Getting involved as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander father
Ron Briggs helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men before and after the birth of their babies. Ron’s father is a Yorta Yorta man, and his mother is Gunditjmara.
‘I basically encourage fathers to support their partners a bit more and to help their partner before, during and after birth. The young men today are looking for change. They’re looking to be a bit involved and more supportive towards their partners through the process of having babies.
‘This is a big change from the past when birth was women’s business.
‘Within the Aboriginal community, it’s very difficult because we’ve got a fine line between women’s business and men’s business. The old ways we used to do things, it was all up to the women to handle pregnancy and birth. We had nothing to do with it. It was just women’s stuff.
‘In the past, all the women got together when a woman was pregnant and supported her, and we just stayed well out of it. Times have changed now.
‘We all live busy lives in our current society. And we’ve sort of changed our living ways. We’re trying to encourage dads to be involved from the beginning of pregnancy and after birth.’
Boori classes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men
Ron encourages fathers-to-be to go to boori classes – ‘boori’ means baby. Boori classes are a great way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men to learn more about pregnancy and parenting.
‘It’s OK to go to boori classes with the mother when they’re talking about feeding habits and other things to do with babies, so that you’re aware of why her body is changing and all that’s involved with parenting. By going to boori classes, we can learn about pregnancy and postnatal depression so that we’re aware of the signs and can offer more support. It also helps to understand more about the changes our women go through as mothers or first-time mothers.
‘When I started talking about it among young men, fathers and fathers-to-be in the community, they would stand around when the classes were on and ask questions because they do want to know.
‘But some felt like they’re not allowed to talk about or get involved in the birth and upbringing of the child because they didn’t think it was men’s business. It was women’s business. But that’s not true because it’s both women’s and men’s business.’
Trauma from the past
Past policies and practices, like the Stolen Generations, mean that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face extra challenges in becoming a family.
‘All that trauma in the past, it affects them. Some of our men have never had fathers and some of them have never had mothers, or both, so they don’t know anything about parenthood. Their knowledge of fatherhood is pretty low, although they want to be the best father possible.
‘It’s all right to be part of the birth of a child. Not only does the child need to smell mum, but they need to smell dad. And dads need to hold baby too.
‘We try to give them support in regard to some of the issues that they might face during pregnancy and after.’
Being hands on as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander father
Ron encourages men to be part of birth and hands on after birth too.
‘It’s OK to go to the hospital with your partner to support her and be in the appointments with her so that you’re both aware of what’s happening. It’s all right to be part of the birthing of your child.
‘I know that our women in the community are really eager for their partners to have a bit more of a role and encourage the mother to breastfeed. We also encourage dads to assist mum to change nappies, cuddle baby and help with feeding and nursing babies back to sleep.
‘It’s all right to get up early in the morning to change or feed baby while your partner sleeps or rests. In fact, we encourage it.’
Standing strong and proud as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fathers
Ron encourages the men to stand strong in their roles as fathers.
‘It’s about being strong, being responsible and being recognised as proud fathers and men in your community.
‘It’s also about being proud to have our families proud of us men – our daughters or sons, our wives, our grandmothers and our community proud of us. We’re taking more care of our children and partners and making sure both are getting the care and rest they need.’
Uncles, grandfathers and other men
Young dads can get support from men in their communities.
‘Men are trying to get recognition back. Our kids don’t just look to their dads, but their uncles and grandfathers for guidance and putting them on the right path. This is hard because a lot of our men are ill and still dying in their 40s and 50s. But there are strong men and women in communities now that you can talk to for guidance.
‘The men who are around, they’re teaching the younger generation about their people, and being a dad and staying on track. They try to be responsible people that their kids and nephews and nieces can turn to. Then it will be the younger generation’s turn to take over.
‘The younger generation want to know about being a great dad, a supportive parent, a great uncle, a great grandfather – they are asking us for this. And we encourage this conversation to continue.’
When it’s hard to be a father
Becoming a family brings joy and love but also stress. You need ways to deal with the stress.
‘We’ve seen too many men break up their relationship because men have let the woman do everything before, during and after the birth of their child.
‘It’s caused breakdowns in relationships and still happens a lot now, so we want to encourage the men to show more responsibility in the caring and sharing of responsibilities with their partners.’
In times of stress and frustration, it’s good to get support.
‘I would say turn to another – a friend or an uncle or someone that you can sit down and talk to. Talk to another man who’s had children. Talk to another woman, your auntie or someone like that.’
Another person who can support and guide you during the pregnancy and birth is the Aboriginal Liaison Officer (ALO) at the hospital. In Ron’s experience, most men look for the ALO if there is one there.
After the birth, you can still stay in touch with the ALO or join a dads group. People at boori class can help with this.
‘If there’s not a boori class within your community, it’s worth starting one. Speak to your local aboriginal organisation. They might assist you with starting and running a group.’
Ron Briggs can be contacted through the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service by calling 03 9419 3000. He’s more than happy to assist any man across Australia who wants to know more.
‘Stay strong and proud dads and dads-to-be.’