How Dads Can Change the Community

Moms may be at the forefront of community change, but dads can also step forward to turn talk into action

By David Eddie

How Dads Can Change the CommunityI have so many worries when it comes to my three boys (ages 13, 10 and 8) and the future — their future — that if someone were to ask me to list them, I could speak at the speed of an auctioneer for half an hour and still not get anywhere near through the list. Basically, will they be able to lead peaceful, secure, happy, pollution-reduced, explosion-free lives with families of their own someday? Or will they be scuttling around in some kind of terrifying post-apocalyptic dystopia?

So what if I want to do something about it all? Say I want to try to influence what type of planet my children will inherit. How would I go about that exactly? Would I join an organization, or form one of my own? Where would I even begin? It’s so hard to know what to do, especially as a man.

dad’s the man

Unlike women, “guys are more inclined to take care of business on their own,” says John Hoffman, communications coordinator for the Guelph, Ont.-based Fatherhood Involvement Research Alliance. When men do join groups, such as service clubs, he explains, it’s usually for community work within the framework of social and career networking.

But in my search, I did unearth a couple of dad-centric grassroots organizations aimed at society betterfication in my area; and I asked their founders about the particular challenges they face trying to get men interested and involved in something outside their workaday lives.

Brandon Hay, a father of three boys ages 7, 6, and 4, started the Black Daddies Club as a Facebook group in 2007 while looking for mentors in his community to share their wisdom as successful fathers. Now a support group for dads, it also hosts events and works with the media to provide alternate, more positive images of black fathers.

Steven Rieck started Dads Against Dirty Air (DADA) out of frustration with people idling their cars outside his child’s school. It has evolved into a local campaign to minimize unnecessary pollution.

Brian Russell, a dad of three girls ages 13, 11, and 10, runs a regular drop-in centre and activity-based organization called Dads Today, as well as an annual conference to illuminate fatherhood issues called “Dads Count, Families Matter.”

All three agree that men are not natural “joiners”; each group had to reach out. Russell formed the idea of a drop-in program because he felt the needs of dads were underserved in his area. Numbers were small at the outset, but when he focused the get-togethers on activities dads could do with their kids — going on hikes, for example — the group grew in popularity.

Men don’t like gathering just to chat, he learned. They like to have something to do. (Probably the reason poker games are so popular with men: you can talk if you want to, or you can just shut up and play.) “Men like to get together with a goal in mind. They are less concerned with process,” he says. “Women are more tuned in to the process of getting to the goal.”

Hay says he also found it difficult to get dads to attend meetings at first. “That’s when I realized instead of getting men to come to me I had to go to where the men were.” Where they were, with their kids, was at barbershops, a place where men feel comfortable to open up and talk freely.

All agree that if you hope to make a difference, you can’t just go stomp out the door with an axe to grind. Men will resist that. “Changing habits is hard,” Rieck says. “Personal outreach has been proven to be more effective.”

so how do you get started?

  • Don’t be overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem you are tackling. “Just pick something small, focus on it, and do a really good job at it,” Rieck says. Russell says his goal is to “try to change the world one dad at a time.”
  • Welcome women into your dad-based organization. They too can support your cause. Rieck says about 80 percent of the active members of Dads Against Dirty Air are women.
  • Be persistent “You know the story of the frogs and the butter?”, Hay asks me. (I don’t.) “Two frogs fell into separate buckets of milk and struggled to get out. Hours went by and one of the frogs gave up and sank beneath the milk and drowned. The other kept paddling his legs until the milk started to churn into butter and it was able to get enough footing to jump out.”As I mull this over, Hay, with his beautiful smile and calm, almost Buddhistic demeanour, patiently explains it to me. “Your problem is the milk, your little corner of the world is the bucket, and if you want to make that change, turn that milk into butter, well, then…”

So, keep those legs paddling, fellow dads.

David Eddie is an advice columnist and author. He lives in Toronto with his wife and three sons and is contemplating whether he’s the kind of guy who’d start a dad’s group.

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