Main Image: A Dads Group & Man With A Pram Event (supplied) Listen: Thomas Docking chats fatherhood with Justin Rouillon
Thomas Docking’s childhood was a world away from what most Aussie kids experience.
He grew up on country in Arnhem Land, and in his indigenous community, even as a child, he saw that men getting together to share and learn was a healthy thing.
Upon moving to the big smoke that sense of connection was one of the first things that Thomas noticed being absent.
The Sunshine Coast father of three, and Dads Group CEO told 96five that a sense of communal sharing was something he craved, especially as his life transitioned into becoming a father.
“When you move to an urban place you realise that our Western culture and cities are missing something around sharing and learning, both for men and women. When we first found out we were pregnant, I stumbled across a couple of friends who had babies, and when I caught up with them it felt so comfortable to be asking them all those funny questions about what was to come.”
Thomas said that those initial catch ups laid the groundwork for what was to become Dads Group, a growing support network that helps new dads navigate the new world they find themselves in.
The network has traditionally been about dads and their kids getting together to talk and play, but with a pandemic running rampant the catch ups now take place in the digital world.
“Those early chats really broke the ice on some bigger discussions about fatherhood and knowing what to do and our role. I really wanted that experience to be available for every new father, because when we started, our hospitals and health systems did not acknowledge or include fathers in any meaningful way.”
Six years into the Dads Group journey, Thomas says that most men have a surprisingly similar story around their transition to fatherhood.
Because when baby arrives there’s always the ‘what now’ feelings, which very quickly give way to a sense of isolation. This isolation is both due to the demands placed on their partners, but also as the whirlwind of fatherhood quickly kills off much of the social life that existed before.
As well, a feeling of a lack of importance creeps up, in stark contrast to the support that is offered to new mums, both before and after the arrival of a first child.
“Over the years we have found that this was basically the shared experience of most new dads. We have this advanced society with all this research around how to do life better – have we missed the bit about fatherhood, and dads getting together for support? It hasn’t happened intentionally, but it is an unintended consequence of a good health system that could be better.”
Not unlike his childhood in the Northern Territory where men would gather together to share and learn, Dad’s Group is keen to bring in the wealth of experience from others who have also experienced life as a dad.
“The important thing is that we target the support for new fathers, but we also invite the whole father, grandfather and father figure community to be in that space together. We have older dads come to the groups, and they know the purpose is to engage so they come with that mindset to connect with and support those new dads.”
The Modern Dad
It’s hard to have a conversation about the role of the modern dad without a mention of the hit TV show Bluey. The Brisbane production has drawn praise far and wide for the portrayal of Bandit, a dad who plays with the kids, does more than his fair share of the housework and is present for his family.
“There’s some really positive outcomes of a show like Bluey. I’m sure the scriptwriters have shared a lived experience through story form, but that extends to so many people being encouraged and really appreciated.”
With that change in how society sees the role of a father, how are all our related systems coping? Thomas reckons that Dads Group can help facilitate that change.
“Society is changing really quickly around how we see the role of fathers, and that’s something that our health systems and workplaces can’t keep up with. It makes it complex to connect the dots on what programs can support that change, as an organization that’s what we’ve been doing. We’re connecting the dots on the social changes that are happening, as well as bridging across to the health systems and social services that should be there to support that cultural change.”
And what does the 2019 Queensland Father of the Year Finalist think about how the role of fathers will continue to develop? He’s pretty stoked about what’s to come.
“It’s a really exciting time to be a father. Whatever era you’re from, being a father is pretty exciting, but as a period of time where people are embracing fathering as a thing rather than just an add on to your work it’s pretty cool.”
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Jump online and join one of our Digital Dads Groups — it’ll have all the things you’ve come to expect from Dads Group, apart from you’ll need to make your coffee this time! Thanks to our mates at @MovemberAustralia for making this happen. * 10 video calls each week * BYO kids to the call *Keep the chat going with the Digital Dads Group FB page https://www.facebook.com/groups/DigitalDadsGroups * Click the Zoom link here to Register in advance for this meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/…/tZQoduqvqz4o5YosZ4pk2IIuU_xdpxmHEg #Covid-19 #DigitalDadsGroup #DadsGroup #TogetherAtHome