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Men Step Up to Man Up

Pittsburgh conference tackles fatherhood

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Rarely do you see a group of men waiting in line to get into church, especially in the early hours of a Saturday morning. But on June 7, 2014, approximately 850 men stood their ground, in lines stretching from the parking lot through the doors of Orchard Hill Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And though an all-star lineup of speakers awaited them in the sanctuary—including Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Steelers radio personality Tunch Ilkin and Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle—the men were waiting for another reason: redeeming fatherhood.

The day marked Urban Impact’s second annual dads’ conference, ManUp Pittsburgh, a one-day event geared toward men and fathers in an effort to raise awareness of the detrimental impact of fatherlessness in Pittsburgh and society at large. “The end game is that we be godly men, godly dads, and that we reach out to the fatherless in our city,” remarked Alliance pastor Ed Glover, who conceived of the idea for the conference more than two years ago. Pastor Ed, the founder of Urban Impact, a nonprofit organization that ministers to Pittsburgh’s troubled North Side (see “Urban Impact Changes Lives,” alife, July 15, 2012), pointed to alarming statistics indicating that fatherlessness is a root cause of many societal issues in the United States, including substance abuse and teen pregnancies. “At Urban Impact, we work with so many fatherless children and have seen firsthand the damage it’s done to our kids.”

Dr. Tony Evans, a widely syndicated pastor and author of Kingdom Man, a book on the biblical principles of manhood, shared why he partnered with Pastor Ed to speak at the event. As an African-American, he noted the lack of fatherly leadership in his own ethnic group and the ensuing social challenges the group faces as a result. “God has established a covenant which we are to pass on as image bearers of our heavenly father,” he said. “When we break that covenant, we miss His blessing in our lives.”

But the conference included the wisdom of more than pastors and teachers. Mike Tomlin, a longtime supporter of Urban Impact and featured speaker at the event, explained why he partners with ManUp: “I try to be the best dad I can be, but I realize I don’t always have the answers. This event is for dads like me.” When asked how a man without answers could become the youngest head coach to lead his football team to a Super Bowl victory, he replied, “Wisdom is coming to the realization of what you don’t know. We’ve got to seek out the answers.”

Tomlin knows a lot about seeking. At just 10 months, his parents separated, and Tomlin would neither see—nor hear from—his father for more than 20 years. And though he admitted that the two had become reacquainted later in his life, the relationship never evolved. Despite this, Tomlin shows no bitterness. “I was just blessed to have other father figures in my life.” His grandfather was one of these men. “He provided the role model I needed at the early stages of my life.” And when Tomlin was ready for kindergarten and his mother felt the pressure to relocate, he found a father in the man his mother married. But he doesn’t call him “stepfather.” “I call him what he was to me: my dad,” he said. “Fatherhood goes beyond the blood, and he was always in my corner, supporting me.”

In addition to the main programs at the conference, ManUp included individual breakout sessions for dads seeking wisdom in specific areas. Among these sessions were Craig Giles’s talk on “Being a Dad to a Daughter,” Wayne Younger’s “I Grew Up Without a Father . . .” and John Guest’s talk on “Being the Spiritual Leader of Your Family.”

And, of course, what’s a men’s conference without good food? Chick-Fil-A came to the rescue, donating several hundred breakfast sandwiches and lunches, while providing coupons for a free sandwich to all volunteers and attendees of the event. Additional sponsors included Word FM, Highmark, True Image,_ Pittsburgh Magazine_ and Pepsi. Wells Fargo Advisors was the presenting sponsor of the event.

As the event drew to a close, volunteers collected several hundred pledge cards to gauge feedback and challenge men to—well—man up! The cards included four areas of fatherhood to which attendees were challenged to commit: to be a godly father in the home; to be a godly role model to any fatherless child in the community; to be a godly father to the fatherless in Pittsburgh by assisting in urban ministry; and a pledge to recruit a father to attend the conference next year. Urban Impact received 105 pledge cards to help fatherless children in the North Side of Pittsburgh through support of its missionaries.

“The primary purpose for ManUp Pittsburgh is to preach to all men, young and old, to become godly dads,” said Pastor Ed. “The second is to impact children and youth who have no fathers.” With nearly 600 men committing to the areas above, Urban Impact sets sail in good faith for another ManUp conference in 2015.

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