Breaved father seeks more help for dads

23 November 2000

One of the hundreds of fathers bereaved every year and left to raise young children alone because of breast cancer deaths called today (June 9) on family services – doctors, health visitors, schools and voluntary organisations – to be more alert to the needs of fathers.

Journalist and writer, Matt Seaton, will address a groundbreaking conference in Suffolk, where child experts will hear of his experience raising two-year old twins, after his wife, Ruth Picardie, died from breast cancer in 1997. Her last year was chronicled in her widely acclaimed book, “Before I Say Goodbye”. Matt’s personal story will also describe the complex issues arising from his new partner, Anna Shapiro, also a writer, recently coming to live with Joe and Lola, now aged four.

Chris Sharpe, a leading expert on fatherhood, will reinforce Matt Seaton’s message with a highly critical attack, accusing agencies of failing fathers’ needs so that “the story of fathers is surrounded by silence”. (See later in release.)

One of Britain’s first ever exhibitions showing “Images of Fathers” will be open alongside the conference, which takes place on June 9 at the Athenaeum, Bury St Edmunds. The exhibition in St Edmundsbury Cathedral prepares for Fathers Day (June 18) and includes over 150 entries. There are testimonies to the joys that fathers bring children as well as pain springing from separation. In a moving picture, an eight-year old boy from Bury St Edmunds portrays his dad alone with a football beside a caption: “My dad is perfect at football. I went over to his over the Easter holidays. I wish he lived in Bury.”

Copies of texts supplied by Matt Seaton and Chris Sharpe, as well as photos of pictures and winners from the “Images of Fathers” exhibition (in print and email format) are available from Fathers Direct and from the Lloyds TSB Foundation (contact numbers attached). Winners will feature on the new website for Fathers Direct, the national information service for fathers.

At the conference Matt Seaton, 34, told over nearly 100 delegates:

“Fathers want to think that they are coping. But often we don’t have a model of what to do, just a belief we can manage even though we may be totally unprepared. Whereas women will go out and seek help, it is easy for dads to become isolated. We don’t have a culture of complaining or seeking support when things are going wrong. So unless parent support services make themselves available to us, we can end up in trouble. The difficulty is that professionals tend to focus on mothers. They have to be more flexible to reach fathers. They have to think like insurance salesmen who will bend over backwards to sign you up which in this case means meeting your needs. That is not easy for over-stretched services, but we need to think about how they can re-orient themselves towards dads.”

Chris Sharpe, father of Sam, 21, and Amy, 17, and a consultant as Thetford Family Centre in Norfolk said:

“Suffolk men are still largely absent in most settings where small children are, such as parent and toddler groups, play groups and primary schools. Many agencies with a responsibility for families do not have a specific focus on involving men. There is not a single father employed by any Suffolk-based agency specifically to work with fathers. So the story of dads in Suffolk is surrounded by silence.”

Conference organiser, David Bartlett of Fathers Direct said:

“Suffolk is pioneering the way forward with this conference by addressing better targeting of family services at fathers. This exhibition shows the importance of fathers in children’s lives and the presence of so many key professionals shows how attitudes are changing to ensure that dads are not left out. But there is much to be done. Matt Seaton’s experience is more common than people realise. Nearly 1000 women under 44 die every year from breast cancer in Britain, the majority of them mothers, often leaving young children and fathers behind. In any case, his experience of fathers lacking key supports is common to most dads.”

Another speaker, Deborah Ghate, co-director of the Policy Research Bureau, said that her latest research demonstrates how family centres fail fathers, who often find them to be a hostile environment over-dominated by women. She said:
“Family services are still often experienced as unwelcoming or inappropriate by fathers. Services should recognise that fathers often have different needs from mothers.”

Mark Ereira, Lloyds TSB Foundation regional coordinator for the East of England, welcomed today’s events, supported by the Lloyds TSB foundation:
“The exhibition shows how children really perceive their fathers and their role within the family. The conference will put local families in touch with the statutory bodies which represent them and we hope the result will be more effective support services for fathers.”

The conference is chaired by David Utting, advisor to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Nine workshops are on offer tackling topics such as fathers’ needs around the birth and early years, fathers in prison and those separated from their children because of family breakdown.

Fathers Direct has organised the day together with Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Health, Lloyds TSB Foundation, the National Childbirth Trust, Relate and the Volunteer Centre, Bury St Edmunds.

Fathers Direct Thursday, October 19, 2000