South Seattle’s DADS unites men in fatherhood and brotherhood

Fathers find faith, advice, support and community connections at Divine Alternatives for Dads Services, or DADS.

Will Hughes had a history of substance abuse and incarceration when he walked in the red door of the office on Rainier Avenue South. He’d heard folks there could help him get visitation with his children.

Zakary Fike was “broke, busted and living in a trailer” when he sought out the South Seattle nonprofit for help with a parenting plan for his then 3- and 5-year-old boys.

John Hamer, who’d previously worked for a newspaper and run the Washington News Council, was looking for a place to share his communication skills when he heard the founders of Divine Alternatives for Dads Services, or DADS, speak at an annual banquet.

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Divine Alternatives for Dads Services

5709 Rainier Ave S., Seattle, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 206-722-3137 or www.aboutdads.org

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All three found what they were looking for at the nondenominational, faith-based agency.

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But to their surprise, they also found some things they had not been looking for: healing, forgiveness, love and a community that transcends age, race, class and even political leanings. Each Wednesday morning and Thursday evening, a group of 25 to 50 men from ages 17 to 90 attend the support group, where they talk about their lives, their struggles, their efforts to know God and be better men.

“We didn’t set out to do a big thing,” said Marvin Charles, 61, who started the organization with his wife, Jeanett Charles, 50, almost two decades ago after they got clean and sober and figured out — by themselves mostly — how to meet the court’s legal requirements and reclaim their children from Child Protective Services (CPS).

Their organization — which runs on donations and does not charge clients — is predicated on the idea that fathers are important and their children do better with them in their lives.

“The dad’s role in the home and in the community is to bring a strong presence of safety and unity,” Jeanett Charles said. “We tell them to push past the drama with the mama and just love on your children. All they have to do is show up — at school, during recess, at lunch, and say, ‘Hey, fella’ or ‘Hi, sweetheart’ and that presence softens the hearts of their children and boosts their morale.”

Marvin Charles, whose story has been told, in part, by The Seattle Times, said he and Jeanett simply wanted to pass on what they’d learned about navigating the bureaucracy that keeps families apart, when they discovered they’d hit on something big instead.

By sharing personal truths as well as advice, they built bridges between people and created a community of fathers who lean on each other and share strength.

“It’s strange when I look back,” said Hughes, 48, who is in corporate IT at Costco and serves as…

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