Adam Combs and Adrian Nunez, two military veteran fathers, recognized a void in their community for fathers attempting to figure out how to jump back into parenthood while working to overcome other struggles that often accompany serving abroad. 

Having a network of people to turn to when parenting gets stressful is critical to the well-being of children and families, as well as the economic health of Colorado. According to Illuminate Colorado, surveys among parents in Colorado prior to the pandemic highlighted the critical need to increase social connections among people parenting in Colorado. While 50% of Colorado parents think other parents ask for help with parenting, the reality is that only one in five parents in Colorado reported asking for support with parenting and one in five said they have no one to turn to for day to day emotional support with raising children.

Thanks to Combs and Nunez leadership, military fathers have a new place to connect with a brand-new Circle of Parents group in Colorado Springs open to any veteran father starting this month. The community known as Fathers of Freedom will meet online every Tuesday via Zoom beginning November 17th from 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm. They say they welcome drop-ins and, when it is appropriate, plan to meet in person and offer dinner and child care free of charge. Open to any veteran father who has the desire to build a strong and lasting bond with not only their children, but also with other veteran fathers, the community also set up a private Fathers of Freedom Facebook group. However, these two dads are no strangers to parent groups, having led a statewide online Circle of Fathers group since the pandemic impacted Colorado early this year.

“The biggest reason I started this group was because being a stay at home father who is a combat veteran and has battled a lot of things over the years, at times have begun to feel isolated and withdrawn from the rest of society,” said Nunez.  “I wanted to create a safe place for other Veteran fathers to meet up and fellowship and encourage and support each other through the thick and thin of life to really step out of our comfort zones to grow. A place we can learn to trust and confide in one another with any success or issue and most importantly teach each other from our own different or similar experiences to be the best and healthiest fathers and leaders we can be!”

In today’s society, many men, especially those serving in a highly serious profession, often find it difficult or even shameful to share emotions. The hope is this group will help break down those walls and create the space for fathers to seek the information and techniques they need to build on their parenting skills. 

People raising children of all ages can find statewide and local circles of parents connecting at Groups have come together based on their location as well as shared experiences, like military service, parenting while in recovery from a substance use disorder and parenting a child with special needs. Others simply want to connect with people in a similar parenting role, like the kinship, grandparenting and fatherhood Circle groups.  

Men are prejudged and punished for simply not knowing what they don’t know, because nobody has taken the time to instill that knowledge in them or model it for them,” Combs said.  “They are set-up to fail at fatherhood, of no fault of their own, because that is how our society has raised them to be.  Noted, these statements do not stand true for all fathers, but from within the populous of men I have spoken to on this subject matter, all have a strong desire to be in their children’s lives and be engaging fathers, they just do not know how to go about completely fulfilling that request at times.  If you add that uncertainty with any other childhood trauma or PTSD symptoms from a veteran’s time serving the war effort, you have a recipe for potential absence or child neglect/abuse.”  

Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family, and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. All parents need people they can call on once in a while when they need a sympathetic listener, advice or support. To help parents find that support in their lives, Illuminate Colorado is focused on growing Circle of Parents® in Colorado.

Built around the foundations of mutual self-help, parent leadership, family support, and increasing all five Protective Factors in families, Circle of Parents® groups to strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment. Groups are parent-led and parent-driven and thus there is no curriculum – just a safe place for parents to share with each other and seek support and advice. Circle of Parents® groups provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers, where parents are the experts.  It’s a place where anyone in a parenting role can openly discuss the successes and challenges of raising children.  It’s a place where they can find and share support.

We cannot help anyone until we take the time to help ourselves.  I started this group because I want to give our veteran fathers a support group to lean on and voice their concerns,” said Combs. “To speak about different tools to parenting and what some of the research is saying.  To openly communicate to each other what things have been working in their household and what things have not been working.  To give men a platform to be vulnerable with other men so they can discuss parenting without feeling judged for their potential ignorance on the subject matter.  This will be an open space where we can learn together through open discussion and book recommendations.  It will be a place to organize group activities with our children to build closer bonds and instill trust.  I want this organization to be a safe-haven where men are given the opportunity to be the best fathers they can be to their children and the best role models they can be for the next generation of fathers.  I think it is important to give ourselves some grace in parenting, because at the end of the day, we are all just doing the best we can.”

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