Quintton Williams, 25, was running out things to do with his 3-year-old son. He didn't have a lot of money to spend on activities.
A friend had told him about a new young fathers' support group that met weekly, and encouraged him to go. Williams, who lives in St. Louis, decided to check it out.
Duane Gill, 41, facilitates the group, which was launched by the nonprofit Parents as Teachers (PAT) earlier this year. He follows a curriculum that focuses on child development, effective discipline and parenting apart from a child's mother. Gill also shares information about free activities around town, and provides pizza and chicken wings.
The camaraderie has turned out to be a bigger draw than the free food.
There's a group of about 20 teens and young men meeting weekly, all with the desire to become better fathers.
"I love being my son's role model," Williams said. He likes showing him new things and playing sports with him. His biggest challenge, he said, is the cost of providing for a child.
"Being a parent is expensive," he said. Williams works as a safety officer and plans to begin training at the St. Louis County Police Academy by the end of the month. He's been attending the fatherhood meeting regularly for the past couple of months, and says he's learned how to improve the relationship and communication with his son's mother, with whom he shares custody.
"We want to keep a positive relationship for the sake of our son," he said.
A portion of the meeting time is set aside to discuss what Gill calls "baby-mama drama." It first came up when one of the young fathers raised the question of how to deal with his daughter's mother's new boyfriend. "What if he wants to discipline my daughter?" the father asked. That discussion lasted for an hour and a half.
There are obstacles that arise when fathers are trying to co-parent a child while living apart from the mother, Gill said. The peer support offers a chance to vent about problems and brainstorm solutions.
"There is group wisdom being shared," Gill said. "I learn a lot from them, too."
Another frequent topic of discussion addresses how to best discipline children. Gill said he wants young fathers to consider ways other than spanking to correct a child's behavior.
"You don't always have to be physical with your child," he said.
One out of every 15 American males will father a child while in his teens. The situation can be overwhelming, but help and resources are out there. Kristen Mandrell, a project manager with PAT, says the nonprofit's entire Fatherhood Toolkit is offered for free on the website parentsasteachers.org under the Resources tab.
The parenting sessions target areas with high rates of infant mortality and teen pregnancy, with the goal of reducing both. PAT wants to help teen parents, male and female, improve their parenting skills and learn about the developmental needs of infants and young children. The group sponsors three young fatherhood groups and four teen motherhood groups per week in the St. Louis area, along with several more across the country.
There's a ripple effect to educating young fathers: Their children do better, across every measure of well-being, than their peers in father-absent homes.
Williams knows the importance of his role. His own father has been married to his mother for 28 years, and has always maintained a strong relationship with him.
He speaks passionately about his hopes for his son.
"My dream for him is to be the best little man he can be," Williams said. "I want him to be better than me. I don't want him to have a child as young as I did. I want him to go to college, be able to leave St. Louis and travel the world."
The fact that he's putting in the work to become a more informed father will bring those dreams closer to reality.