Helping Fathers and Valuing their Role

A father who stands with arms wide open before his son taking his first steps. An attentive father preparing breakfast for his daughter. “It’s little everyday gestures like these that show us the beauty of our work,” explained Mathieu Michaud, Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie Coordinator. Have you ever heard of Maison Oxygène? It opened in 2021 and is based in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, offering help to fathers in difficulty. What kind of services does it offer? How does it help dads? And what advice can be given to fathers who want to create more of a bond with their child? We caught up with Mathieu to find out.

What is Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie?

When you think of the name “Maison Oxygène,” you think it’s a place to catch your breath, put your feet up, and get back on track. And that’s exactly what it is. Because at Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie “we welcome dads with kindness and respect. We listen to their distress. We assess their needs. We support them in the things they want to work on, one by one,” explained Mathieu.

Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie “is a resource for father-child support and accommodation. Our mission is to consolidate, maintain, and preserve the ties between fathers and their children. We offer residential, outpatient, and related services. In all cases, a father admitted to Maison Oxygène must want to work on the fatherhood aspect of his life,” continued the specialized educator. How does it work?

Three Ways to Support Fathers

“For accommodation services, the name says it all. We offer a roof over their heads, so that fathers don’t lose touch with their children. It’s often during a separation that they come to us, or during an eviction. It gives them a place to receive their children. Because if the father ends up on a friend’s sofa, chances are they won’t be able to accommodate his children. At Maison Oxygène, we have a room for him and beds for his children. We have 9 beds. We offer all the amenities: dishes, fridges, etc. The dads do the cooking themselves, and are responsible for their children,” Mathieu continued.

“For external services, it’s varied. It has to do with fatherhood and dads’ rights. Often, dads come to us who really don’t know how to go about it, and don’t really understand the steps to take. We help them with all these issues: child support, family allowances, finding a job, etc. We point them in the right direction. We refer them to local organizations. We make personalized referrals and accompany them. We always go at the dad’s pace, based on his needs,” continued Mathieu.

“Otherwise, we have a number of related services. We work to promote the father’s role and his importance in his children’s lives. We get involved in organizing activities like the “Course des papas,” which took place last June, during the “Semaine québécoise de la valorisation de la paternité” in collaboration with other organizations in the social environment. This winter, we’ll also be launching play-based learning activities called “It’s Different with Dad,” which develop the father-child bond,” he added.

Rolling Up Their Sleeves

Mathieu explained that many fathers wait until they’ve reached the end of their rope before seeking help. Maison Oxygène’s counsellors help them “roll up their sleeves, regain their balance, and get on with their lives. Often, for these fathers, problems seem like a mountain, and insurmountable. We break them up into little bits. We work on it a little at a time, and then, at some point, we realize that the bulk of the job is done, that the problems are solved bit by bit,” he explained. The support he gives fathers to work on themselves and their fathering skills, he described as a tool: “I’m the hammer, dad’s the carpenter.”

Doesn’t everyone, at one time or another, need tools to get the job done? Then don’t hesitate to ask Maison Oxygène for help. That’s what Mathieu emphasized. “Asking for help for a man is often  difficult.” We try to teach dads to have the humility to ask for help. Our slogan is: Asking for help is courageous. We want to dispel the myth of the man who doesn’t need anyone. Big boys don’t cry: that’s not what we say.

At Maison Oxygène, “we’re seeing some great successes. Last year, we avoided placing two children in care because the fathers had worked on themselves,” pointed out the coordinator, who finds great satisfaction in seeing fathers progress and becoming involved in their children’s lives.

A Father is Important

And why does Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie emphasize the importance of the father-child bond? Because “the father-child bond is just as important as the mother-child bond. The child observes and learns from both mom and dad’s behaviors,” replied Mathieu.

Recent studies explain the benefits of fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives. They point to benefits in terms of cognitive skills (e.g., better school results), language skills (e.g., vocabulary development) and social-emotional skills (e.g., reduced anxiety).

As Mathieu has observed, fathers are getting more and more involved. “I’m proud of the Gaspesian dads”. Apparently, dads are all present in the latest cohorts of prenatal courses here in Haute-Gaspésie. We’re also seeing more dads with diaper bags, caring for their children. I think the more involved fathers are seen and valued in society, the more it will inspire other fathers to get involved,” he added.

How Can You Bond More Closely with Your Child?

Finally, we asked Mathieu to share his tips. As a father: how can we create a stronger bond with our child?

