Easter came early for LeedsDads this year. LeedsDads is a thriving male carers group in Leeds and they meet every third Sunday of the month at the Tetley art gallery in LS10.
I went to see them on Sunday 22 March 2015, and they were preparing an afternoon of games and activities. One of the activities was an egg hunt, and gathered in the workshop room two floors above the foyer were 10 excited looking preschool children busily colouring in and preparing for it.
I gingerly enter the room with my 12 year old and say ‘Hi I know I’m a mum but…’ suddenly feeling singled out. I now know what it feels like for a Dad walking into a room full of mums. I feel like I have to explain myself. But it’s fine, they couldn’t be more welcoming. Errol Murray greets me, and introduces me to some dads. There are Dads from different areas of Leeds and cultural backgrounds, one Grandad, who has traveled with his son and grandson from Skipton.
Errol (multimedia lecturer at University of Leeds and support coach at the BBC) founded LeedsDads almost 3 years ago when his daughter Rayya was 6 months old. He said:
“I took my daughter to the park because I didn’t know where else to go. I spoke to another father and said is there any dads groups around? And he just shrugged his shoulders’. After that I really wanted to set something up for Dads, a place where they can meet and talk. Talking is so important.”
Between him and some other fathers they were able to gather a small group of dads from North Leeds to meet. First meeting at City Museum, then Kirkstall Abbey and now the spacious Tetley which they are using as their base.
Jem, another dad says: “I think we as Dads we are more open and honest. If we’re tired from lack of sleep we will freely admit it. Whereas I think Mums put more of a brave face on things. We say it how it is and its such a supportive atmosphere, everyone is here to help as we know we’re in same boat.”
Jem goes on to say “it’s great because you are the only sole responsible person for your child. The child has only one person to go to, and that’s the dad.”
And there is definitely a strong bond between the children and their male carers here. The aim of this group is for fathers to fully dive into their children’s experiences and even out the gender stereotypes. I wonder what other things a Dad brings to the group, I typically say the ‘sport’ word, well it is a Sunday and the rugby is playing. Errol says “we try not to make it a thing about sport, it is more around the education of the child, and how the father can contribute to their children’s learning.”
We then all go outside for the egg hunt. Ruben another Dad who used to be a teacher has brought fun educational games too, and the children jump from one mat to another. The egg hunt begins and the children intrepidly disperse in different directions outside the Tetley. Everyone is so happy and the Dads are making the most of opportunity by chatting away to the other Dads.
Duncan, a stay at home dad explains this is his first time and has really enjoyed it. He has been made to feel really welcome. He has recently moved from Edinburgh which is home to the popular Dads Rock. This is an established Dads group offering groups at the weekend, there has also been new groups added during the week. He chats away whilst effortlessly spinning his little girl upside down five times. Dads groups have opened up virtually over the last few years too; Dadzclub is just one site which offers to navigate dads through parenthood, with parental guidance on bonding with their babies, to their own health matters.
I speak to the one grandad, he wants to express how much the group has helped the family. “I learn so much from my grandson, it really is wonderful. There wasn’t anything like this when he was a father so this is a fantastic chance to do it all over again.”
The group follows the same style as any other group and ends with a singing and story time. We all sit on the grass in a circle and Errol asks around for any ideas for the next group which will take place on 19 April. They are always based at the Tetley but will likely be on the road during the summer months.
Errol also adds at the end, that of course children are growing and it soon won’t be a preschool group anymore. They are keen to seek new and equally enthusiastic male carers who may want to join in and keep the group going.
If you are interested in joining or finding out more information on LeedsDads you can check out the Facebook page