DADS Tries to Reconnect Missing Dads With Their Children


Let me start with a prediction: When the police identify and arrest the shooter who killed Amarr Murphy-Paine at Garfield High School on June 6, they will find that he did not have a strong and responsible father in his life. 

The pattern is undeniably clear and sadly repetitive: Most young males who resort to gun violence, join gangs, and commit other crimes come from broken homes that lack good male role models, especially fathers.

Single mothers can do a great job of raising children, but it’s harder with no men around. Granted, some fathers are abusive and should not play a role in their children’s lives. But absent fathers are a root cause of many societal problems, including gangs, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, crime, teen pregnancy, and other dysfunctions. Some estimate that fatherlessness costs society over $100 billion a year.

A small Seattle non-profit organization is working hard to address the systemic problem of fatherlessness. DADS, an acronym for Divine Alternatives for Dads Services , deserves wider recognition. The Seattle Times published an excellent front-page story about DADS on March 20, 2017, but it has not received much other media attention. 

DADS was founded more than 25 years ago by Marvin and Jeanett Charles, a truly remarkable couple who grew up under difficult circumstances. He was taken away from his mother as an infant and raised by foster parents and abusive relatives. He ran away from home as a teenager, joined a gang, and began a life of crime, drug addiction, and incarceration. He didn’t know his mother or father until he was 43 years old. Jeanett had a father but not an engaged mother, and struggled to survive.

Both Marvin and Jeanett were using drugs when they had a baby together. Marvin was taking the infant to leave on the steps of Harborview Hospital when he asked God to turn his life around. Instead, he took the baby to Child Protective Services and pledged to get clean and sober. At the urging of a judge, they got married and gradually regained custody of other children they had both had with other partners.

They started DADS in their living room in South Seattle. It grew slowly and they opened an office and meeting room on Rainier Avenue South. They began to help men who wanted to re-engage with their children. They counsel these men and help them navigate the legal system – which many of them do not trust – with  parenting plans, visitation rights, custody issues, child support, and other challenges. A weekly men’s support group begins with a Bible study followed by candid conversations.

These meetings were canceled during Covid, but moved to Zoom and have now resumed. The group includes men who have been incarcerated as well as local business, non-profit and religious leaders. Many of them are Garfield graduates. 

On the Saturday night before Father’s Day, about 300 people gathered at the Hyatt Regency in Renton for the DADS Annual Fatherhood Banquet. “Restoring the Face of the Absent Father” was the theme. 

The program opened with a series of photographs of fathers that DADS has helped, as volunteers around the room symbolically “restored the faces” of the absent fathers.

 “A lot of these men have never been in a room like this,” said Jeanett. “Men are so important to the family structure. We need to restore our fathers back to their rightful position in their children’s lives.”  

Marvin added: “Give these men a chance and you’ll be amazed at what they can do. I’ve never met a man who didn’t love his children. Men who get involved with their children generally keep out of harm’s way.”

The event gave “Fatherhood Awards” to four honorees who have reengaged with their children after long periods of separation, often including addiction, crime and incarceration. 

DADS has initiated an innovative 13-week fatherhood training program that helps men who want to be good dads navigate the legal system and learn to nurture their kids.

Gregory Adams, a longtime DADS employee who was once on “Washington’s Most Wanted” list, now runs these classes. “DADS has been instrumental in turning my life around,” he said. Gregory’s son, now 30, was with him and this was the first Father’s Day they had spent together in many years. “I wasn’t always there for him but he decided to give Dad another shot,” said Gregory.

The honorees took the stage one by one, some with their children in their arms or standing next to them at the podium. 

Ernest Austin: “I came from a life of incarceration and addiction, to freedom.” His young daughter was with him. Suleiman Ndiaye held his 2-year-old son and spoke of “being held accountable” as a father.

Bailey Barnett had taken the DADS course by Zoom, but came up from Portland for this event. “I grew up without a father,” he said, adding “Being there for your kids in good times and tough times is what being a father is all about.” He had committed seven felonies but now is able to see his daughter one day a week.

Abraham Dominguez found his son in a “gang house” with the drug-addicted mother. He got an emergency parenting plan with DADS’ help and rescued his son. “I’m so grateful for everything that DADS has done,” he said.

A special award was named after Tommy Jones, who was Jeanett Charles’ father. It went to DeQuorious Foster, who joined a gang after his father abandoned  the family of three children.  “I didn’t have a father figure,” Foster said. “I don’t hate my Dad for what he did. He is incarcerated right now. We have a strong friendship. I’m glad that he can see the man that I am today. He told me he’s happy because I’m the man that he never could be. I’m not taking anything away from single mothers,  but there are some things that a woman can’t teach. It takes a man.”

The keynote speaker was Daryl Strawberry, who was a major-league baseball player with the New York Mets and made the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he grew up in a “dysfunctional home” in South Central Los Angeles “in the ghetto.”  His father once threatened to kill the entire family. “I had it all, but it didn’t cure the brokenness. Fame and fortune kills people.” 

Strawberry became a drug addict and lost hope. He ended up in the Florida State Prison. “Let me die,” he told his future wife. She responded: “You’re not that lucky.” He became a devout Christian, noting: “Christ has done it for me.” His book, Straw: Finding My Way, became a New York Times best-seller. 

He founded a recovery center in Orlando and he and his wife are now ordained ministers who wrote a book together, The Imperfect Marriage: Help for Those Who Think It’s Over.  He told the dinner crowd: “Now I get to be the man that I was always created to be….God found me in a pit and put me in a pulpit.” He now gives about 270 speeches a year to those seeking recovery, transformation, and redemption. 

In their final remarks to the crowd, Jeanett said: “Marvin and I are just ushers at the door.” Marvin added: “The only way a community can change is if we change.” 

The DADS approach may not work for everyone. Some will criticize it for being faith-based, especially in secular Seattle. Some will say that women can indeed “do it all” and don’t need men in the house.  Some will contend that focusing on absentee fathers is racist. 

But the results are hard to deny. DADS has served 1,646 parents and 3,924 children. Of the men they’ve supported, 83% identify as men of color, 51% have a history of incarceration, and 17% have a history of substance abuse. Since 2021, 66% of the men in DADS’ fatherhood classes have graduated.

They are doing God’s work. Stronger fathers mean healthier communities. Fathers matter. 

John Hamer
John Hamer
John Hamer was a Times editorial writer and columnist from 1977-1990. He later co-founded the Washington News Council, a non-profit citizens’ group. He retired in 2015 and now writes a regular column for the Mercer Island Reporter.


    • Yes, and lots of good people are now addressing this issue more openly. Too many have avoided it, for the lame reasons I list at the end of my column. I hope that the tide has finally turned. Fatherlessness is clearly a root cause of so many other problems. That cannot be denied.

  1. Fathers are essential and their failures are profoundly felt. I’m sure there are several paths out, so grateful for folks willing to do the work on this one.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.