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Family

The new breed of hands-on dads and how it's paying off in spades

Research has found that the more involved a father is in his children's lives, the more likely they are to grow up happy and healthy.

By Professor Bruce Robinson
I've had to break the bad news to men who've got lung cancer. I've had to do it hundreds of times. Sometimes I have to tell men, who are sitting there with their partner, that their cancer is incurable – that they've only got six months to live.
Their reaction varies a lot. Most blokes are philosophical – they're aware they have a shadow on their lung, so they're ready for the news. Other times, they can get upset. They may or may not cry, although their partner usually does.
If they mention regrets, they're nearly always the same. I've had so many men tell me they wish they'd spent more time with their kids, more time with their families.
But what happened was they got too sucked into their work.
At first, I was thinking about how to help dads, but then the focus became more about kids. Because there's a great deal of research that shows there's a strong link between good fathering and the reduction of the risks that kids face when it comes to drug abuse, alcohol, mental health and violence. The more involved a father is in his children's lives, the more likely they are to grow up happy and healthy.
We found that the most powerful untapped force for helping kids was to improve fathering. So the Fathering Project grew out of that.

Make a “dad date” with one kid at a time

We started almost 20 years ago and I think that men's attitudes to fatherhood have changed since then. Men are increasingly aware of just how important dads are.
They're aware that they're not just the icing on the cake; they are fundamental to their children's lives.
The young dads I work with now, they want to spend time with their families, much more so than back in the days when I was a young doctor.
But what's the good of knowing that you're important and then feeling guilty? At the Fathering Project, we share road-tested ideas that dads can actually use to positively engage with their kids. What's a good one?
Start organising "dad dates" – regular occasions when you spend one-on-one time with your child. If you have three kids, you'll organise three different dates. It's all about making the opportunity to talk with and listen to your children.
Right now, it's a good time to be a dad. When I was having children, there were no fathering groups – you'd just ask your wife. Now there's so much more knowledge and information that can help you be a better dad.
Today, I'm a grandparent. I watch my sons and see that they do a lot of the things with their kids that I did with them. They're committed dads and that's partly because if you've had one yourself, then you intuitively know what to do.
Fathering is so much harder if you've had no role model. That's why being a good dad can affect not just your kids, but generations to come.
I watch my sons being good dads with their children and I'm proud of them.

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