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God bless Daddy — I quite forgot

12 June 2012

Before Father’s Day, John Kiddle considers the neglected topic of dads and toddlers

Who Let the Dads Out? Inspiring ideas for churches to engage with dads and their pre-school children
Mark Chester
Barnabas for Children £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

School’s Out Dad’s About
Mark Chester

Barnabas for Children £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

AN INCREASING number of churches seek ways to restore connections with men. Typically, these initiatives involve sport, food, discussion, and beer. How refresh­ing, therefore, to discover Mark Chester’s two books.

Who Let the Dads Out? and its companion School’s Out Dad’s About offer churches inspiration and prac­tical ideas for engagement with dads and their young children. Chester, who works as a com­munity family officer at Liverpool Football Club, argues that “if we want to see faith in God passed down through generations of fam­ilies”, then we must make a determ­ined effort to “reach out and support relation­ships between fathers and children”.

The first book begins with a short section exploring the importance of fatherhood, and identifying some of the obstacles that men face today in finding faith. It is a helpful introduction, but not much more. The second section tells the story of the first Who Let the Dads Out? sessions (described as like mums and toddlers with bacon butties and newspapers), led by Chester at his church in Hoole, Cheshire; it leads into some useful practical guidance about setting up such a group. The book concludes with a craft idea for each month of the year.

The second book describes three further initiatives that will help churches develop the contacts made through father-and-toddler groups: School’s Out Dad’s About, a club for fathers and infant-school-age children; Daddy Cool!, a five-session parenting programme; and Soul Man?, a group where men can discuss faith. The book is full of ideas and practical guidance, and it is rooted in experience.

These two books do not provide an in-depth look at fatherhood, or a nuanced exploration of male spirituality. Indeed, they are somewhat superficial and often frustratingly brief. Not all fathers or male carers will have the time or inclination to participate in the activities described. Many of the questions of identity and faith which men face are complex and deep-set. There are no quick fixes.

What Chester offers, however, is a passionate challenge to congrega­tions to take a fresh look at their engagement with men and families in their communities. His two books are an invaluable set of tools that will help any church develop this important aspect of mission. What, in the end, is so appealing is that this is not simply another guide to outreach among men; rather it is a call to bring enrichment to an area in which many fathers struggle — their relationship with their young children.

Canon John Kiddle is Director of Mission in the diocese of St Albans.

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