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The Responsibility, Honor and Importance of Fatherhood

Lamar Hill, founder and therapist at Four Elements Therapy, added author to his resume last year, with the release of his first book, Are You My Daddy? This book helps celebrate and recognize the realities of fatherhood with the goal of initiating conversations between father and child as they read, bonding over the “happy memories” and “tearful goodbyes.”

Hill, a biracial Native American and African American, grew up in an environment of generational trauma. That environment exposed Hill to mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, a split household and suicide. It led him to be raised in foster care at the age of three. He remained with the same family and has called them family ever since. Being raised in that environment for a time made Hill realize that he wanted to help others and soon felt the calling to make a difference in the community.

The Path to Helping

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Lamar Hill & Kristin Ulmer

Before founding Four Elements Therapy in Moorhead and Opening the business late in 2019, Hill studied social work for his undergraduate degree at the University of Mary in Bismarck. He then headed to the University of Minnesota for his Master’s Degree in Social Work. He soon earned his Licensed Clinical Social Worker Minnesotal and LCSW (North Dakota) while working with Solutions Behavioral Healthcare Professionals in Moorhead. Hil has worked at the White Earth American Indian Reservation and has served on the Minnesota American Indian Mental Health Advisory Board as Mental Manager. He specializes in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Incredible Years, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and Trauma Informed Child Parent Psychotherapy.

“We do therapy at Four Elements, everything from early childhood, ace 0-4, to geriatric,” HII said. “We help with everything from anxiety, ADHD, depression, trauma and more.

He founded Four Elements Therapy in Moorhead, opening business in late 2019, but has been in the field of therapy work since 2000. Despite loving his field of work, he wanted to do something more, something different so he wrote a book.

Hil spent about seven months conceptualizing his first boak, Are You My Daddy, which was released in August ol 2021. We sat down with Hill and Kristin Ulmer, Executive Assistant at Four Elements, to talk about the inspiration behind the book, what Hill hopes each reader will take away from it and how this book is helping change the societal narrative of fatherhood.

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“The idea and inspiration for this book came from one of my best friends, Jamar. We met in college through football and have been buddies ever since. Jamar got married, had four kids back to back to back to back, and then got divorced. The divorce was tough, and he had four kids all under the age of six. I went and visited them one summer and was sitting with his neighbors when I looked out the window and saw Jamar walking over with a plate of scotcheroos, all his kids walking behind him. I was just watching him and thinking that I’m really proud of him. His divorce and everything surrounding his happiness, plus the needs of his kids, was really hard. To hear and see the things he does for those kids as a single dad was really impressive and he does pretty well! So I thought, ‘I’m going to write a book about this,’” Hill said.

The cover on the front of the book shows Jamar and his four children walking across the street holding a plate of scotcheroos—the image that started it all. That and all illustrations in the book were created by West Fargo artist Jamie Trosen of Jamie Trosen Design + Creative.

“I give a lot of credit to Jamie because she had the hardest part. We really wanted to get the illustrations down. How are we going to make all the images? How do we be inclusive with our illustrations? How do we include multiple scenarios so everyone is involved? Jamie was the first person we talked to. All of our meetings were done over Skype or Zoom. I told her what I wanted and when she came back with renditions, I was blown away. She knocked it out of the park, it was perfect,” Hill said.

Some of the illustrations of fathers and their kids were modeled after real life. One page depicts Hill and one of his daughters at her basketball game, the dialogue reading: “I may not always say or do the right things… but I am your DAD and I will always love & support you.”

“One of the last pages is of my daughter and she’s playing basketball, but lost the game. There’s a story behind this and how difficult basketball has been for her, to the point where she and I are having several conversations about it. It would be something like me telling her, “You don’t have to play basketball, you know that right? But you’re at the age now that you have to contribute and you can’t just play basketball during the basketball season. That’s just how it is, you can’t get frustrated with it if you’re not playing well,” Hill said. “That conversation was a wedge between us for a long time while she was coming out of elementary and junior high to high school. This was a reflection of that frustration of the conversations that ended with us both just walking away from each other. Ultimately it would come down to what I’m feeling: maybe I made mistakes, I may not be as empathetic, but at the end of the day, she’s still my child and I will support her,” Hill said.

