Simon Street will become a dad for the first time this month and he’s excited, nervous, and hopeful that he’ll still get to go surfing when the sea is pumping.
Like all expectant dads, he
wonders how life will change with fatherhood.
For this reason, he’s started up Fatherhood Circle, a “mantenatal” group where expectant and new dads can have conversations about pregnancy, birth, and early childhood.
Dr Street, a Bay of Plenty chiropractor and qualified primary school teacher, has set out to create a safe space and “flowing kaupapa” for men to share.
One week the men might talk about nappy changing, and the next how not to feel like a spare wheel during labour.
They’ll talk about the challenges, but also “celebrate the wins”.
While Street’s pregnant partner Ines Silveyra, 38, has found “fantastic” support in the community in the lead-up to the birth of their son, the 39-year-old struggled to find anything dedicated to dads.
“I’ve found a lack of practical support for men in that masculine, supportive role,” he says.
Fatherhood Circle, which launched in Mount Maunganui last month, has generated vocal support from community support agencies and the half a dozen men who have shown up for the first meetings.
If popular long-term, he’d love to inspire Fatherhood Circles to pop up in the wider Bay of Plenty and beyond.
His group follows in the footsteps of Nourishing Fathers, a charitable trust and fatherhood support network for dads of primary-aged kids set up in 2020 by former Bay resident Duane Fernandes, who now lives in the Tasman region.
There is still one active group in Tauranga.
“We started because we noticed that most dad support was ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff initiatives,” Fernandes says.
“Our focus was support and brotherhood in a preventative sense.”
Before shifting, he’d been looking to focus earlier than the primary years, as he found the need to be “more acute”.
Street says it’s breaking the antenatal and postnatal mould by asking dads to be “brave” and attend alone, but there are benefits.
“Men have plenty of emotional stuff going on in daily life, and I’ve noticed in myself, that’s amplified during [my partner’s] pregnancy.
“There are a lot of unknowns going on, and then I can only imagine, and I’m soon to find out, what happens once there’s a newborn child in the mix.
“For me, it seems like a pressure cooker, and men would appreciate the space to be able to share some of that stuff, and have support from other men who are in a similar situation.”
Men have plenty of emotional stuff going on in daily life, and I’ve noticed in myself, that’s amplified during [my partner’s] pregnancy.
For new dad Jackson Flemming, 28, attending Fatherhood Circle has been a chance to bond with other men over commonalities – including the pressure placed on individuals when the household drops to one income.
“Talking to the guys, they’re a good sounding board,” he says.
“I don’t think the guys there are necessarily looking for solutions, it’s just that you’ve kept it to yourself for a week, or a month, and it’s good to get it out there so you’ve got it off your chest.”
Another topic the men have been working through is work-life balance.
“The traditional view of fatherhood is to leave the house at 6am and get home at 6pm and to provide for the family, which of course you want to do, but I also like to spend some time with my [6-month-old daughter, Alice].”
Street hopes that the weekly catch-ups will help to develop long-term friendships, particularly for those who don’t have family close by.
“I envision the further we go down the track and allow these networks to solidify and the connections to naturally develop, it would be great to have a support network of other men you can reach out to, talk to.”
New dad Alvaro Uribe, 39, a Tauranga software developer, likes the idea of connecting with other men who are in the same stage of life as him.
“Older generations, they give you very [old-school] advice that doesn’t always apply at this current time,” he says.
Men are now in a different space from where their dads and grandfathers were, agrees CEO of Parenting Place and dad-of-two Dave Atkinson.
This is due to there being more research available; more awareness of the importance of the paternal role in a child’s brain development and wellbeing; and the cost of living and financial pressure. And while we live in a more connected world, which has its benefits, it also means “more comparison and distraction”.
Being in a group like Fatherhood Circle, where men can share experiences and find companionship, is “incredible”, Atkinson says.
“We need to normalise talking about how big the job of parenting is. It’s huge… And we know from our own post-natal course, Space, that parents get as much out of the social interaction as they do from the educational component of the programme.”
Men these days are more involved in parenting, classic gender roles have been challenged, and there are different models of doing family life.
“When you see that model played out by friends or people you admire or people who are ahead of you on the journey, it shapes your expectations and gives you a vision for how you might do it yourself.”
And if you haven’t had the best upbringing, Atkinson says it’s “never too late to re-write the script for your kids”.
“We always parent out of our internal reality, so the more we can heal past hurts or grow in our self-awareness and capacity, the better parents we’ll be. It’s also really important to ask for help when you need it – we don’t parent well when we’re on an island.”
For Uribe, becoming a dad four months ago to daughter Victoria with partner Valeria has been “awesome”, but the newness has been “nerve-racking”.
“My sister told me, ‘You will never be scared until you have a baby’.”
Already in the first few sessions of Fatherhood Circle, the men have created a space for “challenging conversation” around both post-natal depression and supporting a new dad whose baby has been in intensive care since birth.
“To create a space where men are able to diffuse, decrease or release some of that emotional charge, has been amazing,” Street says.
“The whole idea is to cultivate a space where fathers can share, and simply be listened to. Men need a place where they can share what’s going on, deeply. Too often as men, we’re too quick to try to offer solutions to challenges. There’s a time and place for this, but many times, just to be heard is very important.”
However, where necessary, he plans to invite qualified guest speakers.
In a world where there is so much pressure on parents to be all and do all, Fatherhood Circle helps to ease the load.
“The world needs more good fathers,” Street says.
“I like to think that every father is trying their best, and having more conversations, more support and more connection allows every father who’s trying their best to be even better.
“It’s just so important for our tamariki, for the world.”
Fatherhood Circle is free to attend and meets every Thursday at Arataki Community Centre in Mount Maunganui, 7pm-8pm. The focus is on pregnancy, birth and early childhood. Depending on demand, additional nights may be added.
If you are struggling as a dad, talk to your GP. Depending on what your needs are, they can refer you to support services and/or online resources like nourishingfathers.com and parentingplace.nz. Parenting Place offers family coaching and a range of Toolbox courses.