Emotional support offered for dads

WE'RE all used to seeing mums with their children taking them to school or playgroup. But what happens when dad takes on that role? It seems there's little in place to make him feel part of this almost exclusively female world.

WE'RE all used to seeing mums with their children taking them to school or playgroup. But what happens when dad takes on that role? It seems there's little in place to make him feel part of this almost exclusively female world.

Victoria Knowles spoke to one man who is trying to help break this cycle with his new role in the South East of Ipswich.

IN April last year Stephen Catchpole was given a new job. A job which was the first of its kind in the area, and one he hoped would eventually bring about change to affect the whole community.

He was appointed as a father's support worker in the South East of Ipswich, and, from scratch, he started to build a male-friendly environment where fathers could lose their feelings of inadequacy – created by their gender.

Although Stephen is employed by the Ormiston Trust, this work with fathers comes under the large umbrella of Surestart which is working hard to improve life for people in the South East of Ipswich.

"There was a realisation that fathers were being neglected and that there was a need to appoint someone like me to rectify this. There is no national structure to support fathers.

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"It's really hard to get to dads in any way. One of the fundamental areas I'd like to work on is their personal development. I want to get them involved in their community. This is not about segregation or developing all-male environments. I also want to get men integrated in to mixed groups," said Stephen.

Stephen himself was a single dad for ten years and knows the importance of practical as well as emotional support. He worked for many years as a teacher but became disillusioned with the amount of bureaucracy in relation to the amount of time he could spend helping and shaping his students.

"It was very frustrating to not have the time to spend with the students. Today it is a blessing to come to work. I feel I am actually achieving something and that my time is worth while," he said.

At the Robert Milne Centre, where Stephen is based, cookery sessions for the men are already under way with each man cooking a different dish and sharing the recipe with the rest of the group.

He also offers other practical help such as filling in application forms and help with buying items like prams and push chairs. Help with numeracy and literacy is also much needed and Stephen is keen to start something up to give men basic skills in these areas.

Stephen's work is about trying to break the cycle that these men have grown up with and helping them to bond with their children and involve themselves in the community just as women have done with relative ease for many years.

Gordon Munnings is one of the dads who Stephen is involved with, and he believes the centre is invaluable to him and his family.

"It is so important to have somewhere like this to come. It means I get to spend a lot of time with my daughter Rianna. It has improved the way I feel about myself and Stephen is even sorting out some help with my reading and writing. Quite often I found I was the only man who used to come along here but now Stephen is involved a few more are coming along. I used to feel totally out of place but now I can just be me. I have learned to cook lasagne, something I would never have thought of before and I have bonded with my daughter much better," he enthused.

Nick Huiana also uses the centre and was there with his two children and wife. He said: " It is important to come here and Steve offers lots of advice. I have been involved with some of the projects including the cooking. I also want to do something for myself now and I am interested in becoming a mechanic."

Nick's wife Huiana believes the centre is very important to change the perception of men in a more domestic role.

"Equal opportunities for all is the way it should be. No one should be made to feel they cannot go some where or do something because of their sex and that is the way men often feel in a female environment. Coming here and doing some work with Steve has really improved Nick's relationships with his children," she said.

The practical support is very important to men but equally important in Stephen's view is the emotional support these men lack.

"The men I see are isolated and in particular isolated from their feelings, because of this, it is anger which is often the first emotion shown. It is important to work with families as a whole and not just the men.

"This is a long road and it is only in its infancy. What men need is a clear idea of what is going on and what is on offer. This is a response to feminism, not an antagonist to it. I want to help recognise the potential in men and give them back the self esteem they often lack," said Stephen.

Stephen is currently in the middle of setting up Dadzone. This will be an informal drop-in morning to get men involved in different activities.

"My long term aims over three to five years are to have independent supportive groups for fathers with regular activities and accessible facilities. To teach them new skills so that they can not only feel more comfortable with in society but also so they can give something back in to the community," he said.