BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- Tylin Davis learned what it meant to be a father when his fiancée had a medical complication following the birth of their daughter and was rushed to emergency surgery.
"I prayed to God, 'please don't take my baby,'" Davis, 21, of Bloomington, recalled during an interview at Children's Home & Aid in Bloomington.
He looked to his newborn daughter and kept in check his flurry of emotions.
"I needed to put my emotions aside to make sure everyone was safe," Davis said. "I learned to be patient. I learned to not take anything for granted.
"I needed to be a father," he said.
His fiancée, Cearra Jackson, is doing well. The couple will marry in September. Their daughter, Taylin, is an active 10-month-old.
Davis credits Children's Home & Aid's doula and Healthy Start programs with helping him to learn parenting skills.
Now, the agency and other organizations are partnering to help support any interested father in McLean County.
The McLean County Fatherhood Coalition is a fledgling organization whose goal is to support fathers. The coalition is for any father, said Earl Kloppmann, Children's Home & Aid program manager for its Parents Care & Share program, and Dorothy Davis, Parents Care & Share Central Illinois regional coordinator.
So far, the coalition, which began meeting in November, gets together every two months. In addition to fathers and Children's Home & Aid, organizations represented include Heartland Head Start, The Salvation Army of McLean County, Bloomington and Normal police, McLean County Adult Court Services, Chestnut Health Systems, Mid Central Community Action, Bloomington Housing Authority, Marcfirst, health care providers, schools and churches.
"We are here because we are a part of the community," John Fermon, Bloomington police public affairs officer, said after the June 19 coalition meeting. When men are empowered to be better fathers, that's healthy for the community, he said.
One goal is to organize a dads' group that would begin meeting this fall. Until then, coalition members are talking and interviewing dads to determine their challenges and what they want in a group.
Most human services' agencies that serve families are focused on mothers and children, Kloppmann said.
"There are many wonderful programs targeting mother and child but fathers are sometimes left on the sidelines, though not deliberately," Kloppmann said. Fatherhood services in communities are fewer, fragmented and often underfunded and not widely known, he said.
Fathers are important in raising safe, healthy and well-nurtured children but, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in four children in the United States lives without a father in the home.
According to the National Fatherhood Coalition, a child raised in a father-absent home is more likely to be at risk of poverty, to become a pregnant teen, to have behavioral problems, to face abuse and neglect, to abuse drugs, to go to prison, to be obese, to commit a crime and to drop out of high school.
Children's Home & Aid concluded the best way to begin to address the problem was by "listening to the community" by forming a coalition including several agencies and dads.
Kyle Miller, an Illinois State University associate professor in the College of Education, is interviewing dads. During the June 19 meeting, she shared preliminary findings from 10 fathers interviewed so far:
Dads are interested in co-parenting but their relationship with their children's mother is a major factor in the quality of their relationship with their child. Negotiating parenting philosophies and improving communication with mothers is vital.
While technology such as texting helps with safety and staying connected their children, smartphones impede conversations. Parents need to set boundaries.
When moms and dads are not living together or are divorced, the legal system favors moms when it comes to custody agreements. Fathers need help navigating the legal system.
Fathers must work at becoming better versions of themselves, such as being less judgmental and more sensitive. But fathers have few outlets to discuss the challenges of fatherhood, so access to social supports, fathers' groups, counseling and church groups can help.
The coalition hopes to develop an action plan, which would include a dads' group, in the fall, Kloppmann said.
"Our group will be a place where you can come talk about your challenges and successes of parenting in a group of other fathers who are experiencing the same things and find support and help through the group," he said.
Among 25 people at the meeting was Paul Hursey Jr., mentoring chair for 100 Black Men of Central Illinois. Hursey has been involved in the coalition since the beginning to provide a male perspective and to gather information he can bring back to youth mentees, some of whom are fathers.
Anthony Jones, a Bloomington father of four children ages 6 to 13, said he is divorced and has joint custody of his children.
"Your child needs to be a part of your life," he said. "Time is the best thing you can give a child ... but you have to have a routine."
"This group has given me a lot of information as I continue on a positive path," he said. Going forward, he hopes the group will help fathers to know their legal rights.