In the crucible of a devastating divorce, Zaid Quraishi found hope. In the spring and summer of 2016, Quraishi, 38, made a series of discoveries that changed him in ways he never imagined.

In the early stages of a child custody dispute, he learned how to better connect with his daughters, then 18 months and 9-years-old. He became a better caregiver and provider. He developed fathering skills that changed the atmosphere of his home.

On the recommendation of a caseworker from Child Protective Services, Quraishi completed a 15-week program, Compadre Y Compadre, designed to help fathers build nurturing relationships with their children.

Zaid speaks to a group of fathers at Compadre y Compadre at Steele Elementary School.
Zaid Quraishi speaks to a group of fathers at Compadre y Compadre at Steele Elementary School. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“I felt so high about myself after the program,” said Quraishi, a pharmaceutical sales rep. “My girls sensed a difference. Regardless of how I was caring for or nurturing them before, they found a father, a positive male model, a best friend. And on top of that, the love of their life.”

Quraishi is seated on a chair at The Children’s Shelter, holding his youngest daughter, who is asleep in his arms. His oldest daughter sits nearby, playing quietly, looking content. It was here that Quraishi completed the Compadre Y Compadre program in August. Through Compadre, Quraishi was inspired to become a mentor, to help other men complete the same program.

“I was very excited,” he said, “about the potential to help others improve as well. Every dad needs this.”

On Tuesday, the 25th day of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, 32 men graduated from the Compadre program and seven more from the mentor program. If these graduates follow the path of men from previous classes, they should do well.

According to The Children’s Shelter, the Compadre program served 429 fathers and 928 children last year. More than 220 fathers graduated from the program and 100 continued as mentors. Not one family had a substantiated case of abuse or neglect while receiving services.

Most men in the Compadre program have faced a complaint of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Anais Bierra Miracle, vice president of external affairs for The Children’s Shelter, says 90% of program fathers have an open Child Protective Services case and are seeking reunification with their children. An abuse complaint was lodged against Quraishi and dismissed. Last month, a judge awarded him and his ex-wife joint custody of their daughters.

“I didn’t ask for 100% custody,” Quraishi said. “I’m a civil dad. The girls want their mom. She’s a big actor in their lives.”

A collapsing marriage, Quraishi admits, caused him to overlook the emotional needs of his daughters. When his wife filed for divorce, he became even more distracted. “Your focus is more about yourself, your financial assets, the legal process and everything,” he said. “And the kids are a little bit marginalized. So that’s a struggle.”

Quraishi knows about struggle and conflict. A native of Los Angeles, he moved to Baghdad, where his parents were born, to attend an elite high school founded by American Jesuits, “Baghdad College.” After completing medical school in Baghdad, Quraishi became a war zone physician during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Once, while treating injured civilians in an emergency room, insurgents broke into the hospital and started shooting. Two security guards were killed. People were kidnapped. Quraishi suffered a wound to his left leg from an AK-47. “It was painful,” he said, “but not life-threatening.”

He and his family relocated to Jordan and then to Philadelphia before arriving in San Antonio in 2010. While completing final requirements to become a licensed orthopedic surgeon in the U.S., Quraishi’s marriage began to crumble.

After divorce proceedings commenced, he started the Compadre program, albeit with trepidation. After two weeks, Quraishi embraced the experience, new knowledge, and connections he made with other men. “It was an eye-opener,” Quraishi said. “It was very motivational, very empowering.”

Joshua Garcia, Quraishi’s educator and mentor in the program, recognized Quraishi’s willingness to become vulnerable.

“He’s always been a great father,” Garcia said, “but what helped him the most about coming to the program is he opened up. A lot of stuff he was not willing to share right away. All the dads that come into the class are like that. But it didn’t take him long. One or two classes and he opened up and was able to express himself.”

Since completing the program, Quraishi has become more involved with his daughters. “We study and do homework together,” he said. “We cook and go fishing. We dance and watch movies, play video games and read books. I never miss an activity at school.”

One of the great revelations of Compadre, Quraishi says, is when men recognize the little boy inside of them. “Every one of us is like Peter Pan,” he said. “We never grow up. We still have the little boy inside of us. Once we let that little boy act, we laugh and we giggle with our kids and you know what? That’s what makes us great dads.”

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native and award-winning journalist.