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BUFFALO COUNTY (WEAU) - According to the Pew Research Center the number of children living apart from their fathers has more than doubled in the past 50 years. Those findings as local experts say the role of "dad" in a child's life makes a significant impact.

That's why a pilot program in Buffalo and Pepin Counties called “The DAD Thing” is helping dads strengthen their parenting skills and changing lives.

We see dads of all kinds on television and out in the world, but how can dads better connect with their kids? It's a mission for Mary Wood.

What does a responsible dad look like? And how does a responsible dad communicate?

"Many dads feel disposable. That if they're there or not there it doesn't really matter," UW Extension Family Living Agent in Buffalo and Pepin Counties Mary Wood said.

She's a UW Extension Family Living Agent and has helped nearly 100 dads answer those questions, some for the first time.

"There are dads of children like newborn up to teenagers," she explained.

For the past two and half years, Wood has helped incarcerated dad's, dad's on probation and others learn how to be a better parent through her program "The DAD Thing".

"I have many dads with a variety of offenses and I focus on not where they've been, but where they are now and where they can be going. There's a pretty significant body of research showing the benefits of fathers being involved and also the cost of father absence to society, to local government, to our communities and to the children," she said.

Wood says the benefits of having a father figure involved in a child's life are remarkable.

"It's been shown that children who have fathers involved are less likely to be delinquent, less likely to have substance abuse and early sexual activity. And they're more likely to have the types of things that children need really to grow up with good health and well being," Wood explained.

Adam Milkent first came to Mary's class after an OWI arrest landed him in jail. His probation officer recommended he take the class.

"It teaches you a lot about yourself and how you come across to younger people in general," Milkent said.

Milkent says the program opened his eyes and made him look at his actions a bit differently.

"It taught me to take into consideration how other people saw me and how my actions and behaviors affect other people. It just kind of gave me a better understanding for myself and it did help me and continues to do so," he explained.

His girlfriend Sera joined him in class supporting his efforts every step of the way.

"It was very rewarding for me to see Adam learn about himself and gain some confidence in being a father and being a step-parent to my children," Sera Steven’s said.

The dads do things like looking at themselves in a mirror describing what they see. They also toss around a feeling ball and share the last time they felt a certain way.

Wood says one of her many goals is to make dad's aware of the cost of their absence to their child or children and their families.

"Many of the dads say for the first time they feel like they really can be a good dad. They've had a burden of feeling pretty bad about their fathering to this point and this really gives them hope when they haven't had hope," Wood said.

For Adam and Sera, the program strengthened their bond as a family and a couple.

"We're actually engaged to be married! The program helped us understand each other better too so I mean it was a very positive thing," Milkent said.

Now Adam and Sera volunteer to help Mary Wood teach her program.

The DAD Thing is a series of 16 classes, weekly. Each class lasts two hours. Wood offers classes at the jail and out in the community.

For more information on The DAD Thing: clickhere

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