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Group teaches dads to give gift of time, teaches children 'this is what a father does'

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Josiah, 12, and Isaac Sundby, 11, help their father, Jonathan, unload gravel from a pickup bed into the bucket of a skid steer in rural East Grand Forks, Minn. on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
Jonathan Sundby and his two sons, Josiah (12, left) and Isaac (11, right) are active in All Pro Dad, a group that meets in East Grand Forks to teach and inspire fathers to better love and lead their families. Photo taken Thursday, June 14, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
Josiah (left), 12, and Isaac Sundby (center), 11, unload gravel from a pickup bed into the bucket of a skid steer operated by their father, Jonathan, in rural East Grand Forks on Thursday afternoon. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
Josiah Sundby, 12, breaks past his brother, Isaac, and his father, Jonathan, to score on a layup during a driveway basketball game Thursday, June 14, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn.—Jonathan Sundby takes his role as a father seriously.

So seriously, he joined a local group, All Pro Dad, that meets regularly to teach and inspire fathers to better love and lead their families.

"I believe it's important for fathers to be involved in their children's lives," Sundby said.

He and his wife, Melanie, are raising pre-teenage children at their home nestled in a grove of trees in the farmland southeast of East Grand Forks.

Josiah, 12; Isaac, 11; and Leah, 9, are really into sports, including baseball, basketball, soccer and football, Sundby said.

And he's often right there with them, blocking and bobbing as they dribble the basketball and shoot hoops in the yard.

He's also there, teaching and guiding, as the kids work with him on tasks around the house and yard or for his landscaping business.

Every activity is an opportunity to connect.

Sundby is a member of the Grand Cities All Pro Dad, which is affiliated with the Family First organization. Tony Dungy, a renowned NFL coach who lost a son to suicide, is spokesman for Family First.

The local chapter is a joint partnership of Riverside Christian and Sacred Heart schools in East Grand Forks, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Youth for Christ, and the Gospel Outreach and Hope Covenant churches in Grand Forks, N.D.

"We work closely with schools," said Joe Chine, founder and team captain of Grand Cities All Pro Dad.

'To show kids we care'

Sundby has been active in the group since Chine began organizing monthly breakfast meetings four years ago at Riverside Christian School.

"It's fun to get together with other young families, and other dads, to show our kids that we care about them," Sundby said.

Two years ago, the group, which meets from September to May, moved to Seasons Restaurant in East Grand Forks.

"We usually get about 18 to 20 who attend, fathers with their sons and daughters," Chine said.

It is devoted "to helping dads to love and lead better within the family," he said.

The program includes a video, discussion and kids' activities.

"Usually they leave with something they're encouraged to do as a family over the next month," Chine said.

Promoted as "family friendly," All Pro Dad is faith-based but does not promote any particular faith, Chine said.

"The organization helps fathers bond with your children, to teach them things," Sundby said. "It helps us teach morals and values we're trying to instill in our children."

Their involvement in All Pro Dad will also yield benefits in the future, Sundby said.

"We're also teaching them that, when they get older and have children of their own, this is what a father does."

Strengthening bonds

Sundby attends the meetings with all three of his kids.

Josiah's favorite part is "breakfast," he said, in quick response to a question on what he enjoys most.

His brother Isaac looks forward to winning prizes.

"I won a selfie stick and a Choice (Health and Fitness) membership," Isaac said with a grin.

Local businesses support the group with prizes and perks, Sundby said.

The real purpose, though, is educational—to encourage better communication and strengthen the relationship between fathers and their kids who are in first through sixth grades, using a curriculum provided by Family First.

At the structured, hour-long meetings, members have meaningful conversations about a range of topics, such as the use and abuse of technology.

Meetings usually begin with a video; then each father and his children talk about questions they've been given to discuss, Sundby said. "Then we join the larger group for discussion."

"Sometimes we have guest speakers, but not always," Chine said.

The meeting ends in time for fathers to get their kids to school on time.

Obstacles to good fathering

In today's hectic world, many pressures and circumstances make it difficult for men to be good fathers, Chine said.

"Dads often find their time, energy, talents, thoughts and resources consumed or taken up at work or by sports, hobbies, recreational or educational pursuits—activities which are highly promoted in our world today," he said.

Health issues may also interfere with a father's ability to be available to his kids.

Sundby too sees a world in which the love, attention and guidance fathers provide is very much needed.

"A lot of fathers are missing from their children's lives," he said.

"Our society has become so selfish, people think they don't have to take responsibility for their families. That's not what the Bible teaches."

A father fills an important role in the lives of his children, said Chine.

"He provides perspectives, thoughts, behaviors, physical attributes, experiences, care and guidance that are unique to males," he said.

The effects of the absent father are felt throughout society.

"Negative statistics are abundant concerning youth related to pregnancy; school dropout rates; unemployment; drug and alcohol addiction; social, mental and physical problems; anger; and other issues linked to the absence of the father," Chine said.

For example, when a dad is not involved in a child's life, that child is twice as likely to drop out of school or fail, seven times more likely to experience teen pregnancy; more likely to be incarcerated; and, as an adult, 54 percent more likely to be poorer than his or her parents, he said.

A father's positive influence helps prepare his children to become healthy productive citizens, Chine said.

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