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Back To Fathering The Future

By Tony Scanlan

In 1998 the Fathering the Future Forum was held, an initiative of the late Laurie O’Reilly, it consisted of eight workshops that looked at the different problems faced by fathers. The Fathering the Future Trust was set up as a result of the forum to try to implement some of the ideas that came out of it.

The trust operates from an office lent by lawyer Dominic Flatlet’, they have a staff of three. The trust’s vision is “to see a society where fathers play an active and child centred parenting role”.

We talked to Janine Rogers, the manager of the trust to find out where Fathering the Future is at now, two years later…

“We have three different working parties consisting of volunteers that look at ‘Fathers in Sport’, ‘Father Friendly Workplaces’ and ‘Fathers in Schools’. When we first got together, we sat down in meetings for about six months working out ‘visions’ and ‘missions’ for each of the working parties, within the vision and mission of the trust itself.

“We worked out a management plan with about 10 – 15 projects that each of the parties would like to do – then we prioritised and picked out a project for each, brainstormed how it should look These projects are managed by the Trust.

The way it works is that we would gather information, put it together and get feedback and criticism from fathers on the working parties. We’d brainstorm again, and again – fine tuning it until we were all happy. With our visions and missions firmly in place, in the end we’d come out with something pretty solid.”

A recent project of the ‘Fathers in Sport’ working party was “Sideline Dads Day”, which was sponsored by Rotary. Twelve thousand fridge magnet 8contracts with “I support, encourage and share the sporting experiences of…” on them, were given out.

There were also badges and bumper stickers for the dads. Articles from Wayne Smith and Gary Stead were stating the importance of positive father involvement were promoted through “The Press” and reported on afterwards by “Television One”.

“The trust sought to encourage the fathers to be involved and in such a way that children benefit.

‘The Father Friendly Workplace’ working party has just put together a kit for fathers of new born babies, showing the importance of the father’s involvement, what it means to be a dad, and stories from other fathers. It also talks about balancing work and family commitments.

“At the moment we haven’t got as far as distribution and we are looking at sponsorship for it” says Janine. “We want to get it into the workplace through human resource practitioners and the managers to get it to fathers through their work. We also want to distribute it as a resource through health professionals, schools and other appropriate agencies. We did quite a bit of research for it.

We brainstormed with a group of fathers. We took it to the Maori community and health practitioners. We really had it scrutinised. The only people that had any problem with it were the Father and Child Trust.

“We feel a lot of fathers don’t recognise how important they are in children’s lives due to the way that the gender roles have been constructed over the years. That’s where we are coming from, The Kit says you are important and these are som e of the reasons why you are important.

The whole thing, where dads earns the money and mum does the nurturing, is still really entrenched.”

The New Dads resource is suitable for national distribution, with information relevant to all new fathers, where ever they live.

“Although,” says Janine, “We want to focus on Canterbury at the moment, as we are just new to the game and we are always flying by the seat of our pants. Now we’re moving into distribution we are looking at how we can do it effectively”.

Janine is looking to local businesses, health services and Council sponsorship for the resource.

The ‘Fathers in Schools’ current project is a survey looking at what enhances and what hinders fathers being involved in the children’s schools. 2200 survey forms were sent out, with about 500 returned so far.
It talks about being involved in the children’s homework and in the actual schools and asks how parents would ideally like to be involved.

“What we aim to do is create partnerships with schools and fathers. Schools are crying out for fathers to get involved, but they don’t have time to initiate it and dads don’t quite know how to initiate the involvement themselves – there is still lot of fear about the education system -people don’t like going back to schools at all, they find them inaccessible and a little scary.”

The trust also puts out a quarterly newsletter , about 1700 copies are distributed – to those involved in the trust, the sponsors, libraries, primary schools, social services, pre-schools, intermediate schools, doctors surgeries, Rotarys and government agencies. It is funded by the Christchurch City Council, although again, Janine is looking at local business sponsorship for the newsletter as the Council sponsorship “won’t be forever.”

The newsletter contains news about what the trust is up to, what other groups (like Father and Child) are doing and stories about fathers.

“What we really want to do is tell the good stories. We want to look at the positive side, it doesn’t mean we don’t see the bad – we do. We tell the good stories to raise the bench mark. We talk about fathers being parents rather than the ‘fathering role’. That’s where a lot of the problems lie when you talk about ‘mothering’ and ‘fathering’.”

“We’re actually talking about parents. But if you say ‘parents’ it automatically goes to the mother. If they send a letter home from school addressed to ‘Dear Parent’, nine times out of ten it goes to Mum. I talk to a lot of dads for the newsletter – they are really blown away that what they do with their children really makes a difference.”

Janine says its been hard getting feedback about how effective the trust’s projects have been.

“A lot of my feedback is about me being a woman – how can a woman manage a men’s organisation – but the trust is not about men; it’s about children.”

Whatever we do, it’s for the benefit of the kids.

There has been a need identified by children, that they want their dads more involved in their lives – you could almost say that I’m an advocate for children. I’ve got really good networking skills, I just love talking with people and I love seeing a bit of information from here that would really go well with that information or those people there and bringing the two together.

“But recently I’ve been getting all the positive stuff coming back -for example after a talk I was giving about the perception of men and their parenting role – a guys says ‘without wanting to sound airy fairy and new agey, my son phoned me up and asked me to speak at his wedding.

I said no, there’s no room for the groom’s father to speak at a wedding – its not traditional. But after listening to you speaking, I’m going to ring him back and say yes I will speak, because now I realise he was really asking me to be there for him.’

“To me, that’s feedback”

Janine says she has hundreds of ideas for the trust but “we take our time to do anything ensuring we keep the community driven factor. If we are not educating as we go then we are not achieving anything. If we go full at it – we’d actually be talking to deaf ears”.

The trust does not have a social services arm, but instead Janine feels that awareness needs to be raised of fathers importance in the lives of their children including family lawyers and Judges. ‘The trust isn’t a lobby group. Its energies go another way, but the newsletter goes out to some of these people and hopefully they’ll pick it up and take it in.

Janine’s parting message for us, “Just get involved, be involved as much as possible. I think too, that women tend to play the gatekeeper role. I think it’s a natural protection thing that happens. I’ve talked to men, whose wives or partners have just had babies, and they just want to go out and earn money.

Its like they want to go and provide – to build a shelter around the child. And mum wants to wrap the baby up. There’s something in our genes driving us in those directions, I think.

But when that rush is gone, women have to open up the gates a wee bit and let dads come in.”

Next: Going Slow

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