Dr Rempel is Associate Professor of Nursing at Brock University and co-principal investigator of the Saving Brains project “Father’s Involvement: Saving Brains in Vietnam.” Her research focuses on health behaviour decision-making and the development and evaluation of health promotion interventions.
It’s early evening in a village in Vietnam. Over the community loudspeaker out on the street, you hear a young man say: “Hello friend. What have you been doing these days? We don’t see you as often at the beer-drinking group.”
A second man responds: “I’ve been spending time with my baby. I’ll still come to the group sometimes but, now that I’m a father, I’d rather spend more time at home.”
His incredulous friend asks: “Why would you do that? Being with a baby is a woman’s job. A father’s job is to make sure that you earn enough money to make sure your family has a place to live, good food to eat and whatever they need to live happily.”
The excited new father replies: “It is true that I need to provide for my family, but I have learned that my family will be happier if I am more involved. And, if I spend time with my baby, my baby will be happier, healthier and smarter.”
So begins a message that will be heard weekly in 13 communities over the next several months. The entire community is hearing the message that it is good for fathers to work as a team with mothers to care for their babies.
This broadcast is one of several activities that have been funded by a Grand Challenges Canada Saving Brains seed-grant. More than 400 new fathers will be getting small group counselling, individual prenatal and post-birth home visits that will help them find their own unique ways of being an engaged member of the parenting team.
One very important role of these fathers will be to support their wives to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. Fathers are being taught to help their wives resist the practice of expressing and discarding colostrum in the first days and of giving the baby other liquids. Posters hung in each community health centre, a pamphlet given to each father, and a second weekly community broadcast message will reinforce the message that fathers should support exclusive breastfeeding and why this is so important.
The second ongoing important role of these fathers will be to develop warm, caring, responsive relationships with their infants, right from birth. Each father will be given a large father–infant relationship calendar. This resource will encourage fathers to care for and play with their babies in developmentally appropriate ways over the first year. There are spots for fathers to track some milestones in their relationship with their baby and places for them to add their own pictures of themselves with their babies.
Fathers in Vietnam are not usually highly involved with their babies. A Fathers Club will be developed in each community to give fathers a chance to share the fun and challenges that they are having. The clubs will work together to develop a fun entry for a fathers contest that will tell their communities how important and rewarding it is to be involved fathers.
A community event was held to launch the project that included health workers, government officials and Non-Governmental Organization representatives. There was general excitement about promoting father involvement and the benefits that our project will have for children and families.
The first few new fathers have already experienced a prenatal group session at their community health centre, a prenatal home visit and a home visit after their first week home with their new babies. These fathers have said that the information they have been given has been valuable. Upon receiving the father–infant relationship calendar, one father raved that the calendar is beautiful and easy to understand. He plans to look at the calendar to help him pay attention to and understand his baby’s behaviours.
As the slogan for the project suggests, we are encouraging dads to be devoted to their babies. This bold idea is certain to have a big impact on the future of these babies. As they work together with mums on the parenting team, devoted dads will enhance the health and intellectual development of their children. Together, fathers, mothers and loved children will thrive in happy families.