“It’s for dads or male carers and their small kids,” said Andy, “and it’s called ’Who Let The Dads Out? It’ll be cool!.‘ I stared at my brother-in-law as if he had grown a second head. He’d just described a group that his church, Jubilee, in Chertsey, had decided to start. It was (I decided) basically a scheme to get local dads into their church with their kids, by plying them with food and coffee. I thought, “that’ll never work – that’s not really the sort of thing that guys will go for, is it?” How wrong I was, and how little did I know the extent to which I was wrong!
Several times over the next few months Andy told me, with much enthusiasm, how brilliantly the group was doing and that I should bring my own new-born son, Thomas, along. I resisted for a few months before finally agreeing, as I had simply run out of excuses, which went along the lines of, my son is too young, it’ s not really my kind of thing and Chertsey is too far away.
So I turned up for my first session with Tom in tow and determined that this was going to be a one-off. I was given a really warm welcome by Andy, Simon and Mike, relieved of £3, and shown around. The place was heaving with dads and kids, all apparently having a really good time. There was a big bouncy slide, a play house, play kitchen, lots of ride-on toys and a smaller bouncy-castle. The dads were all engaging both with their kids and one another and it felt extremely safe and ‘right’. Tom was only about six months old and there wasn’t much he could do other than sit in the ball pool, but he had a great time trying to empty it faster than myself, and some other dads, could refill it. Shortly afterwards, my father-in-law Chris turned up with a steaming mug of coffee and a bacon and egg roll. “Get yourself ‘round this,” he said, thrusting them at me. How could I refuse? And very nice they were too!
That session was a pivotal point for me in terms of understanding the concept of Who Let The Dads Out? It is essentially about providing a space to allow fathers and their children to engage properly together, in their own way, without involvement from mums or girlfriends and without the feeling, that some experience, of being ‘judged’ by them.
The next six months followed in much the same vein (yes, I went back!). Tom gained in abilities each time, and the more he could do the more I enjoyed it; and the more I went, the more friends I made. I also got to visit a similar group in Chertsey, and met Andrew who ran the group in Woking. These encounters planted the desire in my head to start my own group through my church in Binfield, and every time I left Chertsey I knew I had to do something about this growing ‘itch’.
During the Spring of 2013 I approached Luke Taylor, the Rector for my church, All Saints and St Mark’s in Binfield. I brought along the guys from Jubilee as back up and asked about starting our own scheme. Luke was fine with the idea but wanted me to ‘drive’ it. It really would be a project built from scratch as we had nothing to work with, like a ready-made playgroup or resources. We were given a building, a little storage space, a financial donation, and left to it. Over the next few months I plugged the scheme during our church services, collected donations of toys, applied for grants, purchased equipment and told as many people as I could. I even stood on the local streets handing out leaflets. And as a start-up gift the Jubilee group gave us a brilliant bouncy castle!
October 12th 2013 came and we opened our doors for the first time. I was a bag of nerves! For 15 minutes nobody showed-up, and then they came! Nine dads with ten kids. Each were warmly welcomed and every dad had a great time and went home with a smile on their face. I was so humbled that it had been a success. Thank you Lord, for showing me your Word in action by turning “the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” just as Malachi¹ prophesied.
Some six months down the line we are still attracting more new dads and their kids. There are some really strong relationships being built both between the fathers and their children, as well as between the guys attending. I have made some really good friends myself and we have started to meet socially. We went for a curry night and are talking about an occasional day trip to the coast or a wildlife park.
Through this venture I have had the privilege of meeting the inspirational founder Mark Chester and his colleague Tony Sharp. However, the real high point for me was at the curry evening, when unprompted, one of the dads told me exactly how much the group meant to him in terms of his relationship with his son, which was quickly echoed by another dad. A very sweet moment.
So if there are any churches out there thinking of starting a Who Let The Dads Out? group, or any guys hovering on the doorstep of a Who Let The Dads Out? What are you waiting for? Give it a go! Who Let the Dads out?
¹Malachi 4:6 NKJV