Ulmer’s own relationship with her late father was also depicted in the book.

“My father passed away in 2016. When we were working on publishing the book, we needed a minimum number of pages and were trying to fill pages with content. Hill handed off a spread to me, as I had experience losing a parent. It was pretty hard, but it was really great to work closely with Jamie. I sent her pictures of what my dad looked like, dates of things and more. The first day she sent over some sketches, she said that with the flowers she chose, she didn’t want to do typical flowers. It was perfect, because those are mine and my dad’s favorite flowers. It’s been so nice to share this with my siblings and family,” Ulmer said.

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The gift of being able to share a memory with family is something that Hill intended to happen when people read the book. The story is not a traditional story in the sense that it has a beginning, middle and end. Each spread shows various familiar scenarios about a father and children: at home, in the car, at school and more. Dads who are farmers, construction workers, in the military and other occupations are drawn into the pages to show the many different hats a father wears. Multiple cultures are represented as well.

Showing a variety of scenarios, whether through location or what the dad looks like, was something.

A Local Flair

Did you know all illustrations done in the book were created by West Fargo artist Jamie Trosen of Jamie Trosen Design + Creative? You can find her work at jamietrosen.com.

Hill knew was necessary to include. He wanted every child to be able to look at these pages and recognize something from their life.

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Reading this book is not a passive experience. In the back are pages that allow you to highlight your important fatherhood moments.

“Rather than reading the book, it’s more so just flipping through and just going over it. What do you see? What do you identify with? A lot of times when you start doing that, dialogue and conversation starts,” Ulmer said.

Every page is its own story. And whether a reader relates to all of it, some of it or none of it is what Hill describes as the whole point of the book.

“Another layer to this book is, ‘I need my daddy.’ That does not necessarily mean a biological father. It can be an uncle, grandparent, sibling, your mother, anyone who fits that role. Who feels for you? Who cares for you? This is the book for everyone. You can be anyone and put yourself in the position of the father. Just sit with it and look at the emotions, look at the imagery, look at what’s being said and what is happening. The beauty of this book is that anybody can relate to it and put yourself in the position of a father,” Hill said.

The book also has journal entry-style activity pages to fill out at the back of the book with the prompts, “The best thing about being a dad,” “The hardest thing about being a dad” and “My favorite memory about being a dad.” Spaces to place photos are alongside the prompts as well.

The two main goals of this book are to facilitate conversation between readers while they look at the pages and for readers to gain a broader understanding and perspective of fatherhood outside of any societal pressures or constraints.

“Give this book to a dad to read with his kids so it helps open up conversation. But, oftentimes it may not be the dads who are the ones sitting down and reading a book, and that’s OK, too. It’s really just a book about dads, read it with dad, don’t read it with dad, it will be helpful either way. Looking at the pictures and seeing the different scenes allows a kid to go, ‘oh, my daddy does that,’ or ‘dad, we do this.’ I think it helps build comfort and trust through having those conversations and spending time together,” Hill said.

Hill also made a comment on the stereotypes and connotations of fatherhood that often negatively affect how a father sees himself, but how others see someone as a father. He hopes this book can help shift that negative perspective.

“It’s just kind of a way to help people, especially fathers, know that it’s okay. Fatherhood is hard. We have an obligation, an honor and a responsibility to be there for our kids. And we are important—despite what family court might say when it comes down to who are the kids going to get. We’re still important,” Hill said.

Hill has plans in the future to write another children’s book and hopefully a book about his life experiences in the goal of “easing the stigma of mental health while bringing a common language through style and experiences that people can relate with and be inspired to take on life’s challenges.”

To learn more about Hill and the work he does at Four Elements Therapy, visit their website fourelementstherapy.com. His book can be purchased on Amazon, just search Are You My Daddy? by Lamar Hill.

Written by Makenzi Johnson

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