by John Hoffman

The Father of All Dads Groups

Please forgive me if my enthusiasm gets a little over the top in this blog about Dad Club dad_club_logo2London. But, Whoa Daddy! These guys are awesome!

Dad Club London (DCL) was launched in April 2013 by Jeremy McCall, a social services professional who wanted to connect with other guys with kids. He explains, “Our first child was due in July of that year and I was assessing our social circles. I realized that I had tons of friends but only one who had kids. I was pretty daunted by the task ahead. I had a pretty rough upbringing myself and I wanted to do things right. So I called up my buddy and said why don’t we try to create a new social network for dads?”

Jeremy asked his friend to invite some dads he new to their first meeting, which took place at a local tavern over chicken wings, beers and a hockey game. We talked about what our goals were and we kind of laid the groundwork for what the group might look like,” he says. At first DCL was mostly a private online network. Each dad started inviting guys they knew. For the first few months there were only ten of them, but once the word got out their membership started to grow. “We had some DCL T-shirts and hoodies made, so people would see us at events with our matching shirts. That helped get the word out. Right now DCL has over 3200 active members!

As the group grew DCL opened up more avenues of activity, a combination of online communication and meetups. Some meetups were just for dads and some were for dads with kids. As with many Dads groups that have sprung up across Canada in the past 20 years, activities were a main focus. Sometimes they’d meet at a local park with soccer balls, baseball bats and gloves and they’d just get out there and play with the kids. In colder weather they do indoor stuff such as renting an indoor play gym for an hour for DCL guys and their kids.  Some of the dads attend a Saturday morning Dad/Child play group at a local resource centre. “We kind of took it over,” Jeremy laughs. “Most of the time if there are 15 dads there, 13 or 14 of them will be from our club.”

After a while DCL branched out into educational seminars on practical topics like first aid, home repair, investing and life insurance. They are all run by the dads themselves.  “We’d cover any topic where one of the guys had knowledge and expertise that some of the other dads might be able to benefit from,” says Jeremy.

But here’s the DCL event I really like. A couple of times a year they do a sort of Hair School for Dads, where a local hairdresser comes in a shows guys how to do braids, pony tails, pig tails and other things that Dads might want (or need) to help their daughters (or sons) with. You gotta love it!

And there’s more, much more. DCL has also incorporated some elements of traditional service clubs, like Kinsmen or Kiwanis. They raise money for various groups, including a local women’s shelter.  DCL once organized a blood donor drive and when they found out that one of their members would be excluded from donating blood simply because he gay, the bros got to work. “We had a head-to-head phone call with one of the top employees at Canadian Blood Services, and he agreed that their practices are wrong and they need to collaborate with the government to make changes,” says McCall.

But perhaps the most surprising accomplishment of this Dad’s club is that they used their online network to solve a hit-and-run crime. Jeremy explains, “One of our members lives on a fairly busy thoroughfare. One day a driver lost control of her car, jumped the curb and crashed into his house. He ran outside just in time to see and tail lights peeling down the street.” The crash actually started a small fire, and his two-year-old was sleeping on the second floor right above where the fire was. Long story, but to cut to the chase, some of the lads pulled together as much information as they could (including a photo of a piece that fell off the car during the crash), put it online, and asked people to get in touch if they had any information. Sure enough, the next day one of the guys spotted the car in a parking lot and eventually, the owner was apprehended.

There is even more I could tell you about this Dads Club: their float in this year’s Gay Pride Parade, how they have fundraised for defibrillators and advocated for more diaper change tables in men’s washrooms. But you can find out for yourself by checking out the DCL website and Facebook page.

I just want to make a couple of comments. Dads Club London is the kind of network that a lot of us in the fatherhood field have been trying to make happen for over 20 year, usually with modest success at best. Why is this group so successful? Lots of reasons, including the skill and commitment of Jeremy McCall and his team. But I suspect a big part of the reason is that, like many successful mothers’ network, DCL is based on friendship, mutual support and fun, rather than parent education. I’m not knocking parent education (in fact DCL plans to start working with a local organization to offering some parent education), but I think social and activity-based meetups that give dads ways to be together and have fun with their kids are the best way to engage dads in a parenting-related social enterprise.

I wish I could come up with a way bottle DCL and bring it to every community.

I have no idea how to do that.  But if I was the Minister of Child and Family Development, or whatever it might be called, I’d be sending people to London to check out what DCL is doing and set their minds to what we might be able to do to support the development of these sorts of groups for dads (and moms!) in other communities. Because Dads Club of London sure is doing an amazing job at something that our society really needs: supporting men with kids in ways that help create better fathers!

Check them out: