The Voice 13/6/2012

‘Isolated ' fathers to be given help with parenting

QUALITY TIME: Father and daughter at a recent Father Figure event

TOO MANY black families are breaking up because fathers are ignored in their efforts to become good parents, according to the founder of a dads’ support group.

David Mullings, founder of Father Figure, an online network for fathers, said he was concerned that African Caribbean men who become fathers often lack father figures themselves and received little support in parenting skills from their peers.
And he claimed that programmes aimed at helping men who are separated from their children frequently fail in their efforts because they are seen as too female-focused.

Mullings is set to launch Father Figure Saturdays on Father’s Day (June 17) to address these issues. The initiative will enable black fathers in Brent, north west London, who have children under eight years of age to spend quality time together by participating in activities such as swimming and cooking lessons.

It will also provide them with the opportunity to become part of a fathers’ group where they can share parenting experiences and discuss topics such as discipline in a confidential space.

Advice

He told The Voice: “Nobody tells you how to be a father or to be a parent. But what a mother has, if she doesn’t have a mum or an aunt or an elderly cousin, is a midwife and a health visitor. While those people might not be too emotionally attached they will give her some good sound advice. But where do you get that from if you’re a father preparing to have a child? You don’t really get it.”

Mullings created Father Figure in June 2011. The inspiration to create such an organisation grew out of his work as a Family Support Worker for a leading charity and his own experiences of being a parent.

By the time he was nineteen, he was a father to two children by two different women and then a single dad shortly afterwards. Mullings believes that had he had other men, including his own father, to talk with about the problems he was facing, things would have been different.

“It wasn’t the greatest of starts by any stretch of the imagination,” he recalled.
“It’s not what I would have wanted or what my parents would have desired for me. But how would I know about the development of my children? How would I know about things like attachment and the long-term effect it would have on my daughters and the relationships they go on to form?

Also I knew my partner’s body would change but I didn’t know that with pregnancy came other feelings and emotions that would make her behave in a different way which eventually drove me to go and cheat on her. Had I had that understanding, had someone prepared me for that or had there been a service or something I may have been able to give better thought to some of decisions I made.”

Success

According to a 2010 survey of 2000 British parents by Parenting UK nearly 20 per cent of fathers felt left out of their child's upbringing whilst 62 per cent of parents thought fathers could be more involved with their children.

But Mullings claimed that encouraging men to talk about parenting problems or relationship break ups in a support group setting can be a struggle because such meetings are often seen as too feminine. Yet he said fathers who don’t get help often feel “isolated and demonised.”

“If you take away the barbershop, where do black men talk in any constructive way about any subject?” he said. “Even if you look at the conversations that are going on here, they’re not addressing these issues…we need guys who say that it’s alright to talk about…their partner cheating on them or becoming single fathers for example. It’s scary because we’ve never had these conversations before.”
Among those who have overcome their reservations and benefited from Father Figure’s services is Kimaathi Spence, a 49-year-old father of two from Brent.

He said “I was apprehensive to begin with but I got involved for myself and my kids. The programme gave me the opportunity to discuss ideas with my peers and has given me a framework to improve my skills. We need more positive programmes like this to take place in our communities.”

n For further information, please visit www.fatherfigure.org.uk.

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