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Moustapha Sanogo said the Strong Dads program gave him more confidence as a father.

Extension program helps fathers learn parenting skills

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

As 28-year-old Garfield County resident Tristen Goans sought custody of his 4-year-old daughter in 2023, he knew he needed to become more involved as a parent. He was still carrying a few tough memories from his childhood, and he was ready to heal.

“Because of my biological father, I never wanted to take things too far, and my ex-wife was more of the disciplinarian for our daughter,” he said.

Goans signed up for a free course he had learned about through his local Oklahoma State University Extension office called Strong Dads, a workshop designed to empower men with lifelong parenting knowledge, resources and friendships.

For the next three months, he attended a weekly, two-hour session focused on self-awareness and self-care; mental, physical and emotional health; parenting skills; the role of a father; and fostering a healthy relationship with children, spouses and co-parents. When he received custody of his daughter in February, Goans felt capable and inspired in his paternal role.

“If I need advice, I have people who are also parents that can help,” he said.

Goans graduated from the Garfield County class in December alongside Jim Lind, 54, who has two adult daughters and a 9-year-old son. As he endured a divorce, Lind said he knew his young son was watching.

“I’ve got a lifetime of parental experience behind me, but I think we can all be better parents,” he said. “We’ve all cried and shed tears together. It established a brotherhood of men going through the same things and gave me a support group.”

Strong Dads is currently offered in nine Oklahoma counties — Carter, Creek, Garfield, Kay, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Payne, Rogers and Tulsa. Oklahoma Human Services received $9 million in federal funding to support fatherhood services in 2023 and then partnered with OSU Extension to implement the Strong Dads curriculum, provided by the National Fatherhood Initiative.

The project is facilitated through OSU Extension’s Co-Parenting for Resilience and Fatherhood initiatives in the OSU College of Education and Human Sciences.

“Dads today have an increased role in caregiving, yet many programs cater to serving moms,” said Katey Masri, manager of the OSU Extension Co-Parenting for Resilience program.

“Strong Dads is unique in that it equips men with the self-awareness, compassion and sense of responsibility that every good parent needs.”

Matt Brosi, OSU Extension state specialist in human development and family science, said fathers often feel hopeless due to a poor relationship with their children’s mother, employment issues or being embedded in a social system that devalues their role as a father.

“Our goal is to help fathers build better relationships with their children by increasing their sense of self, mobilizing internal and external resources, and increasing their confidence and motivation to have a good relationship with their children,” Brosi said.

Varying in age and ethnicity from all walks of life, Strong Dads participants learn practical applications to contribute to society as responsible and compassionate fathers. Participants include community leaders, professors, military and public service veterans as well as fathers who are in recovery from addiction or have previously been incarcerated.

Carter County coordinator Eric Swenson said participants share a powerful goal.

“They want to change the trajectory of their children’s lives, and the only way to do that is to change their own,” Swenson said.

Greg Brungardt, Payne County coordinator, said the program provides fathers with specific parenting tools that help alleviate family stressors.

“These guys are mentally healthier and happier,” he said. “They have a more level baseline and are more comfortable with themselves now that they understand everybody else is in the same situation.”

Payne County Strong Dads graduate Moustapha Sanogo said the course was a deep dive into the essence of what it means to be a dad.

“It helps embrace your worth, map out your shortcomings and, most importantly, learn again to lift your head high after being weathered by societal judgments,” Sanogo said. “It reminds me of the power of community, understanding and love. I will forever cherish this experience and the profound impact it has had on my journey as a father.”

Due to the rapid growth of Oklahoma’s Hispanic population, workshops will soon be offered in Spanish as well. Enrollment is open and anyone in a fatherhood role is eligible to enroll in any county where the program is offered.

Photo by: Mitchell Alcala

Story by: Gail Ellis | STATE Magazine

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