“It’s not rocket science. To develop a bond, you have to spend time with your children. Here’s a tip: hang up the phone, put it down and play with your kids. Learning through father-child play is a winner. Then there’s basic childcare: changing diapers, brushing hair, the bedtime routine: the lullaby, reading a little story. These are the little things that help you develop a bond. It’s also about being involved in your child’s life: going to school report card meetings, accompanying your children in their extracurricular activities: encouraging them at the arena if your child plays field hockey or figure skates. That’s another way of maintaining ties,” he explained. Fathers who are present and involved realize how important it is to forge bonds with their youngsters. Being a father is the greatest adventure of a lifetime. A unique experience. Enriching. Incomparable.

Fathers are role models for their children. Being there for your children, but also knowing how to ask for help when you need it: isn’t that the best way to play this role?

Need help or information? Contact Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie.

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A Place of Convergence for Change and Wellness

“Every time we help a man, we help his children and his partner. It’s positive for society as a whole,” stated Marie Hudon, Assistant Executive Director of Convergence – Service d’aide aux hommes de la Gaspésie, accompanied by Jean-Jacques Élie, the organization’s counselor and Executive Director. Since its foundation, Convergence has been committed to its mission of helping the male population of the Gaspé Peninsula. Men and teenagers aged 16 and over are welcome at this organization, where they are welcomed, their needs analyzed, and non-judgement is practiced. In 12 years, nearly 2,500 different men have found help from Convergence’s team of counsellors. What services do we offer? And what tips should we know to improve our relationships with our loved ones? We met Jean-Jacques and Marie to find out.

Where Does Convergence Come From?

“The name Convergence is intended to express a meeting place for men, a space for sharing and exploration with the aim of developing communication and assertiveness skills without violence,” as stated on the organization’s website. Why was it created? To meet the needs of men in the community, explained Jean-Jacques.

“Initially, when Convergence was created in 2011, its mandate was to intervene in domestic violence. Since we were the only organization specifically dedicated to men in Gaspésie, over the years we’ve also developed other services, particularly to help men in difficulty. These could be men who have gone through a break-up, for example,” explained Jean-Jacques, adding that a majority of participants come for help following a separation.

Other services have been added, including: “We realized that a good proportion of our participants were fathers, hence the idea, which came to us in 2015, of opening a Maison Oxygène to improve our services for fathers,” continued the General Director. Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie, which opened in 2021, offers accommodation to fathers in difficulty “to consolidate the father-child bond and enhance the father’s role,” explained Marie, who is also the home’s director.

Helping Men and Changing Society

Convergence helps men who are experiencing difficulties, fathers, as well as spouses with violent behavior, whether physical, verbal or otherwise. Why is it important to offer help to these men? “It’s essential. That’s how our society will evolve,” replied Jean-Jacques. For him, helping men who behave violently is part of the solution to the problem of domestic violence. This is also Marie’s view. “I believe in it deeply. Getting help can make a difference, even save lives,” she explained.

How does the Convergence teamwork with men who behave violently? “We totally adhere to the values and vision of the member organizations of the à cœur d’homme network, which obviously focus on stopping violent behavior. We work with the participant to deconstruct his denial, dispel his justifications, and begin the process of taking responsibility. Obviously, he has homework to do, using tools that will enable him to change his attitudes and behaviors. We help them to reflect on their preconceived ideas, often associated with gender stereotypes that are not conducive to establishing and maintaining egalitarian relationships. Because there’s also the whole notion of respect when we talk about equal relationships. We work a lot on that,” explained Jean-Jacques. At Convergence, we believe in people’s ability to change. We make the distinction between people and their behavior, while making them understand that they are responsible for their actions. We give them the tools to learn non-violent solutions and change their behavior in order to establish healthy family relationships.

Time Out: Improving Relationships

What kind of tools are offered to participants? Marie and Jean-Jacques talked about Time-Out. It’s presented to participants to help them avoid violent episodes, but it can also be useful for many people who want to improve their relationships with their loved ones.

During conflicts, do you sometimes say things that go beyond your thoughts? Do you sometimes make gestures that you later regret? Do you sometimes feel impulsive? “During heated exchanges, do you feel misunderstood, unheard, frustrated and angry? Are you going round in circles and about to explode? You can prevent these power surges by taking a look at your emotional map,” explained Jean-Jacques.

How does the Time-Out tool work? In short, the first step is to learn to recognize your own warning signals that tell you that you’re starting to feel negative emotions such as anger. You also need to pay attention to “your physical symptoms. Sometimes it can be palpitations, a tightness in the throat, hot flashes, sweating,” explained Marie. These physical signs are accompanied by psychological ones. You feel less and less able to act calmly, you feel frustration building up, and you feel you could explode. When we recognize our warning signals, for example during a conversation with our partner or a friend, we need to “change our tune.” But above all, we need to signal our intention,” explained Jean-Jacques. For example: “Listen Marie-Julie, I’m really not feeling well, I need to stop this discussion, please,” he continued.

