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New dads thriving on baby talk

New dads thriving on baby talk

New dads thriving on baby talk

Graham Rogers and his son Finley, 2, have formed a close connection thanks to the dads baby group at Oldham Fitton Hill Corps in England. 

By Harriet Whitehead. Additional reporting by Darryl Whitecross

When new dad Graham Rogers discovered that fathers were less likely than mothers to attend baby groups, he decided to do something about it.

A member of the Oldham Fitton Hill Corps in England, Graham started a community group for fathers as a way of encouraging them to build confidence, find friendship and “open up” about the issues they faced, including their mental health, as well as giving their children somewhere to play.

That was two years ago, just after his son Finley was born. Graham, who is trained in baby massage, started running the sessions and classes from the corps but has since gone online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online sessions have been a godsend for many fathers, who have admitted they would have felt isolated if it were not for the regular contact with other fathers. Up to 10 dads join online each time. As part of the sessions, Graham even includes dancing and singing times, which would make The Wiggles proud.

Graham, 40, has three children aged 19, two and one. He and his wife, Kim, are employed in the corps coffee shop and outreach area. Graham is also a community worker with Reel CIC (Real Education Empowering Lives CIC), which aims to engage, encourage empower communities to reach “reach their true potential”.

Oldham Fitton Hill Corps community workers Kim and Graham Rogers and their two young children – Finlay, 2, and Graihagh, 1.

“The idea was to have a group where dads could come and do something with their kids like play games, baby boogie or baby massage. I wanted to get the message out there that it’s okay for men to do these classes as well,” Graham said.

“It’s about giving people the confidence to get through the door, then open up and talk to each other. It’s not a ‘men only’ space, just somewhere that dads can feel relaxed. They are involved in coming up with ideas, too, so we can help build their confidence.

“It really took off during lockdown. I set up a Facebook group, we did Zoom meetings and online baby massage classes. When restrictions lifted, we were able to meet up at our community hub, The Brew, and went on walks with the kids.

“On the Zoom calls, we put the cameras on and take mute off so the kids can talk to each other. The dads love that because some of the little ones haven’t seen anyone else apart from the parents. You could see the pleasure in the dad’s faces, that they’ve been able to do that for their little one.”

Graham said the groups also meet without the children for games nights, “which was good to let off steam”. He said the fathers were beginning to chat more, as well as getting joy from seeing their children interact.

“They told me what they are struggling with is doing stuff with the kids. Some are first-time dads and feel like they are missing out on things like baby groups or going swimming,” he said.

“I think what we are doing is hopefully giving them some kind of drive and a purpose. When I was a new dad, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I assume the majority of dads are the same. Having this support network means they can ask questions without judgment.”

Youth club for blokes

Graham said COVID-19 restrictions are slowly easing, which is allowing the group to meet with up to 15 people.

Next on the agenda is to start a community project to ‘upcycle’ children’s bicycles. Graham said he hoped the project would push the dads “outside their comfort zone”.

“In that environment, where you are doing an activity, you start talking about the kids or people’s experiences and it encourages them to open up without pressure,” Graham said.

Quality manager Jay, 39, who has two children – a 17-year-old son and a 12-month-old daughter – said the group gave him the opportunity to chat to dads without judgment.

“We’re just fellas chilling, relaxing and keeping an eye on the kids. They are not able to mix and mingle at nursery so it gives them chance to interact over the screens. There have been times we’ve met up at the cafe and the kids have enjoyed being able to just be kids.

“There’s not a lot of support out there for dads and we don’t usually go looking for it. I don’t think we see each other as support so much but having a chance to talk in this environment means you get stuff off your chest early and things don’t build up.

“It’s not often dads will sit there and say, ‘How are you finding this?’ ‘What milk formula are you using?’ It’s good to be able to ask a question and feel like you’re not going to get judged.

“When we can, we are planning to come together in the evening to do video gaming, board games, or just chatting with a brew. It’s like a youth club for blokes. We’re there because we’re dads so this is where we can chill out and talk without necessarily having the peer pressure. It makes you feel more comfortable.”

Oldham Fitton Hill Corps Officer Major Estelle Blake said the value to the community of Graham’s program is “something rather wonderful”.

“Some of the men have decided to volunteer and, as a result, another man is going to come on board and be the chaplain to the group. The corps will grow because, hopefully, more men will be involved,” Estelle said.

She said she treasured the opportunity to share the Gospel with her staff, allowing them to be a part of “something wonderful” and giving them permission to commence mission and ministry. 

Harriet Whitehead is a regional communications officer with The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom.

 

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