So how do you talk to young Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander men about becoming a father?
Professionals ask this all the time. Health Workers want to have dads more involved, especially supporting the mum and taking care of the baby, but it doesn't seem like an easy conversation to have.
It might help to think about what it's like to be a young First Nations man who has just found out he's going to be a father.
In the north-west of New South Wales where I've been lately, I see the young fellas hanging back a bit, and not quite sure what to do about a pregnancy. People might think they don't care or that they’re focused on what they are going to miss out on. But there's a lot to sort out. How's he supposed to be now that his girlfriend or partner is pregnant? What do the families think? Where are they going to live and how are they going to afford a baby?
It can be hard because some of the fellas haven’t had a lot of involvement or guidance around being a deadly dad, and many start a family while they are young. Maybe their own dad wasn’t around much, and they are wondering, ‘Is this really my job?’ or ‘Do I have to stick around and support my partner?’
In a project that involved asking young dads what went through their minds when they went to hospital for the ultrasound, the dads had lots of questions like, ‘Am I allowed to go in the room?’, ‘Where am I supposed to wait?’, ‘How long will we be here?’, ‘Will they tell me off?’ They also commented about the posters of men they saw in health services that featured drugs, domestic violence – negative stuff. As one young man put it ‘Where are the posters about the deadly dad I’m going to be?’
It may be easy to assume that young dads don't feel things as intensely as their partners who are going through the birth. However, when we filmed young men from the community talking about the birth (www.stayinontrack.com) we were surprised by how open and honest they were, how they showed their emotions and what a major turning point the arrival of their baby was for them.
What we've been finding out through the SMS4DeadlyDads project (www.sms4deadlydads.com) is that when we yarn with young men about being dads, it is often the first time they’ve been asked about being a dad. It is usually the first time they’ve had a reason to talk about what it might be like to be a father and how they feel about it. So, it's no wonder they may not have a lot of confidence in their role in the beginning.
Pointers for health practitioners wishing to engage first nations fathers:
- Assume that he wants to be involved with his baby or child.
- Make it clear that you personally, and the service you represent, do value the dad’s role.
- Make your conversation about strengths or how he managed, not about risks.
You can start with offering SMS4DeadlyDads, that’s not too scary and it’s been designed by First Nations men Uncle Mick Adams, Craig Hammond and Dave Edwards, supported by a national advisory committee of senior men from communities around Australia.