I’ve recently based myself in a pub in Salford part time as part of a fathers wellbeing project that’s been testing ideas for three years now called ‘Dadly Does It’. Our project is hosted by a Salford social enterprise called Unlimited Potential, which was the local partner site for asset-based approaches in the national Realising the Value programme commissioned by NHS England about person- and community-centred approaches. The idea is to observe and engage fathers on their own turf, find out what affects their wellbeing, then share solutions that fathers themselves have identified as helpful. Eventually we see if children benefit from having a happier dad.
This particular part of Salford has a historically strong male drinking culture, with more pubs per square mile than you can shake a packet of pork scratchings at. The regulars know who I am and why I am there, with John, our development worker, himself a formerly troubled dad. We sit with a Coke, chat, play pool and generally adopt an ethnographic approach of participant observation.
And amongst the banter is the angst: fathers who admit they tried to kill themselves because they have been prevented from seeing their children, grandfathers who sit alone with their Guinness having lost their partners, dads who tell me they regret not being the dad their kids deserve, veterans with unresolved Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Local dads have identified that being together, doing ‘Dadly’ things that allow them to talk, father to father, about what troubles them, really helps. They are in the throes of setting up a cycling project: doing dad-led family bike rides and mending local children’s bikes for free.
A Salford GP summed it up when he said that ‘Men do not go to the GP until the wheels fall off’. And I say to you, as fellow primary care nurses, how do we resolve this? We cannot change the male psyche of pride and shame. If they don’t come to us, how do we go to them? And I challenge you: how do we move from being the solution to helping them find their own?
Heather Henry is an independent public health nurse and chair of the New NHS Alliance