Times they are a changing. We are in a time when both parents regularly work and juggle parenthood together: the era of shared parental leave; the age of the stay-at-home dad. Society’s expectations of fathers are certainly changing, and those changes bring both an opportunity and a challenge for all parents, mothers and fathers. They also bring an opportunity and a challenge to the church, as we seek to serve the families within our communities.
Let me introduce you to single dad David. He recently talked of how he felt as though his “world was falling apart, as I’ve been juggling my work, and my two children, and my dad’s illness and increasing dementia”. David described how a weekly routine of pancakes for Sunday breakfast with his girls helped him “to cling on by the end of my fingertips to some sense of normality’”
What do you think about the idea of fathers needing and valuing a network of support?
Then there is ‘stay-at-home’ dad, Dave, who thinks that men are often defined by the job that they do: “when I say I’m at home, some people think I’m just lazing around all day drinking tea.” What they don’t see is that Dave and his wife, Lynn, agreed he would take on the primary parenting role in their family – and he fulfils that role of caring for their three boys with great diligence.
One thing that David and Dave have in common is that they both found support through a monthly ‘Who Let The Dads Out?‘ group run specifically for dads (including father figures) and their children.
What do you think about the idea of fathers needing and valuing a network of support? Is it a need your own father would have admitted to? What about yourself, or your partner?
The church is well placed to respond to this growing opportunity and need.
While in comparison to women, men are less likely to talk openly about such things, in my experience, in private they value those networks just as much. In 2017 we undertook a survey of men attending ‘Who Let The Dads Out?’ groups around the UK: 58% said they felt welcomed and wanted; 40% said they enjoyed chatting about stuff (including fatherhood) with other men; and 72% wanted to spend time with their children, and acknowledged that ‘Who Let The Dads Out?’ helped them do that. That sounds like a support network to me.
The church is well placed to respond to this growing opportunity and need. Here are just some ideas about how individual churches might go about it:
- Help new dads feel valued. The arrival of a first child is a dangerous time in any couple’s relationship. Churches often play a key pastoral role for local families, so be intentional about letting the father know he’s valued and has a role to play. Maybe offer a gift, such as a new dad’s survival kit, or a book to read with their child.
- Get dads together with their children. Who Let The Dads Out? or equivalent groups are an ideal opportunity to bring dads together from your local community. Typically run once a month on a Saturday, these groups encourage dads to play with their children, help form friendships, and give men and their families the opportunity to explore the Christian faith.
- Signpost online support. A few years back, I’d have said the chances of a men’s equivalent to Netmums/Mumsnet emerging as a viable entity was remote, but now we have This Dad Can, The Dad Network, Dad Info and DaddiLife, to name four excellent resources.
- Pass on parenting tips. One way in which fathers and father figures can be supported is through the provision of accessible parenting programmes that encourage them in their fatherhood role. There are good arguments for dads to attend programmes along with their partner, so that they can parent well together. (Have you come across Parenting for Faith, our sister organisation, which equips parents to help their children find and relate to God in the everyday?) Others will be more open to attending a programme specifically aimed at men, such as ‘Daddy Cool!’ (developed by Who Let The Dads Out?), or ‘Time Out for Dads‘ (developed by Care for the Family).
Above all, as you consider how to support fathers in the communities you serve, showing them the love and support of Jesus, I would encourage you to ask this question: within a holistic approach to family ministry, what can and should we do to minister intentionally and specifically to fathers?