Fathering week to put focus back on dads
Saturday August 25, 2007
By Simon Collins
Children's services such as Plunket and Playcentre could reduce social problems such as child abuse by encouraging fathers to get involved, according to a new report on fathering.
Fathering Our City, a report for Waitakere City by Auckland University of Technology psychotherapist Warwick Pudney, says many services for children and families unconsciously exclude men through their "feminised" culture.
The report calls for both changing mainstream services to suit fathers as well as mothers, and developing specific services for fathers.
Waitakere City Council and other agencies, including Man Alive and Violence Free Waitakere, have organised a "Fathering Week" running from Monday until next Sunday - Fathers' Day - to start putting dads back on the agenda.
Events include a public meeting on supporting new fathers on Tuesday night, free training for dads to play games with their preschoolers on Thursday night, and a weekend expedition to the Waitakeres for dads and sons, with a night at a camp, on September 8-9.
Mr Pudney, who founded the Henderson counselling centre Man Alive in 1996, says that agency focused mainly on abuse and family crisis and did not provide any specific support to fathers.
The only specific "fathering service" in the city was Big Buddy, a spinoff from Man Alive which matches fatherless boys with volunteer male mentors. It has a policy of contacting the biological father whenever possible before providing a mentor, and sometimes that contact succeeds in relinking real fathers to their children.
"We kind of stumbled on this by accident," said Big Buddy director Richard Aston.
"With one father I just found myself getting angry with him. I said, 'Why the hell am I doing this, for God's sake, man!' And it worked!
"Of the people who come to us where we identify a father that could be involved with his kids, maybe 20 per cent get reconnected in some way."
Mr Pudney said other services that could help fathers tended to scare them away by being "unconsciously feminised".
"Things like Plunket and Playcentre have been serving women for a long time. There is a lack of consciousness about how it might be for a man going along there," he said.
"They say any man is welcome but don't notice what sort of magazines you have in the waiting room or the posters on the wall."
He says the feminist movement had to assert that men and women could do anything equally, but genetic science was now showing that the two genders were different.
"We have come from a culture where women, in claiming their independence, have tended to establish the notion that fathers are not necessary," he said.
His report cites local and overseas research showing that fathers help their sons to develop trust, and that fatherless boys are more likely to get into trouble, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away, and kill themselves. He says girls tend to approach the world through words, while boys tend to emphasise vision and physical action.
"Agencies like Plunket and Playcentre expect men to join in and behave like women," he said.
"I say, 'If you want to get men involved, don't try to chat to them. Call them in and ask them to do a job - this is the way men engage in things."
He suggests that antenatal classes should be renamed "new parenting classes", with guidance on the psychological effects of a baby and the effect on their relationship.
Albany psychologist Frank Hayes, who will speak at Tuesday night's meeting, said post-natal depression affected about 15 per cent of mothers - and about the same proportion of fathers.
"It just presents itself differently," he said. "The men get depressed and start drinking, start having affairs, start working more."
Mr Hayes runs monthly evenings for expectant and new fathers to deal with the psychological effects of new fatherhood.
When Dad's not there
* 80 per cent of boys referred to specialists for bad behaviour do not have fathers or have abusive fathers.
* 90 per cent of youth offenders do not have fathers.
* 90 per cent of homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes.
* 63 per cent of youth suicides are in fatherless homes.
* Fatherless boys are 10 times more likely to abuse chemicals.
* Fatherless boys are 14 times more likely to rape.
Source: Warwick Pudney, Fathering Our City.
Why fathers matter
* Fathers give kids confidence in getting on with other males.
* Fathers provide half of a child's identity - "where I come from".
* Fathers encourage outward-looking action and adventure.
* Fathers often have more rigid boundaries that especially help boys to develop trust and security.
* Fathers protect, and are prepared to die for, their family.
* Fathers, across cultures, are the primary financial providers.