Newly crowned Sunshine Coast Father of the Year Thomas Docking is part of a growing movement wanting to help dads learn about fatherhood in an environment that has more appeal than a typical health ward or local neighbour house play group.
He has found, since becoming a dad five years ago and starting Dads Group Inc, that men very much want to be part of the fathering process in a way that they feel free to interact, ask questions of new dads, share stories and not feel judged.
It’s a constant theme in developing an effective male-friendly program, whether getting older blokes together around a shared passion in a shed (Men’s Sheds), learning the gritty details of birthing over a beer in a pub (Beer ‘N Bubs), having a health check on the side of the road (MHERV), connecting over a love of literature (Tough Guys Books Club) or improving health literacy over a pint (Prick and a Pint).
Men respond to a more ‘natural’ and familiar setting. A place where they can be themselves, have a beverage (including non-alcoholic), eat, talk and possibly do something physical.
Father of the Year (Sunshine Coast) and founding father of Man with a Pram - Thomas Docking with his family.
“The behaviours of fathers across the nation still prevent them from going to a typical maternal class,” says Docking who, when he isn’t planning men’s groups, is a business consultant and father of three.
“The key thing is the setting they feel more comfortable with, it’s all about catalysing spaces … from isolation to connectedness where it doesn’t feel like you are being studied or analysed as part of a health program.”
“There is still a stigma and culture around playgroups being associated with mums. If guys or dads feel like that then we need to address it.”
“We created a space where dads would feel more comfortable, drop their guard and learn from each other.”
Docking’s first experience with a dads’ group was getting together with a couple of his mates at a café in Melbourne’s east. This expanded to become Dads Group Inc to encourage and facilitate other dads’ groups to develop. But the organisation’s endeavours have been amplified with the introduction of the now highly successful national fund-raising event - Man With A Pram - which on Father’s Day this year will see 19 events under its umbrella activate across Australia from Broome to Blaxland to Boulia.
In five years, Docking hopes there will be a 100 Man with a Pram events on the calendar.
Each event is run and owned by the community who stages a Man with a Pram gathering. At a basic level, it might entail a group of dads taking a long stroll with their infants and kids. Other communities such as Mildura in Victoria, have created eight smaller events under the one Man with a Pram Father’s Day celebration.
“For us, success is getting people to use the light but impactful branding we have to create a new event or contribute to an existing one,” says Docking.
Another goal is to raise awareness about the importance of involved fathers and a long-term aim is to “bridge the gap until governments get on board with funding paternal health programs,” and to “catalyse a social and cultural shift around paternal services”.
All funds raisedduring a Man with a Pram event go back to the community who staged the event. Docking says most people find out about Man with a Pram through their partner, which is another accepted pathway to joining a program like this.
“Often the mother will realise their partner is not coping well with the transition to fatherhood. For mum’s it’s helping their partner and for dad’s it’s about helping their partner as well. This leaves everybody’s dignity intact.”
Join a Man with a Pram event on Father’s Day 1 September 2019:
Melbourne Botanical Gardens 8.30am-10.30am: Register
Canberra, Belconnen 8.30am-10.30am: Register
Ringwood, Melbourne: 8.30am-11am: Register
Healesville, 12pm-2pm: Register
Geelong, 8.30am-10.30am: Register
Dardanup, WA 10am-12pm and 10-11.30am: Register
Lindisfarne, Tas, 11-2.30pm: Register
Broome 8.30am-10.30am: Register
Scented Garden, Perth, 8.30am-10.30am: Register
Bondi, NSW, 10am-12pm: Register
Mildura, Victoria, 9.30am-1pm: Register
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