PARENTS
04/30/2018 17:22 EDT | Updated 04/30/2018 17:22 EDT

How Dads Can Find Their 'Dad Village' (And Why They Really Should)

Support for new dads is often lacking.

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New parents tend to rely on a small network of friends, family, and community — the proverbial "village" to help raise their children. But while moms have Facebook groups, stroller fitness classes, and mommy and me support groups, support for dads often appears lacking.

So just how do new fathers find the support and information resources they need for a smooth transition into parenthood?

For Gabriel Lopez, a father of two in Toronto, an abrupt transition into stay-at-home parenting recently spurred a deeper connection with his community.

"For me the change has been a great one, considering I get to be with both my kids and be the one to take care of them with all of the morning and school preparation, something I've missed since they were born," Lopez told HuffPost Canada.

He credits a community drop-in program just a 10-minute walk from his home for helping him find resources as well as connection with other local parents, rather than being isolated at home.

"I did struggle a bit at first getting out to programs, only because I felt I had to get out of my norm and sometimes be that 'only dad' at programs," he said. "But as time passed, I got to feel comfortable and welcomed."

A shift to focus on fathers

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This sense of feeling welcomed and included is something the team at Dad Central works hard to instill through training on engaging fathers in community programs and developing resources to encourage fathers in their role.

"When we get intentional about services, resources, and activities that are geared directly to dads/men, we are saying they are welcome here, too," Brian Russell, Provincial Coordinator for Dad Central Ontario, told HuffPost Canada. "It reinforces that they matter to their child's development."

Russell said that recently there has been an intentional shift to consider how "father-friendly" organizations and family support agencies can be, which is seen in the number of father-focused supports available.

Mommy Connections in Saskatoon began offering a dad and baby program last year, after seeing the demand for such a service.

"[It's] a great way for new dads to connect with other new dads in their community while getting some one-on-one time with their babies," they wrote in a blog post on their site. "We also know that there are some dads who work from home, have flexible work hours, or share in the parental leave. Dads should have a place to meet, spend time with their babies and find their village, just like moms do."

There are also local meetup groups for dads and dads-to-be, as well as a few established Facebook communities for men with kids. In Toronto, there is even a targeted program for young fathers in Toronto's priority neighborhoods, with a specific focus on African Canadians offered through Ujima House to address the cycles of disengagement, lack of resources, and lack of visible role models.

Dad Central provides a searchable database of father-friendly programs and services.

Family is key, too

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While community organizations are a large source of support, many dads find family to be an invaluable asset as well.

"My family has been there for me when I needed," Lopez said. "Without that support when needed, I can see it getting difficult for some families to get things done."

For Sean Henderson,* having a supportive partner is the biggest pillar of support in his dad village.

"I am lucky enough to have a very open and supportive wife who is my best friend. Her and I talk about various issues and that gives me the support I need," Henderson, who asked for his real name not to be used, told HuffPost Canada.

"During parenthood I found myself slipping away from my high school friends due to time constraints and the fact that we no longer all live in a geographical area that works based on our available time," he said. "We try to stay in touch via email groups and organizing the odd dinner with as many members as we can, [but] my village is supported mainly via electronic means."

It's important to find dad friends

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Having friends with children around the same age is also a way to find connection in the dad village.

"Speaking to other families has always been the best resource to find support," said Brian*, who asked for his last name not to be used. With three young children already and another on the way, the text chats with his group of dad friends are an invaluable tool for sharing and receiving support, he told HuffPost Canada.

"These people often share the same struggles and successes, and sharing those experiences has been helpful for a wide range of issues whether it be seeking advice on repairing or purchasing a new appliance, or getting a trusted referral for a babysitter."

He adds that for social and emotional support, he relies on his friends who are also going through the parenting journey. "It's important to learn that my struggles or issues are not exclusive to me."

Lopez agrees, saying the handful of friends he has who are also young parents allow him to share play dates and other family day activities.

It's all about activities

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Activities are also another way many dads find connection to their village.

"Stereotypically men are likely to connect over activities and physical things," Russell said. "This can become the context for supporting one another. It allows them to share their experiences, learn from each other, and see that parenting is important to other men. The connection builds a sense of community that can reduce the stress and pressure they feel as a parent, [which] makes them a better parent, in general."

Russell adds that when children see their dads in positive social situations — having quality friendships and enjoying fun times — it helps model healthy behaviours and relationships. Both Brian and Henderson said they found meeting fellow parents with similar interests at their children's preschool and extracurricular activities to be helpful.

Ultimately, children with involved and engaged fathers fare better on a number of measures including behavioural problems, intelligence, and transitioning to adulthood, which makes helping them find their "village" an important task.

"It's a very honorable job we share and we should be proud of ourselves for being there for our children," Lopez said.

"I am a proud dad that doesn't let the status quo change how I feel or how I live. Being a father for me is my job, and I will do my best at it as long as I can. Although some days may get tough, we have to remind ourselves of how much our children need us and us them."

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