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My work in the realm of fatherhood and parenting began when I was becoming a dad.  My partner Lucy decided that she wanted a natural birth, so we went exploring our local community for out-of-hospital birth options. We came across the Natural Birth Education & Research Centre (NBERC) – 15 minutes away from our home! We signed up as clients, and I wanted to be involved immediately. I negotiated a contra agreement with the NBERC for my time in exchange for our care and the midwifery services. So I was an active birth advocate, administrator and coordinator for a period of about six months – some paid, some volunteer.  During that time, we came to live on the community of the centre and our son Charlie was born safely at home on the lounge room floor of our home at the centre by the light of a pot belly fire in June 2008.

In February 2009, I moved out of the family home. Lucy and I hit hard times and we needed time apart to work through it. I saw Charlie every day while keeping up 35 hours of paid employment a week and my own space in a share-house. It was during this time that I came into contact with the Men & Family Centre and participated in a course for men on ‘Changes’. This was a pivotal turning point and opening. I was introduced to the world of men’s work and exposed to a healthy model of engaging and working with men. I was instantly hooked and leaped onto the path.

In October 2009, I returned to the family home.

It didn’t take me long to realise that the focus of my passion was working with fathers. So in early 2010, I approached a small local NGO, The Fatherhood Project, about doing some work with them on their Expectant Fathers Program.  Then my focus became even clearer: expectant and new fathers were exclusively the men that I wanted to work with.

One day I was reading a book I’d looked at a number of times and then was struck by this quote:

“Today men are ripe for transformation. Fathering is very likely the key place to start.” — Steve Biddulph, Manhood

In that moment, my vision of my life’s work was crystalized. It became clear to me that this is the place to start healing and transforming men, as well as creating better outcomes for children, men, relationships, families and communities.

My professional journey has been following that calling and pursuing that vision ever since that moment passed. I have worked extensively now as a facilitator, mentor, and educator specialises in engaging and supporting expectant and new dads.

My work ‘happens’ on a number of levels and via a number of activities:

I facilitate the 3-week Building Better Dads courses for expectant dads. The program covers rich territory such as the role and importance of fathers, relationships and communication, generational fathering, team parenting, finances, sex, work-life balance, post natal depression, and self-care. It also gets very practical and presents hands on fatherhood as opportunity. We cover breastfeeding support, baby care, bonding with baby, baby bathing, nappy changing and sleeping with baby. This is what conscious and active fatherhood preparation looks like in practice!

I facilitate workshop-style sessions within the ante natal education classes at the local hospital on the role and importance of fathers and team parenting. I also pull the dads aside for a fatherhood chat.

I visit local pregnancy support groups, playgroups and parenting groups to facilitate discussion groups on the role and importance of fathers, team parenting, relationships and communication, strategies for bringing dad in, dads and bonding, and more.

I work closely with other health and human services agencies to facilitate referrals of expectant dads to the Building Better Dads course. Currently I am supporting a 16 year old expectant dad who was referred by a youth service he and his partner were accessing. I’m also supporting a man who became a dad over six weeks ago who hasn’t yet met his child as his ex-partner is denying him access. He was referred from the local family relationship centre. These are typical examples of men who came via other agencies.

My vision is to have a continuum of engagement, support and mentoring for men, beginning with expectant dads, then new dads, and beyond. It’s about creating a safety net for vulnerable expectant dads, as well as providing a place to go for men who consciously want to prepare for fatherhood and cultivate a sense of purpose through a process of engagement, support and mentoring. This is really missing.

So my vision essentially is about finding practical and meaningful ways to restore fatherhood as a rite of passage and create healthy and supportive pathways for men becoming fathers.  That entails changing the culture of fatherhood preparation, changing the politics and culture of men’s involvement in maternity care, contributing to the evolution of ‘healthy masculinity’, creating more safe spaces for men to share their stories and talk about their lives, contributing to the development of mentors and leaders of men and fathers, and taking this vision and work to the wider community with aspiration of creating positive change.

It’s not a male empowerment trip. It’s about healing men by bringing purpose and balance back to their lives. By creating and supporting this, I believe we would see less violence, less relationship breakdown, and less father absence, and the profound impacts these things have on children, women, families and communities.

I’ve networked widely and extensively with ‘working with men’ professionals, birth professionals, parenting educators,  social commentators, writers, politicians and many other influencers who are stakeholders in my vision. They’re all with me.

I’m presently engaged in some political conversations with some key people in maternity services. My focus is on men at birth. My idea is that if men are appropriately engaged and included in maternity care, we will see better birth outcomes at birth for women and children, less post natal depression, and more involved fathers and supportive partners.

I also have another radical idea: by pursuing the involvement of men in maternity care as a strategy and practice, I envisage that more men will advocate for their partners and refuse harmful birth interventions, and that men could be a significant driver of the improvement of harmful birth trends.

I’ve recently launched something new in my community: Beer + Bubs: Childbirth Education for Men at the Pub. I’ve teamed up with a doula, childbirth educator and midwife-in-training to co-present these sessions. This is part of my father-inclusive practice strategy, healthy male-female modelling strategy, and rich research ground for me. I’ve experienced the challenges of engaging men, so my experiment is to see if I can engage men who attend these sessions (which are very male-friendly) and successfully transition them to other programs, services and supports that ‘go deeper’.

Further, I am in the early stages of establishing a new fatherhood mentoring practice, while continuing the work I that I am current engaged in. The concept is to provide a ‘father to father’ mentoring service for men who are expectant and new dads. While the gaps in services and supports still exist for expectant and new dads, this initiative will aim at engaging and supporting those men who are seeking to prepare for fatherhood consciously, cultivate a sense of purpose in their role as a dad, and invest in their father role and father relationship deeply.

I believe there is a profound intersection between my work and ideas, Suzanne Arms’ work on Domestic Violence, Sexism and Birth: The Primal Period (download the teleconference), and Meryn Callander’s work on Why Dads Leave, both recently featured on Kindred. It would be wonderful to explore this to more depth with the view of sharing our discoveries and ideas with the Kindred community.

I grew up with domestic violence and my parents separated when I was nine years of age. My childhood was extremely tumultuous, painful and unsafe. I am the survivor of two serious attempts at taking my own life (age 15 and 22). I am not in contact with my own father today.

It was during these times that my own vision was truly born. As a child, I can recall with absolute clarity making a conscious choice to be a different man to my own father.

This work is part of my healing journey. A gift that I have is being able to share from the child’s perspective some of the impacts of unhealthy masculinity and fatherhood can have and hopefully provide hope for some other men who carry father wounds, yet want to be healthy men and positive fathers.

Yours, inspired by passion, love, vision and hope.

Darren