Dad’s the word for new Plunket groups

Think ‘Plunket group’ and the image that probably springs to mind is new mums getting together over a coffee to share their parenting stories. But now dads in Southland and Otago are getting in on the act, launching their own all-dads Plunket groups.

“I set the group up because as a father I found there was nowhere for dads to go and talk about parenting stuff,” says Liam O’Sullivan, Plunket’s Community Services Leader for Southland, who launched the first Plunket all-dads group in Invercargill in May this year: “The thing we’ve found is dads want somewhere to hang out with their kids and with other dads.”

It’s already inspired West Otago dads to start their own Plunket group for rural dads - in Tapanui, Simon Hales is leading the charge. Simon and his wife have a six month-old baby, Charlotte, and two foster children aged 7 and 9. Simon says the all-dads group is in its infancy, as calving is currently taking up most of their time, but plan to meet again in three weeks or so.

“So far there’s five dads involved. It’s started slowly - we’re a little way off getting a formal group together,” says Simon. Rather than coffee mornings, they’re running their meet-ups ‘the farmer way’ with plans for dads and their toddlers getting together to learn farm safety.

One of the things Simon’s keen to change is perceptions about dad’s role. He describes the Plunket course he did recently to learn how to facilitate a parenting course as “…a room of women and me. I got so much out of it and I learned so much.”

He says that the dads who meet at the all-dads group are most interested in ‘developing their child’s brain. They’re interested in developing their child’s speech and movement’. And he says that dads are much more able to get involved when kids are old enough to interact: “It’s not until the kids are up and walking that they’re really able to get involved. Take a toddler for a walk in the paddock and everything’s fascinating.”

And he says that more people need to call PlunketLine: “People need to ring up. My wife has to get to the end of her tether before she’ll call. Yet it’s a free service, and there’s a professional on the end of the phone who’ll help you 24/7. I ring up for a chat.”

But he says that while women may be reluctant to make the call for help, they’re easier to get talking one-on-one than men: “Ask women what’s wrong and the domino effect starts pretty quickly. Men are much more likely to shrug their shoulders and say – nah, it’s all good. Or they’ll say something, and then all of a sudden the conversation dies.”

It’s something Plunket’s Liam O’Sullivan says he experiences too: “Many of the guys don’t do ‘chats’. Often as men we’re scared of showing we’re uncertain or vulnerable, and instead bottle up emotions. Blokes need to know they can talk about what they’re going through, and in fact that’s the strong thing to do.”

Liam says that he’d like to see more dads forming Plunket groups, because dads need support too: “Men need different resources to women, but having a network of support helps you be the best dad you can be.”

It’s a message that’s starting to gain traction. Chris, father of two sons aged ten and three, discovered the Invercargill group after hearing about it on the radio: “I just thought it’d be good to catch up with other fathers. It’s always good to see what the other dads are doing – like creating boundaries and how they get on with their kids. It’s always good to have a support network for men, particularly for single men who are separated from their partners.”

The Invercargill all-dads group meets fortnightly on a Tuesday at 6pm at Invercargill’s Plunket rooms.

To join Tapanui’s all-dads group, contact Simon through the Tapanui Plunket Facebook page.

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