A father posted this plea on a website for new dads:
‘I’m just coming back from being over in Iraq, and my daughter, who is only six-and-a-half months old, doesn’t stop crying whenever I hold her. The moment my wife is out of her sight she starts crying, and the longer I’m holding her the worse she gets. My upstairs neighbors said it sounds like someone is trying to kill her. I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried holding her and letting her cry until she stops, but like I said, her crying just gets worse. I want for us to re-bond so bad that every time she cries, I cry. If any of you guys can give me any advice, I’m more than happy to take it.”
’What is missing here? This father’s heart is engaged, and he knows what he wants–to re-bond with his daughter. What no-one has told him is how infants develop bonds with those that care for them.
Reproduced with permission from The Dad Factor: how father-baby bonding helps a child for life by Richard Fletcher Publishing © Richard Flertcher
Richard’s research revealed possible long-term negative impacts on the children of dads with mental health issues. Fathers’ depressive symptoms in the first year after the birth predicted behaviour problems in their children years later.
“If dads’ mental health has such a dramatic impact then we need to be screening dads for depression, not just mums,” Richard explains.
In response to these limitations, Richard and his team have designed a smart-phone based program that allows mobile connection for new and expectant dads.
Participants receive texts containing information and links, and self-report their mood. If the mood tracker identifies dads as needing extra support, they will be offered a phone call from a counsellor trained in this area.
Following the success of the pilot of the SMS4dads program, Funding was received to enable a National roll-out.
“When dad’s miss antenatal classes or activities, they also miss out on contact and links to other people. They may never get the chance to say to anyone, look I’m really stressed,” he points out.
“SMS4dads is a way of bringing dads into the health system and keeping them linked in with services and support,” explains Richard.
Richard credits a varied career, a talented and innovative team, and much life experience for affording him the insight needed to address the challenges related to actively engaging dads.
After completing his masters in Medical Science, studying epidemiology, Richard earned his PhD focusing on fathers and attachment.
“Fathers are invisible in many places, and that is endemic. Not because people dislike fathers, but because the system is set up to be focused on mothers.”
Some services and organisations are aware of the need to engage dads, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts.
“When people are challenged about this, they generally want dads involved,” Richard affirms.
“Often, however, they just don’t know how to do it.”
Richard works with health professionals on issues related to fathers, and has delivered many antenatal programs for expectant dads.
He credits his own family with giving him an understanding of the role of fathers needed to make his work relevant.
“I have three daughters and two stepdaughters,”
“My kids would say they taught me just about everything I know and they’d be right. They’ve taught me a lot, and still do.”