Reg Unrau has been with Abby Dads for nearly 10 years; joining in the ‘early days’ of the program which supports local fathers as they endeavour towards healthier relationships with their families.
The program was initially a part of the New Beginnings Young Parent program which supports high school students who are parenting. As the need grew for specific support for fathers, Abby Dads was officially created in 2010.
Reg recalls that the program was much calmer when he started in June 2011. If even half a dozen dads and their kids would attend “My Daddy and Me,” a drop-in play time session of it felt busy.
By comparison, in 2020 before COVID “My Daddy and Me” consistently welcomed 10 to 12 dads with up to 20 children for the Saturday morning sessions, followed by 6 to 8 attendees for “My Daddy and Me Snack Time” afterwards.
Other Abby Dads sessions are also busier these days. Anger Awareness classes used to run twice a year with 6 to 10 participants, but continuously cycled sessions of both it and Men in Relationships now consistently draw 12 to 15 dads in both English and Punjabi. These classes focus on helping men to strengthen all their relationships, with a focus on immediate family members.
Reg is encouraged to see more and more dads come out for the various programs Abby Dads offers. Seeing the tangible change in the fathers he serves has kept him enthusiastic for the work he does! When asked what some of his favourite aspects of the job are, he replied, “getting to spend time with the dads and walking the road to restoration together. Watching them support each other has also been very gratifying to observe.”
In addition to busier, fuller programs, the Abby Dads team has also grown over the last decade. Initially run by Reg and supervisor Jeff McLean, today a team of four facilitate various sessions throughout the week in both English and Punjabi. In addition to their own programming, they also connect clients with other Archway services, such as the food bank and parenting classes, as well as community resources. To date, more than 100 Abby Dads participants have also received counselling from Masters’ students interning at Archway!
“Abby Dads staff create an atmosphere of trust and continue to build strong relationships with fathers in the community,” said Maria Cargnelli, the Manager of Early Years and Family Supports at Archway. “Counselling is an extension of this and has given dads the opportunity to engage in a counselling program that can look at their unique needs.”
Other changes have included focusing on fathers with children of all ages as opposed to just those with kids under age six and developing close relationships with local Crown Counsel and Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) staff. Synergy with these partners and effective communication between the MCFD, fathers and Abby Dads staff have been obvious in resulting client successes.
The last decade has been both challenging and rewarding to Reg. While tough moments have come and gone, he has many happy memories of his time so far. A particular highlight was seeing the first group of Punjabi-speaking dads graduate from the Anger Awareness program. Since then, the number of dads of South Asian descent participating in Abby Dads has continued to grow significantly. He also loved celebrating the success of his team at an “all you can eat sushi fest” shortly before the pandemic.
“It has become very real, the impact we are having on our community,” said Reg. “The passion and dedication that the men doing this work exude is very inspiring. We have a ton of fun together, too!”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Abby Dads has shifted gears to place more emphasis on individual support. Staff have been phoning or arranging video chats with program participants as well as running most of their sessions online.
Reg and his team have developed a scheduling system to ensure time is carved out for each dad. “Flexibility and creativity have become the norm,” he shared. They’ve also arranged for parking lot meetings with lots of physical distancing for those with technology limitations.
Like many other community programs, Reg sees Abby Dads offering more online services even after the pandemic is over. Doing so could create more opportunities for dads who may travel or do shift work that makes attending weekly sessions hard. “We thrive on being together physically,” he stated, thinking about the fantastic bonds developed and progress made over the last 10 years of getting together. “But we have learned we can be effective and connected while being apart. The current situation has resulted in substantive developments in our attitude towards offering our services in different ways.”
With that ability to adapt and go with the flow, the important work done by Abby Dads will undoubtedly continue for years to come!