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St. Albert dads group a hit with local fathers

Facebook group grew to 300 members in first month
A group of St. Albert dads are fighting fatherhood isolation by hanging out for drinks, crafts and more. St. Albert resident Jesse Clarke (centre) started the group, and Ryan Sellers (second from the far left) was one of the first members of the group. SUPPLIED/Photo

Shortly before Jesse Clarke turned 21, his first son was born.

Suddenly, while Clarke's friends were partying until 2 a.m., he was going to bed early and saving money that in the past might have been spent on a night out.

“I didn’t see my friends as much because our lifestyles were just so different,” Clarke said.

The change left Clarke, now 28, a bit isolated. He loved having the company of friends his own age to ride along with while he took his three kids out for a walk in the park or shot them down a toboggan hill. But most of the time, fellow adults were unavailable.

“I found it really hard to walk up and start conversations with other dads because a lot of the time I was the youngest dude in the room,” he said.

After their first son was born, Clarke’s wife, Meagan Clarke, found an Edmonton-based group for moms and made friends that she still hangs out with years later. But no similar group existed for dads, so Clarke decided to create one himself. In January he headed to Facebook and started a St. Albert dads page.

Within a month, the page had over 300 members, and as of the end of February, over 400 members had joined. It has led to regular in-person meetups, where St. Albert dads, along with their children, have built birdhouses together, made Valentine’s Day crafts, gone sledding and just met up to have some drinks. Now, other organizations in the city have expressed their willingness to help make the dads group a permanent fixture. Clarke met with the St. Albert Family Resource Centre, who suggested they could possibly share their space with the dads on some weekends, and local businesses have also reached out offering support.

“I was really just expecting it to be a handful of guys that made plans to hang out every now and then,” Clarke said. “Now it's become like a community group, which I love. I'm really excited.”

“I think the draw was that people were seeing that this is something that [they] actually want to do.”

Ryan Sellers, 48, joined the dads group because he felt like he was missing “some connection.” When he was browsing Facebook and noticed the dads group, he realized that “he didn’t understand how to associate with other dads,” despite being a dad himself. He was one of the first 10 members to sign up.

“We decided to go for a beverage one night, and I think nine or 10 of us showed up, and honestly, it felt like the start of a brotherhood,” he said. “I felt part of a group right away. We’re from all walks of life. There was no judgment … It’s like we had been friends for years.”

The kids also hit it off right away, he said. “Kids will be kids  — they always kind of play right away, right? It's the adults that have a hard time. They’re not sure how to communicate.”

The group has given the dads a chance to open up about some of the hardships of being a parent and the unique challenges of fatherhood, according to Sellers.

It’s a role that Clarke hoped the group could serve. Top of mind for many dads is Canada’s tough economy, which puts extra pressure on fathers who are expected to be providers, Clarke said.

“Some dads might not have any support other than this group right now,” he said. “Maybe they're new to Canada. Maybe they’re new to St. Albert. Maybe they just went through a divorce and lost all their friends.

“But for the most part it’s kind of just been joking around about the joys of being a parent.”

2018 polling from Ipsos MORI found that 70 per cent of fathers saw increased stress levels within the first 12 months of becoming a dad. Nearly a quarter of dads said they felt isolated when they first became a father.

One in five dads said they lost friends, and those without close friends felt increased stress.

Clarke hopes the group can help many more St. Albert dads make new friends.

“Then I want to be able to support the community, not just the dads in it,” he said. “Because let's be real, it takes a village.”

About the Author: Riley Tjosvold

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