Steve Hodgson – The Dad’s Cooperative Project
Men. They get a bit of a bad wrap – we expect the world from them, be tough, know it all and most importantly show as little emotion as possible. Thankfully times are changing and Dads are no longer seen as sidekicks in the parenting game, but equals.
Thankfully, most men are wonderful human beings who are trying to work out this world and want to be part of their kids lives in a meaningful way, navigating the role of being a Dad as best they can with very little resources, a lack of information and few places to turn to.
After becoming a Dad for the second time, Steve Hodgson decided to start The Dad’s Cooperative Project and create a place for Dad’s to get together with their kids and spend some time swapping experiences, trade stories and support each other to thrive as role models and fathers. The Dad’s Cooperative Project is a wonderful initiative with Parramatta Council supporting this vital group, we were super happy to see this group starting in the West and would love to see it spread across the country.
Although the books were helpful, I think for me as I became a Father the most helpful learning came from watching other dads whom I respected. As well as speaking to those whom I saw being hands, proactive and positive in their parenting.
The Westies: You’re a Dad of two, how was the process of becoming a Dad? Did you read books? Join a support group or just wing it?
Steve: Actually a Dad of 3 now, our youngest is 3 months old! Becoming a Dad was a great experience, but definitely full of unforeseen challenges. Even when people you knew discussed what it was like, it was very hard to really understand until you had experienced it. In many ways I felt unprepared for becoming a Dad and all the different challenges I would experience. I really believe that both parents have a vital role in being hands on in providing a loving and supportive environment in which kids can thrive. So I was determined to learn as much as I could in regards to the growth and development process of early childhood. I read a few books as well as beginning to read articles that discussed some of the challenges experienced by Fathers. Although the books were helpful, I think for me as I became a Father the most helpful learning came from watching other dads whom I respected as well as speaking to those whom I saw being hands, proactive and positive in their parenting.
The Westies: How did the idea to start the The Dad’s Cooperative Project come up?
Steve: I had been a Dad for 3 years, with two kids. When our youngest turned one I made the decision to drop back to part-time work in order for my wife to go back to work and I could have some extra time with the kids during their early years. After a number of months of looking for opportunities to connect as a father, I discovered that there was very little for Dads to do with their kids in order to connect with other fathers. There were plenty of places where a parent could take their kids to play, but most services, such as playgroups, tended to be mother-focused. I knew a number of other new Dads and many of them had also experienced a gap in the opportunities for dads to have places to find connection and support in a peer environment. So I approached Parramatta Council with the idea of creating a space for Dads to connect with other Dads, to grow in their capacity to be positively engaged in the growth and development of their kids, and where Dad’s could find support – and they were keen to help support the development of a Dad’s group.
After a number of months of looking for opportunities to connect as a father, I discovered that there was very little for Dads to do with their kids in order to connect with other fathers.
The Westies: What issues are Dad’s facing that we (society) don’t really speak about?
Steve: There’s a heap I think. Mental Health like depression and anxiety, isolation, increased level of stress and anxiety, loss of sense of self, increase levels of relational stress, increasing of risk factors that contribute to domestic violence etc. In general we don’t talk about the issues faced by Dads – family support services as a whole are almost entirely maternal-focused.
As a society we have come a long way in expecting equal responsibility in parenting – which is great. There is a move towards breaking down the traditional gender roles in parenting, more and more Dads are choosing to be primary carers (stay at home Dads, or at least making the move to part time work). However, as this move towards shared responsibility has occurred, there has not been a corresponding adaptation in the support services offered. Becoming a parent for the first time is a challenging time for any parent. It is the beginning of an experience that significantly changes your life in every way.
Our community does a great job at supporting Mothers, yet there is almost no services dedicated to supporting new Fathers. Once a child is born Mums are directed to a ‘Mothers Group’, while Dads are often expected to simply adapt to the change. Yet the rate of post-natal depression for Fathers is not dissimilar to that experienced by Mothers. New Fathers have the added challenge of taking a longer time to bond with the child and in general often struggle to know how to develop a strong intimate connection with their new child. I think this is often related to many of us lacking strong role models in this area. We are well aware today of the prevalence of mental health issues in men. Becoming a parent can increase the factors that contribute to poor mental health. Becoming a parent changes your relationship with your partner, your level of energy and rest, how you spend your time, your available finances, your capacity to spend time with social groups and even your flexibility to pursue hobbies that you previously engaged in. All of these are causes for stress and mental anxiety in the life of a parent and most of us are ill-equipped to negotiate these well without support.
Unfortunately many men don’t have any support network that can help them navigate this well. I think the bottom line is that if we as a society fail to offer adequate support to help fathers negotiate this new season well and to grow in their capacity as Dads, then we fail to support families and the outcomes can be damaging. Kids thrive when families thrive, and families thrive when parents are thriving and growing in their capacity to parent well – this has to include helping Fathers find peer support and networks in which they can grow and learn and normalise their experience through sharing.
I think the bottom line is that if we as a society fail to offer adequate support to help fathers negotiate this new season well and to grow in their capacity as Dads, then we fail to support families and the outcomes can be damaging.
The Westies: What have you personally got out of the group?
Steve: The group has provided a great opportunity to connect with other Dads who are going through the same stage of life and experience as myself. Although when we get together there is no set agenda, discussions often turn to our experiences and challenges as Fathers. There have been Dads there with kids who were in primary school, some with pre-schoolers, some even with new borns (8 weeks old was the youngest). Dads are able to encourage each other and discover that what they are experiencing is not unusual. Feeling like you are always learning and uncertain in your role as ‘Dad’ is normalised and you increase in your sense of confidence. Its provided a great environment for my kids to make friends and for me to have a positive place to be a Dad. Bonus, is it gives my wife a morning to sleep in and have some space to herself – wins all round.
Interview: Katrina James