Mark S. Kiselica learned early in his career that few people pay attention to teen fathers. He heard that from teen fathers he met at a psychiatric hospital, and he heard that when he worked in a program for teen mothers.
“People were not interested in the fathers,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “They would make disparaging comments about them. People said that the fathers were a waste of time.”
Model of love
Kiselica, of Newtown, Pa., has a different opinion.
“Jesus provided all of us with an admirable model for how to lead our lives,” he said. “We have an obligation to be loving neighbors to everyone, and those basic teachings of Jesus permeate everything that I do. I look for the good in people, and I find it.”
He also empathized with the first young fathers he met.
“I was fairly young myself, and I tried to imagine what it was like for a teenage boy to be a parent,” he said. “If I didn’t feel prepared in my early 20s to be a father, what must it be like for them?”
Guided by faith
Kiselica, 52, a licensed psychologist, is vice provost and professor of counselor education at The College of New Jersey, in Ewing, and is a nationally recognized authority on teen fathers, boys and adolescent males. He has authored more than 100 academic presentations and 130 professional publications, including five scholarly books. He is the editor of the Routledge Series on Counseling and Psychotherapy With Boys and Men, which includes his own book, “Counseling Troubled Boys: A Guide For Professionals.”
And he is a devout Catholic who was raised with a strong faith and a father, he said, who showed him “to see the good in men” and to understand “what a good father should be.”
Kiselica also was influenced by the Benedictines in his undergraduate studies in psychology at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
“We learn from Jesus that God loves humanity,” he said. “I believe we are all part of the same family, and as a result, everybody deserves respect, appreciation and consideration.”
Kiselica carried that with him when he studied for a master’s degree in psychology from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and a doctorate in counseling psychology at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa.
He held that respect for his young clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and in 1991, he knew where he wanted to focus.
Working with teen dads
“My early encounters with young fathers made me realize that adolescent fatherhood is both the consequence and cause of serious social problems,” he said. “So, I made the decision to begin a multi-faceted campaign to raise awareness about the complicated lives and diverse needs of this population.”
Several things stood out. By documenting a systematic line of empirical research, he found that teen parenting programs were significantly less likely to offer services to teen fathers than to teen mothers.
The reason? “Teen fathers are only 35 percent of the males who impregnate teen girls,” he said. “The rest are adult males.”
He also found that people tend to view adolescent fathers as social deviants who callously exploit their partners, then abandon them and their babies.
“The research is pretty clear that only one-third of teen fathers fit that stereotype,” Kiselica said. “They don’t care, they never cared and they have exploited the mothers and dump them and the babies.
“The other two-thirds have a relationship of at least a year to 18 months with the mother before she gets pregnant, are supportive during the pregnancy and present when the child is born,” he said.
They also visit the child regularly and provide various supports, at least through the first year.
About five years after the birth, the other third stop being engaged with their partners and children.
“That’s the real tragedy, and a lot of my work is focused on trying to help that third to remain engaged and to address the problems that lead to deterioration in the relationship, like financial difficulties, limited education and the attraction declining between the mother and father because they were so young,” Kiselica said.
Transition to fatherhood
Teen fathers want help with their transition into fatherhood, he added, and that’s where the Church and its people can intervene — for instance, by providing meeting places for professionals to provide services, networks to help fathers find jobs or baby-sitting for the couple.
“Men who are good role models can volunteer to be mentors,” he said. “They can encourage the young men, listen to them about their difficulties and offer advice on what it takes to be a good man and a good father. Mentors can also address the spiritual issues associated with being a father and the comfort that a man can find in discovering a higher purpose through Christianity.”
Kiselica is no longer in private practice, but volunteers at his church, St. Andrew Parish, to make assessments and referrals to parishioners seeking counseling.
He also is on the board of the New Jersey Teen Pregnancy Initiative, and is on the national advisory board and is a consultant scholar for the National Quality Improvement Center for Non-Resident Fathers in the Child Welfare System. That project tries to re-engage men with their children who have been removed from the mother’s custody.
“I am enriched in being able to help young men experience the love and what it means to be a father and to be connected to their children,” he said.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
A Father's Love (sidebar)
Life was not easy for Mark Kiselica’s father, Otto, now 83. He was born to Slovakian immigrants in New Jersey and his mother died when he was 8, leaving him with an alcoholic father who neglected and abused him. At age 14, an accident left him with a profound limp, and a few years later he quit school at his father’s orders.
When Otto married, he made it a point for his children to have a better life than he had. He openly loved his five children, and every night he kissed them on their foreheads and whispered, “Sweet dreams, my children, sweet dreams.”
Those were the real riches. But Kiselica remembers being so financially poor that in the early years, his father lifted him into trash bins behind stores so he could search for salvageable food for the family.
“He worked hard so to provide us with a Catholic education, and he always did service to our church and the community in his own quiet way,” Kiselica said. “If the sisters or the priests needed something repaired, he would fix it for free.”
Kiselica’s mother, Winnie, 81, served the Church and community in different ways. At age 39, she went to college for a bachelor’s degree in English and education, then earned a master’s degree in theology while she was a CCD coordinator for their parish.
“The good lessons from my father can be summed up in three ways,” Kiselica said. “I learned from him that family and people come first, that education and hard work are the keys to success, and that success demands responsibility and service to the community. From him, I have a profound understanding of what it means to be loved by a decent father, and to love my own three children.”
Prayer for Dad on Father's Day
God our Father,
In your wisdom and love you made all things.
Bless our father.
Let the example of his faith and love shine forth.
Grant that we, his family, may honor him always with a spirit of profound respect.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.