As a researcher who is interested in dads, fatherhood, male fertility, a lot of my work focuses on the experience of men. However, in a recently completed project in the Centre for Men’s Health at Leeds Beckett University, I had the opportunity to be involved in interviewing women about their views of a initiative for dads. Asking mums about dads seems on the surface a bit counter-initiative, I have argued in other work (specifically about infertility) that we too often take women’s views on behalf of men and that doing so can be problematic for both men and women. However, in this instance, engaging the views of women was a really valuable way of seeing how a project for dads was viewed by outsiders to the project itself but who were inside those families.
We found that mums loved dads going to a dads initiative- whether with the kids or on their own- women enjoyed the extra time to themselves that they got as a result, and children enjoyed spending time with their dads. New activities in the family diary can also create new conversations- mums enjoyed hearing what the children had done when they can been with their fathers to the dads and children’s activities that the initiative ran.
Women also identified that men spending more time with their children alone helped to shift the way men got involved with parenting at home. Men were more likely to help out with children, or do ’emotional labour’ (listening, talking etc) with their children after having attended the project. Some of the women who I interviewed admitted to having quite fixed, negative views about men- they thought men in their community drank too much, went to the pub, solved problems badly and ignored their children. However, the initiative had helped some of those same women to ‘undo’ their views about men and men’s role as fathers. All in all, a very positive outcome. Community initiatives which help support all members of the family (even if that’s indirectly) are surely some of the most effective types.