A dad from Worthing has set up a new social group for fathers and children to spend time together, challenging the preconceived ideas of dads being ‘babysitters’.
Dan Flanagan set up volunteer-run group Dad La Soul, aiming to stop social isolation for dads in a fun, welcoming environment for them and their children.
Father-of-one Dan, 44, said: “Being a dad can be quite a lonely life, but men don’t like to talk about that. But once you get over those initial barriers and have conversations, these common themes keep coming up.
“The ones like ‘I had to miss the parents evening or sports day because I couldn’t get home from work’. Or ‘I only get to see my son at bedtime, and I don’t know what to do’. When you open up those conversations, you start to realise there’s a different side to blokes - we don’t just want to talk about beer and footie.”
After becoming frustrated by the long commute, Dan left his corporate job three years ago to spend more time with six-year-old son Natty.
The death of his own father made Dan reevaluate his life, and he set up his own businesses, dad magazine Don’t Believe The Hype, which now has 15 dads around the UK sharing their personal stories of modern-day fatherhood and the intergenerational rave agency TotRockinBeats.
Dan said: “When I became more of a stay-at-home dad a few years ago, I had access to mother and toddler groups.
“However, there were very few dads there, and we were not made to feel very welcome. There are questions you have to contend with like ‘why haven’t you got a proper job?’ and ‘are you here just to have an affair?’”
The only other option open to Dan was visiting soft-play centres, where he said he was surrounded by people sitting on their phones so, out of sheer frustration, Dad La Soul was born.
Now, the group of up to 50 dads and children meet monthly on a Saturday and take it in turns to lead the session and teach a new skill.
Activities including Lego, beatboxing, DJ workshops, soft-play, film-making, robot crafting and even stand-up comedy are now part of this dad and child playdate.
This month the group have a special guest in the form of professional comedian Aidan Goatley who will be performing his stand-up set and leading a ‘dad vs kid’ joke-off.
Dan said: “We love our kids, music, films, and having fun. We have so many skills to share, but sometimes no one to share them with.
“As a middle-aged man, it is very embarrassing to stick your hand up and say I need some friends. Men just don’t talk about things like that.”
The first few sessions were held at different locations. These included Colonnade House in Warwick Street in Worthing and the headquarters of Brighton-based search marketing agency Propellornet.
From June this year, the group found a new home at Guild Care day centre supporting older people Monday to Friday, which is usually closed at the weekend.
Men who attend the centre on weekdays have been invited to join Dad La Soul as ‘wannabe grandads’. Dan has also invited members of Men in Sheds, an organisation for retired men, to join in the fun.
Male friendship is at the heart of the concept because Dan believes as men get older, they often become trapped in tiny social circles. Although Dad La Soul will only meet monthly to start, Dan says members have already begun making friends, with some meeting up for a drink or organising play dates of their own.
Dan has big plans for the group and hopes to expand to towns and cities across the UK and beyond in the next few years.
He said: “What I’m looking to do is build a Dad’s Army of these clubs. As we grow, we’ll have a national, if not international, network of dads and that could have a hell of an impact.”
All dads and male carers are welcome, entry costs £5 for adults and children, £3 for OAPs, while babies go free.
To learn more, visit www.totrockinbeats.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.