Congratulations to Bernie Dorsey – our 2019 Children’s Champion!
Bernie Dorsey, Founder of Conscious Fathering™ is Parent Trust’s 2019 Laura Smith Brown Children’s Champion Award Winner. Bernie’s vision challenged and changed our collective definition of fatherhood.
Bernie is delighted to see that change playing out in is his own family. Bernie’s son recently became a stepfather and is overjoyed about his new role. That joy is what Bernie wants for every father.
“We are still reframing the conversation around fatherhood, framing it positively,” he says, “I am so glad that Conscious Fathering is still contributing and pushing us farther.”
20 years ago, when Bernie stepped into a classroom to teach the first Conscious Fathering class, men were not expected to know how to care for their babies. Bernie started Conscious Fathering to change that.
When his son was born, Bernie faced all the same obstacles that confront every new parent. Frustration. Isolation. Exhaustion. Fear.
“I was one of the few stay-at-home dads around,” says Bernie. “It was the decision that made the most sense for my family, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be.”
When he talked to moms on the playground or in parenting groups, he felt like an interloper. Not wanted, regarded with suspicion.
“Fatherhood felt like an amazing gift to me,” says Bernie. “I wanted to get it right, but I had a hard time figuring out where to turn.”
He read everything he could find. And talked to everyone who would listen. He knew he wanted to challenge assumptions about dads and change how men approach fatherhood.
“My thought was that if men knew more about babies, we could change everything. That really was the golden moment,” says Bernie.
Today, Conscious Fathering, the program that grew from Bernie’s conviction, is the largest program in Washington State completely focused on serving new and expectant fathers.
When his son was old enough, Bernie started teaching a class for new dads at Highline Community Hospital, covering the basic needs of babies in the first few months of life. And speaking out at forums – advocating for dads, presenting the father’s perspective – in an era where it was rarely part of the discussion.
Along the way he became passionate about child abuse prevention. And he met the Parent Trust leadership team.
“Bernie changed my life. He is a visionary who knows how to make big changes happen in simple, practical ways—a rare combination,” says Linda McDaniels, Associate Director at Parent Trust. “Babies can’t wait. Bernie created a straightforward program that has empowered thousands of dads to know how to care for their babies from day one.”
Conscious Fathering became a Parent Trust program in 2006, and Bernie says that put everything on a whole new footing. He was able to start training others to teach the class and be a part of Parent Trust’s important partnership in the “Have a Plan” Never Shake a Baby Campaign.
“It’s about empowering fathers to become advocates for their children’s safety, and to have a plan for dealing with frustration.”
Today, 70% of men still haven’t cared for an infant before they become fathers. Conscious Fathering classes are practical and hands-on. They fill in that knowledge gap that can leave men feeling helpless in the face of fatherhood. And more and more men are recognizing the value of those skills and actively seeking them. Over the years, 20,000 men have taken the Conscious Fathering class.
Bernie has been honored before for his pioneering work; in 2002 he received the Governor’s Award for Advocacy of Child Abuse Prevention, and in 2004 an official commendation from the National Center for Fathering. But he says receiving this award, from Parent Trust, is a culminating moment for him.
“When you look at the list of past recipients of the Children’s Champion Award – it’s an amazing thing. Some of the people on that list have been heroes of mine for decades. It’s an incredible honor.”
Bernie served as the Conscious Fathering Coordinator for Parent Trust for six years. Today, he is the Major Gifts Officer and Campaign Manager for Welsey, a nonprofit which provides retirement communities and other services for older adults.
He is delighted with the continuing growth of Conscious Fathering. “Parent Trusts’ commitment to the program allowed me to move on to other things,” he says, “something I was only able to do because I knew the program was in great hands.”
The Laura Smith Brown Children’s Champion Award, given annually since 2001, honors the work of outstanding advocates for children and families. Past recipients have included philanthropists, public servants, and social service organizations. Every one of our champions is dedicated to creating real change in the lives of children.
Just like Bernie.