That’s what his daughter’s friends used to call William Denson, during the years they hung out at his house.
In fact, even though the four or five young women who gave him that nickname are now in their 30s, Denson said they still call him that.
“I embraced that and took it seriously that they could feel that way about me,” said Denson adding that none of the young women had fathers in their lives at that time.
And then there were the young men he coached in basketball and baseball. “I was a surrogate dad to a lot of the kids who were playing baseball,” said the Pennsylvania native.
His interest in the welfare of young people went so deep that he quit his 21-year career with the U.S. Postal Service to become a teacher. And he taught first grade, of all things.
“The principal, Mrs. Taylor, said don’t ever leave, because Black men don’t (usually) deal with little kids that age in such a positive way,” recalled Denson of his two-year stint at Hyde Park Elementary school, which was curtailed by the No Child Left Behind requirement that he have a teaching credential. Today he is currently a long-term substitute.
But teaching was not enough for Denson, because the Los Angeles resident realized that in order to change the lives of children, he had to start at the root-with their fathers.
That’s why in December of 2003, he launched an organization called A Father Forever.
“We want each father to take possession and responsibility for being a father for their child and children,” said Denson, who is also the executive director of the nonprofit.
Fathers are critical in children’s lives, believes Denson, because there are some things only a father can offer.
“As far as daughters go, there is nothing more powerful than a hug and a kiss from daddy, and as far as boys there is nothing more important than that male voice of discipline to put them back on the right track, when they decide to venture off.”
What A Father Forever does is hold a number of free activities where dads can spend time with their children. These include an annual father-child golf tournament in March and a community breakfast coming up June 13 at a local church. The program features dads cooking as well as singing, praise dancing, and a guest speaker. This year Denson said attorney Charles Smith will talk about his experience of meeting his father for the first time at age 35.
In August, the group will do its third annual father-child canoe day at Redondo Beach, and in December there will be a family bowling day.
The nonprofit is also launching a new mentoring program in September that will give fathers, stepfathers, uncles and grandfathers the tools and training to become better “fathers” in their children’s lives. The idea is to do simple things like read a book, talk, go to a park or just cook breakfast together, added the executive director.
Denson said the events are free, because they realize that one of the barriers to men being dads is often economics. Money to pay for the activities comes via the fundraising activities they do during the events, from donations by board members and the public, and through a partnership they have formed with an organization called Why Can’t We Make A Difference? created by Derek Richardson.
“Beginning in September we are also going to have monthly or biweekly father “rap” sessions where fathers come in, and there’s really no agenda,” said Denson, who added that dads can talk about situations they are encountering with their children.
“What they may be going through, three or four fathers there may have been through something similar.”
These sessions will also be about helping fathers “return to the scene of the crime,” as Denson puts it, to figure out what happened in their own lives to make them turn away from their children.
“But we’re not going to beat them up because we know the world is not a father-friendly society.
In the same breath, we’re not going to sugar coat the damage done,” Denson said.
In addition to working with dads, A Father Forever has a seven-member youth advisory board of 12 to 14 year olds who provide the organization with the young person’s perspective.
The idea is to help men learn to be fathers that have a positive influence on children.
For more information, about the organization to make a donation, contact Denson at P.O. Box 470143, Los Angeles, CA 90047 or visit the website at www.afatherforever.org.