By Lisa Saunders
In the basement of Kateri Parish in Winnipeg’s west end, 19 men, all dads, quietly sign in and take their seats in the large meeting room. In the centre is a small table with a couple of brightly coloured patchwork quilts, a few feathers and a candle. They are all here to take part in a support group called Better Fathers Inc. This weekly gathering gives them a chance to share the challenges and successes of parenting with other fathers.
“There’s an assumption out there that men don’t want to talk. That’s just not true,” says organizer Paul Molloy, a retired social worker who has been helping run the workshops for more than a decade. In fact, experts say talking it out is one of the best elixirs for fathers dealing with the stress of parenthood — especially new dads undergoing a massive lifestyle change. There are also other ways to make the most of this unique time in your life.
“Acknowledge you are a father to the outside world,” says marriage and family therapist Ray Ali, one of Winnipeg’s top fathering gurus. Ali says that despite the generational shift toward hands-on fathering, many new dads have a hard time asking for help. He recommends seeking out local support groups and letting friends, co-workers and employers know about your status as a first-time dad.
It’s advice Global TV Winnipeg photographer James Rinn and many of his co-workers have taken to heart. Between December 2006 and December 2007, 10 employees in the newsroom welcomed newborns, including Rinn. His daughter Charlie was born last July. “Here’s your instant support group,” he says, referring to his colleagues, who spend a lot of time sharing baby woes, success stories and advice.
Learn as much as you can about the developmental stages of your child. Go online and pore over parenting magazines for advice. It will make dealing with milestones like teething and taking your child’s temperature for the first time easier.
Simply put: The more involved you are, the better your child will fare. This means cuddling, cooing, connecting and doing the dirty work, like changing diapers. New dad Kris Gidilewich, 32, was a bit apprehensive in his new role when his twin girls, Julia and Ashley, arrived 10 weeks premature. “In the first couple of days when they were in the neo-natal unit, I was scared to touch them because they were so tiny and there were wires coming off them.” He later took three months’ parental leave to help his wife care for the girls in the early months. “It built a good bond with them. They know that I’m there.”
“These (first) couple of years are years of incredible flux and change and adaptation,” says Ali. That includes your social calendar, friendships and your relationship with your partner. He recommends embracing your new lifestyle and working hard to find a new balance. “Where couples get into difficulty is when one partner wants it the old way.”
This final advice comes from Rinn, who says the first year is not as wonderful as many make it out to be. “Don’t believe the advertising. You’re going to be completely overwhelmed, but you’re going to be fine.”
Winnipeg writer Lisa Saunders will likely be nursing her newborn baby as you read this, while simultaneously trying to entertain her one-year-old daughter. She and her husband are looking forward to the wild ride ahead.
Keep reading to find out more about the modern role of dad.