A Celebration of Fatherhood

Derek Miller
Mr. Derek Miller

When Derek Miller’s son was three months old, he almost died. It was Derek’s quick action and knowledge of infant CPR that saved his son’s life. Derek had learned infant CPR only weeks before in his position as Care Coordinator of the 4Dads Fatherhood Program, a part of Kalamazoo’s Health and Human Services offerings for families. 

“That was the most terrifying moment of my life,” said the lifelong Kalamazoo resident. Mr. Miller is the Program Leader for Healthy Babies and Healthy Start and the 4Dads Fatherhood Program in Kalamazoo County, a role he came to through his own personal experience. “When I first arrived at the County, I was an administrative assistant, and we were expecting my first son.  When he was born, he had a few complications and had to be in NICU.” Mr. Miller recounted that during this challenging time, he was grateful for the plentiful services devoted to his wife, but he felt alone as a new father facing this challenge. “It left me feeling like I was trying to be there for my wife and for my son, but there was no support.” 

There are multiple programs, groups and initiatives that fathers can connect to for support and community. ECIC’s National Center for Family and Parent Leadership hosted a webinar featuring Kevin Lavender Jr., Founder and Executive Director of Fatherhood Network, Adnoris “Bo” Torres, Co-founder of Padres Fuertes Initiative and Erik Vecere, Chief Partner Success Officer of National Fatherhood Initiative. The webinar highlighted the importance of engaging fathers in their children’s earliest years as well as national, state and local resources for fathers  

As Mr. Miller started on his parenting journey and new position at Kalamazoo County, he was able to connect with Kevin Lavender, founder of the Fatherhood Network in Kalamazoo, as well as several other fathers during his family’s struggle. “It just didn’t seem like someone should have to be going through something like that alone,” says Miller. The sense of community and support from Kevin Lavender and other local fathers has allowed Derek Miller to not only help himself and his children but also support his entire community. 

They wrote a grant which was approved and became the 4Dads program in Kalamazoo County. Derek became the Care Coordinator for the program. “I was connecting with other fathers across the city and county, providing parenting resources, and sometimes just being there as a listening ear. So, I have been able to meet with hundreds of fathers from all backgrounds. Homeless to college professors; it doesn’t matter what economic status you have. When you’re a father, you’re flying an airplane while you’re still putting it together, but when you can get more than one person together with you, we can at least figure out the next step,” he said. 

When Derek talks about the work he does with Healthy Babies Healthy Start and the 4Dads Fatherhood Program as the Program Supervisor, you can feel his dedication to helping families thrive as they are setting out on their journey into parenthood. He recounts that when he asked other organizations and people, he found that while there is a large support system around mothers and babies from extended family and community services, very few people can name services that are for fathers specifically. 

When asked how new fathers could connect with services or supportive networks in their communities, Derek advised new fathers to start thinking about their baby as soon as they knew they were expecting. “A lot of people think fathers aren’t part of the story until the baby is born, but that’s wrong,” said Derek. “You have to start thinking about your role as a father as soon as you know you’re expecting. There is so much fathers can do to support their babies right away from helping mom, getting involved with fatherhood groups, and learning about how to care for their baby.”  

He advised fathers to take an active role during birth, to remind medical staff they were in attendance and to ask all the questions they had until they felt like they understood. He stated that it might be difficult to find fatherhood networks in different communities, but to ask and look for resources regardless. 

“Finding out your child is coming is almost like hearing a legend. You hear about it, people keep talking about it, but it doesn’t really strike true until it’s here. You can start right there, fall in love with the idea of your child.” 

Created in 2005 to serve as a statewide leader in early childhood, ECIC collaborates to increase public and private investment in the earliest years of children’s lives, while elevating issues affecting young children and their families, to continuously improve Michigan’s comprehensive early childhood system. Our vision is to create a future where all young children in Michigan and their families thrive.