Discoveries as a new Dad

Playgroup is a dynamic force. It moulds to suit those in the playgroup. The relationships that build within a playgroup can be a wonderful steadier, especially for Dads.

In September of 2014 Tom Fagernes became a father for the first time. He was struck with a sense of joy, intermingled with great fear.

Tom and his wife are from Norway. Many years ago, they decided that they wanted a change, they were hankering something. In the depths of winter, it can get down to minus 20 degrees with only 6 hours of sunlight in Norway. The pair embarked on their first trip to sunny Australia as backpackers. The change in weather and lifestyle appealed to them. Three and a half years later they moved to Australia and six years after that they had their first child. In but a moment, Tom’s normal routines came to a halt. His attention turned to the newborn. The rest of the world became background noise.

The transition into fatherhood was challenging for Tom, and in more ways than one. He had anxious moments and moments of unease. Without family close by, there was little support. Often with nobody to talk to, Tom felt rather flat and fatigued.  

“Everything was now focused around this little baby. Having a little one is very unpredictable, and you have to go with the flow,” said Tom.

“I found it to be very hard to juggle work and family life in the beginning.”

Tom said that isolation is one of the major factors impacting a new father’s mental health.

“New fathers are often hesitant to share parenting experiences.”

There is a reluctance to speak candidly as a new father, for which the reasons are manifold. The mother has carried the baby for nine months and thereafter a dependence on the mother is vital, however the bond between father and baby, and father and mother is profound and should be valued. Working harmoniously as a unit takes practice. The reality is, this time can be extremely challenging for parents who are sleep deprived, both carrying uncertainties of their own.  

When Tom met Thomas Docking at the Man with a Pram event and then later at a Ringwood office space, his interest was piqued. Thomas Docking is the founder of Dads Group Inc, a support group that concentrates of the needs of the father. New dads are encouraged to meet in parks, coffee shops or at barbeques with their kids.    

Tom discovered that he felt great relief when having a place to go and express himself, in an informal manner.

He found that Dads Group Inc addressed the issue of isolation by connection.

“I was struggling to find other new fathers in my area to share my experiences with, and get support from. I felt that most of the support services available were for new mothers. I really wanted to be a supportive father for my wife and the new baby, but felt overwhelmed with the experience.” 

Tom said that he did not feel that it was hard to talk about his hardships once in an environment that he felt comfortable in.

“Being part of Dads Group Inc allowed me to connect with other new fathers and hear about their stories. I realised that I wasn't the only one experiencing hardships, and that it was ok to open up and talk to other people in a similar situation.” 

In February of 2017 Tom became a consultant at Dads Group Inc.

Dads Group Inc foremostly acts as a facilitator, helping to build community groups, with the aim to link fathers to relevant resources and hotlines.

Founder Thomas Docking explains that Dads Group Inc is for new and expecting Dads.

“Dads group aims to be a positive prevention program to build community resilience in a demographic that has very high rates of depression isolation and anxiety.”

“Part of the DGI program is to strategically support new mums as well by providing them with some much needed rest and relaxation while dad takes the baby for a social catch-up with his new mates,” said Thomas.

Thomas Docking observes how his colleague Tom Fagernes has not only experienced lasting positive change but has caught the vision of DGI.

Since joining, Tom has been able to lead new growth in communities across the region.

“Tom has a passion to see other new dads and families connect, develop friendships and build healthy strong local communities across Australia and soon the globe. Preventing isolation, suicide and family violence can be an enjoyable and rewarding process.”

Side by side, Thomas Docking and Tom Fergernes, along with their partners and families are making the transition to parenthood a more family inclusive experience.

Dads Group Inc have been working alongside Playgroup Victoria who have a range of Dads playgroups. Together, they endeavour to make fatherhood a more enriching experience. They want less struggle and more acceptance. The main aim is to break down barriers that are negatively impacting upon the father and tumbling into the wellbeing of the family whole. There are many subtle and forceful issues affecting families across Australia, especially in the early years of a child’s life when there is heighten pressure and complication. Dads and Mums deserve support, in equal measure. 

At playgroup and at Dads Group Inc gathering, the father can find answers to things unknown, and most importantly, can find a place of comfort; of reflection and of fun.

As Tom prepares to have his second child, he is steadier on his feet. Knowing that Dads Group Inc and Playgroup Victoria are both there for him, it is easier to connect to fathers going through similar things.

Tom may have left his native land behind, but rest assured, he has great support in Australia. 

Article by Sinead Hallliday