jimcoulson

Dad’s the Word

by Jim Coulson

Father of two Jim Coulson explores the modern phenomenon of the stay-at-home dads that are joining the club

The 70s sitcom view of dads were either the aloof, angry father who resented his offspring for interrupting his pipe smoking and newspaper reading time or the hapless buffoon who attempted to change a nappy, but ended up setting the house on fire in a series of unlikely events. Prevailing attitudes were that it was the mum’s job to bring up the kids, and the dad started taking an interest around the time when he could take his child for their first pint. 

Life is different today. Dads are more involved with child rearing than ever and the stigma around stay at home dads is slowly dissipating. But, at the same time, dads are speaking out about the barriers that they still face. Men can find themselves socially isolated following the birth of their child and, whilst we are making great strides in addressing mums’ mental health issues, a lot of new fathers feel at best ignored and at worst dismissed entirely. 

We found a significant way to open up communication channels and to break down barriers for men to talk about their problems without stigma or judgement

However, there are a range of dads groups that have sprung up in Yorkshire and Lancashire to address these issues, to bring male carers together and to celebrate fatherhood in all its glory.

LEEDS DADS

Errol Murray founded Leeds Dads in 2011 to provide more opportunities for him to spend time with his daughter. More than a decade on, what started as a small group of fathers in a Leeds city centre cafe is now a fully fledged charitable support organisation that has supported hundreds of dads in the city and beyond. 

The voluntary charitable organisation, supported by Leeds Christian Community Trust, brings together a diverse community of fathers for social interaction and support; hosting regular free playgroups, forest schools and breakfast clubs for dads and their kids. It organises social events and has an active presence on social media for dads to share their experiences and signposting towards expert parenting support. 

Leeds Dads also hosts England’s biggest free Father’s Day party with its Dadstastic day at Leeds City Museum. The event regularly attracts more than 2,000 dads, mums and carers with their kids. 

The group holds regular playgroups for dads and kids and activities to support dads with their wellbeing. This includes parental advice and a space for dads to engage with their pre-school kids. Around 30 dads meet with their kids every two weeks to enjoy arts craft, games, a singalong and story time. 

This hard work has not gone unnoticed, with Leeds Dads winning a host of gongs, including at the Child Friendly Leeds Awards. But this is a group that is continuously looking to the future, and it states that its aim is to expand in order to build a dad-friendly Leeds, encapsulating a city-wide culture of dads engaging with their pre-school kids. 

YORKEY DADS

Yorkey Dads is based in York and began life in 2016, providing a safe space for dads to be able to open up, find support and meet other dads in similar situations. Within two years, the original four members were joined by more than 350 other dads in the city, a figure that now stands at more than 1,000 member of their private Facebook group. 

The group have teamed up with the City of York Council and The Joseph Rowntree Foundation to spread their word, and put on weekly, monthly and annual events for fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers and other male carers. 

Their regular offerings include providing free breakfasts to dads and their kids, putting on Lego and Duplo sessions, and the hair school, something that saw them go viral in 2019. The monthly sessions see dads learn techniques to help them when styling the hair of their children. A BBC News report sparked a raft of interest in the concept, which has now inspired at least four more dads’ hair schools around the country. 

Yorkey Dads’ hair school

Yorkey Dads, and its off-shoot group Menfulness, “aim to improve mens’ mental health and wellbeing,” says co-founder Jack Woodhams, “these volunteer and community-led grassroot groups are designed to support men who are struggling. We found a significant way to open up communication channels and to break down barriers for men to talk about their problems without stigma or judgement.” 

The group is always looking for innovative ways to bring dads together. This includes a special Father’s Day reading of the poem ‘Dad’ by Matt Kelly by 20 members and kids, who each recorded separate lines from home during the first coronavirus lockdown. 

THE DADSNET

The Dadsnet is a major player in the online fatherhood world, but as well as its main website and worldwide Facebook group, it also hosts local collectives of dads. Since the introduction of local groups, more than 5,000 dads have joined the page that best represents them geographically, with 1,800 of them creating a vibrant online community of Lancastrians. 

But, the point of grouping together those in a particular region isn’t just for them to chat online. Dadsnet founder Al Ferguson says, “the idea is for dads to connect with other dads in real life as well as online. Over the years, we’ve seen genuine friendships created.” 

Members of the Lancashire Dadsnet group regularly meet up to play football, go for walks or just to share a brew within the county. 

Graham Sims, who set up the Red Rose branch of the popular dad group, told the Lancashire Telegraph: “when I became a father I struggled to get into the swing of it and after scouring the internet for advice I came across Dadsnet. I got amazing advice and had conversations with some great dads around the world. After some time I wanted to give something back, so I became an ambassador for them to help spread the word and now I run my own group for them in Lancashire.” 

Northern Life Mar/Apr 22