Necessity was the mother of invention for Tom Docking. Except really it was the father of the idea. You see, mother’s groups have existed for generations, often inspiring life-long friendships and giving women a support network to navigate the transition into parenthood. But what about dads?
That’s where Tom comes in. He’s the CEO of Dad’s Group that encourages dads around the country to get together with other dads for a coffee. In this episode of The Father Hood’s podcast in partnership with Parents at Work, Tom explains why he started the nationwide project and how it’s made a real difference to many guys battling to stay afloat in the chaos.
What follows is an edited transcript of Tom’s interview.
Listen to the full podcast: here.
I think dads need to be able to help each other in a way that doesn’t really feel or look like help. It just needs to feel normal. We need to share, talk and open up and, while we don’t always feel comfortable doing that in a formal environment, we can do that when we’re just shooting the breeze together.
With Dad’s Group, we’ve got new fathers with their babies connecting with other new fathers. It’s something that we haven’t traditionally seen in our culture in Australia. But we’ve found that when we catalyse a group of new fathers together with their babies, something quite magical happens. Everyone acknowledges each other’s role as fathers above anything else, so their identity is founded on that shared experience of fatherhood.
It sounds kind of amazing, but at the same time, it’s very normal. We just meet at a cafe and grab a coffee and push our prams over to a park and hold onto our little bundles of joy that are often crying and filling the nappies. But in that space, you have just got this kind of humorous acknowledgement of our situation, which, as we always joke is: “No sleep, no money, no sex”.
OK, that might not be 100% accurate, but it certainly feels like those key elements of a man’s life are changing. And it’s something that we don’t always feel comfortable talking about maybe with our partners or in a medical space with nurses or midwives. But it doesn’t mean it’s not valid. And being able to appropriately share this information with each other, but also listen to someone else is a real, dare I say it, restorative or healing process for some guys.
What I did was probably something that many have done before me – I just realised there’s nothing out there for dads and wanted to go out there and make dads groups. Where we’ve been successful is being able to create something that’s more scalable.
What inspired me? Before I had my first daughter, Evelyn, I met up with some other mates of mine who had just had babies. And I just felt so comfortable hanging out with them and learning from them, not in a kind of teacher/student way, but just in a peer-to-peer way. That is really different, because if, say, I’ve got a question that I’m not very comfortable asking, well, I can just quietly ask one of those guys at Dad’s Group and then, all of a sudden, all this anxiety just drops off my shoulders. Just in verbalising that question and listening to someone’s response I actually get a burden off my shoulders that I didn’t realise I was carrying.
That was the experience for me. I caught up with these guys with their little babies. I watched them interact with them and they showed me that this is the new normal and that billions of dads have gone before us doing this, so you’ll just be another dad doing that. And whilst that’s miraculous and amazing, it’s also really normal. So, it’s not too much to worry about – you’re going to do the best you can do.
I didn’t read 20 books on fathering before becoming a father. But I have spoken to 200 people about fatherhood in some way, shape or form. And we’ve found that men actually glean information from that, so that’s a really great way of setting dads up to succeed. What we’ve traditionally seen is health institutions creating resources for dads where they might’ve printed four million copies and put them in every maternal child health company in the country. But are the dads actually reading them? And are they getting that rich content that’s been really well-put-together inside? Or is it just great content that’s gathering dust? Our mission has been to get that content to the dads by virtue of empowering and teaching leaders in the community – Dads Group leaders – and then helping them share some of that information just through catalysing community spaces that are safe for dads to come with their babies.
We’re trying to help dads make their own communities of new fathers. So they can jump on the dadsgroup.org website and check out what we’re about. But then you can just start your local chapter of Dads Group. We’ve just started something called Dads Group Org that also helps dads to get together in their suburbs. We start the Facebook Group with you and then you get out there and tell a few mates and share it with the local council. As an organisation, we try and help local Dads Groups apply for a local government grant. Jump on the website and request a Dads Group or connect with us on Facebook.
But the main thing about Dads Group is just connecting with one other guy. We find that people will have this grandiose idea about having 400 members in their Dads Group. It’s actually not that important. You only need one other bloke to go and have a coffee with, because that’s where the great connection happened. We always recommend the best way to start a dads group is it by catching up with someone you know for a coffee. That’s your first Dads Group event right there.
We just want to invite people to realise the opportunity you have as a father, to connect with your infant and change the future. We want dads to realise the biggest influence you have in your life is actually probably not your career – it’s probably going to be your child. Sadly, we often don’t realize that until we’re probably 90 years old.
I don’t want to take away from how hard fatherhood is. I’m pretty sure it’s harder than any army boot-camp. Fatherhood is the biggest challenge you’ll ever have, but it’s also the biggest opportunity. You can take it either way.
Listen to the full episode of The Father Hood’s new podcast in partnership with Parents at Work: here.