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Lifting Up Fathers

Charles C. Daniels Jr. ’12MSW helps struggling dads find themselves.

As the child of a single mother, and a father himself, Charles C. Daniels Jr. ’12MSW knows firsthand the difference a supportive, present parent can make. But he also understands how easily issues connected to mental health, substance abuse, poverty, incarceration, and trauma can come between parents and their children, issues which he addresses head-on through Fathers’ UpLift, the nonprofit he cofounded with his wife, Samantha Fils-Daniels, in Roxbury, Mass. 

For Daniels, this work is personal: “I know what it’s like to not have a father, and 25 million kids know what it’s like not to have a father,” he says, adding that fatherlessness is directly connected to increases in drug use and teen pregnancy. 

Fathers’ UpLift is on the frontlines in the fight to keep fathers emotionally and fiscally stable, serving approximately 800 Boston-area families. Fulfilling that mission calls for therapy sessions between fathers and their children, trainings and coaching from fellow parents, and often assistance to fathers in prison. 

“Men who are struggling to understand themselves as fathers are struggling with an identity crisis,” says Charles C. Daniels Jr. ’12MSW

“Much of our work is about helping fathers reject the narrative that you have to be strong to be a father, and giving them the tools to create their own narratives,” says Daniels. “Men who are struggling to understand themselves as fathers are struggling with an identity crisis.” 

Daniels is earning global recognition for his efforts. In April, he was selected from an international pool of applicants as one of 20 recipients of an Obama Foundation Fellowship. He expressed gratitude and excitement at meeting and connecting with like-minded community leaders, and added that “President Obama, Michelle Obama, and the Foundation have been extremely generous.” 

For a while, however, it appeared Daniels’ life would take an entirely different trajectory. “I wanted to be an attorney,” he says, chuckling, seemingly envisioning the possible outcomes of that alternate life path. “But life had other plans.” Daniels credits his time at the School of Social Work for “connecting me to an outlet to use my pain in a powerful way,” and also cites his wife as one of his driving motivators. He does not view his path into the field of social work as a conscious choice, but one that built over years of reflecting on his absent father. “The profession chose me,” he says. “It wasn’t something I woke up and decided to do.”

Charles C. Daniels Jr. and his son (photograph by Liz Linder).