Why Dads Courses Dont Work

- Dave Owens reflects on courses for dads

There have been substantial efforts by progressive parenting support organisations  into developing and running courses for dads.

The intentions are sound. I see them as well meaning attempts to…

  • improve men's abilities to be better fathers
  • indicate an awareness of the glaring gap in their services for dads
  • be genuine by having men input into course content and men running them 

All shaping up nice?

Well … let's follow it …

The course is branded and launched, and the real-live dad facilitator gets on the blower to raise interest and get enrollments. But he finds it hard work getting guys to come.

The very first course isn’t full, but that’s okay, it’s a pilot, after all. But the second course is even harder to fill. By the third or fourth course, they seem to have run out of men. 

Still, there will be a positive evaluation. And the few men who did go will have gotten a lot out of it.

But the fact is it will reach very few dads.

So what's wrong?

Well … something should have been considered before anything else … way before this course ever got launched. That is: men don't go to courses.

A course on car mechanics? on learning to use Photoshop? on upholstering furniture? A small number of guys will do a course on these.

But a course for men on fathering? I'd estimate that less 1-in-a-1000 guys would voluntarily go. Most men would rather go to the dentist.

Why should they go to a course on being a dad? Because it’s good for them? Come on, they’re not kids you’re trying to get to eat their broccoli.

The  premise – that men will go to an open-to-the-public course on fathering – is fundamentally flawed. Men may say it's a good idea. But they won't go.

If we look into where a course for dads has come from - we will probably find that it was the idea of a creative and well-meaning woman.

And that's the  problem, it is starting from a woman trying to imagine what will work for men: can't be done.

Our current parenting support services are directed at women because the services are

staffed and run by women. We don’t have parenting support services directed at men because we don’t have men working in them.

Women in these organisations don't know what will work for men. And why should they? It’s ridiculous to think that they would.

If we are going to reach dads, we need to get men working in these services. When we start to get men working in these roles we will begin to get male-relevant services … which will result in men using them.

We need to encourage men to step up and take roles where the parenting rubber hits the road. This is not just in parenting support services, but also in primary schools, in early childhood education, in social work, in childbirth education classes, in midwifery.

All these fields are far more than women dominated – they are no-go work environments for most men. And these services – and their clients – suffer from a lack of balance.

Getting a gender balance in these workforces is important. And yet, it's not even on the radar.

Okay, we've discovered a fact. But, rather than throwing our hands up in exasperation, let’s ask why we have a gender imbalance in these fields? We can, at least, find out why this is so. We won't come up with good solutions if we don't clearly identify what the problem is.

Such a process can begin by asking the right questions. For a start, I’m suggesting a few questions:

  • do these traditionally female-based organisations want men working in them? If not, why not? If yes …
  • what is discouraging men from working in these organisations, now?
  • what would attract men into taking up careers in these fields?
  • what can we do differently in our organisations that would result in a more gender balanced workforce?

A more gender-balanced workforce will present the possibility of providing effective services for dads - and the benefits go directly to the children of these men.

The lack of a gender-balanced workforce is not a mystery. It's a practical problem for which there will be many solutions.

But we won't be find effective solutions unless we …

  • understand the basis of the problem
  • keep an eye on the bigger picture
  • have the will to act on what we learn


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