’t much cheering. The consensus in the room was that the Chiefs had won enough championships — two in the last four years — and it was time to share the wealth with the Ravens.
“Mahomes already has two rings,” said William Henry, a Paterson resident who had come to the event with his 16-year-old son.
Henry said he had gotten involved with Go FAR after meeting Goulding in a class to become a peer recovery specialist.
“We had a common interest in reducing crime in the city and getting people out of poverty,” Henry said.
Goulding’s love for tennis has helped establish sports as a common theme in Go FAR’s father-son bonding events. About 20 people attended the football gathering on Sunday.
Among them were Ainul Chowdhury and his three sons. “Sports are good for health, and they’re also fun,” Chowdhury said. “I’m hoping they become fans.”
Goulding said his next mission is working with the local police on initiatives that emphasize crime prevention over incarceration in hopes of breaking the cycle of fatherlessness.
“We’re going to change the world,” Goulding said.
As the afternoon progressed, it became clearer that the Chiefs were going to win the conference championship and go on to play in the Super Bowl.
Raheem Smallwood, who came to the event with his 4-year-old grandson, was one of the few participants who didn’t mind seeing Mahomes succeed in another postseason.
“You don’t get to see many men of color playing this position at the highest level,” said Smallwood, who runs a youth group called Sankofa Leadership Academy. “If you ever hear him articulate his position outside the game, he’s always talking about family, community and culture.”