The Family Centre Society of Southern Alberta is celebrating the important role that fathers play in the lives of their children with specific programs and services that acknowledge some of the complexities of fatherhood in the 21st century.
The Centre, already a busy place with hundreds of visitors in a typical week, has started hosting Saturday morning sessions specifically geared to fathers.
A large indoor free play area is overrun with kids ranging in age from a few months old to age five, while others use the library or other play spaces. Fathers or stepfathers of all ages have an opportunity to meet and talk while hanging out with their kids in a different environment than home or school. Typically, more than 20 men and kids attend each Saturday and more than 250 men have attended father-specific programs over the past five years.
While some dads are wrangling their kids as they charge around the Family Centre’s indoor free play space, others are off in the relative quiet of the library. Cody Kelmanand his six-month-old son, Ruckus, are able to spend some father-son bonding time there as Cody reads his son a story.
A grant from the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta’s Community Priorities Fund enabled the Family Centre to purchase a large collection of library materials, including some relating to fatherhood, and parenting in general.
As regular visitors to the Family Centre, Cody, Ruckus, five-year-old daughter Zakyra and Cody’s mom, Debbie Kelman, have seen the benefit throughout their family from their participation in in the Family Centre’s programs and services during the three years of their patronage.
Peter Imhof, Executive Director of the Lethbridge Family Centre, takes the approach that any level of sincere parental involvement in a child’s life is ultimately good for everyone involved. However, he noticed gaps in the Family Centre’s programming. Filling these gaps required programs and services that were highly relevant to their audience—in this case, fathers, stepfathers, or male caregivers. “We conducted research to see how we could better support dads, and family members who in turn support them, to feel better about parenting,” Imhof said.
Some of the other conclusions were obvious. A working parent like Cody Kelman likely would not be able to attend a daytime program, suggesting a need for a change in scheduling, to a time when a majority of fathers could make it. Imhof said they were also surprised by some of the findings. “Dads were hesitant to join in for a variety of reasons, which ranged from being the only guy in the room – and feeling uncomfortable with that – to not having a lot of input because mom is making all the parenting decisions, and they were unsure of how to change that.”
Imhof added that the research followed the guidelines established by the internationally-recognized Adverse Child Experiences Study, among other sources. “Knowing that we are moving forward based on some real research is going to be very helpful to us, and to parents, long term.”
The Family Centre’s themed programming will continue through Father’s Day 2016, in part with a social media campaign using the Twitter hashtag #YqlDads. “We believe there is much to celebrate about fatherhood and the role men play in the development of children,” Imhof said. “We are hopeful our efforts raise the bar on how people view dads, stepfathers and male caregivers, and in the process let men know that they play a special and important role in creating rich and resilient communities.”