What happens next? Stay out of the room or building for an hour and do some physical activity, such as walking, running, or breathing. “Above all, don’t take a motorized vehicle, and avoid using tools that could injure you. We keep in touch with ourselves,” says Marie. When you feel the tension easing, you calmly reflect on the situation. Then you can come back to the person to see if he or she agrees to resume the discussion. Talk about yourself in the first person. Listen carefully to the other person’s point of view. “We talk about our needs and our limits, avoiding putting them in opposition to those of the other person. It’s also important to see how each person has interpreted the situation,” explained Jean-Jacques. Then we come up with a joint solution. It’s impressive how this process can help defuse disputes.

However, “don’t use Time-Out in the middle of a dispute because it can easily add fuel to the fire!” explained Jean-Jacques.

This video (in Fench) from the à cœur d’homme network summarizes the tool. You can also contact Convergence for a more detailed explanation of Time-Out.

For Men’s Health and Well-Being

In conclusion, with 6 service outlets in Gaspé, Chandler, Caplan, Carleton-sur-Mer, Pointe-à-la-Croix, and Sainte-Anne-des-Monts (head office and Maison Oxygène Haute-Gaspésie), Convergence is there to help men in need. The organization is even working to expand and adapt its services to better serve the region’s English-speaking and indigenous communities. We are committed to men’s health and well-being and offer confidential services that can make a real difference to your life. So, if you need help, don’t hesitate. Asking for help is powerful!

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Living life at its best when you’re a farmer

What if we took a moment to realize the small victories of everyday life? What if, “instead of seeing everything there is to do, we also saw what we did, the accomplishments we were able to achieve during the day or during the week”? This is one of the tips that Audrée Bourdages, from Au cœur des familles agricoles, offers us to be more satisfied with oneself and to feel good. A rank worker in Gaspe Peninsula and Magdalen Islands, Audrée tells us about the support she offers and shares some advice for living life to its best.

Working in the agricultural sector?

Does Au cœur des familles agricoles mean anything to you? “It is a provincial organization present in most administrative regions of Quebec. We help farmers and their families to promote their well-being and mental health. Our workers are there to help them find a better life balance through what these people experience in their profession,” explains Audrée. A social worker by training, Audrée grew up on a dairy farm. As a rank worker, she is the one who has been offering the services of Au cœur des familles agricoles in our region since the fall of 2021.

But what does a regular worker mean? “My role is very broad. It really depends on the needs of each person I support. What I aim to do is put people first behind the agricultural business. Because often, farmers are people who are super dedicated to their profession; they will put all their energies on their business; and they tend to forget themselves a little. If I manage to bring the priority back to them, to their individual needs, it will be mission accomplished. And this is done in several ways. I can offer individual support; we discuss the situations experienced and then try to find solutions together. Sometimes the process also involves family meetings. Other times, it may involve directing people to other resources, for example: accountants, agricultural advisors or professionals from the health and social services network. We are a bit of a gateway for the agricultural population. In addition, what sets us apart is our flexibility and our desire to offer adapted services. I go to the farms. If there is a person who receives me and who is doing their job or who is in their tractor, well, I go with the person and we talk while they work,” explains Audrée.

Tips for feeling good

Are you a farmer yourself? Or do you have relatives who work in the agricultural sector? We asked Adurée to share another of her well-being tips with us. She replies that one of the tips she often gives is to “slow down the pace when the season allows”. Because it happens that agricultural producers work extra hard in the hope of having “a real vacation, in quotes, like people in the general population”, which ultimately does not come true. Whereas, “taking advantage of calmer moments to slow down can be a good way to take care of yourself. It can have as many beneficial effects as someone going on vacation for a few days. It allows farmers to preserve themselves in their profession in the face of the large workload they have to accomplish on a daily basis,” she explains.

But what to do if, at some point, things no longer work? “It is certain that the basic advice that applies to the general population also applies to farmers. I think, among other things, of the importance of having a social network, people around us who offer us support. When things aren’t going well, it’s always helpful to be able to talk to someone you trust. Otherwise, the other thing that comes to mind is certainly to call Au cœur des familles agricoles. This is a good solution because it allows for a quick response. There is a worker who is responsible for the telephone line. So, even if I am not available to answer the phone, agricultural producers can speak to someone quickly. This service is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Sometimes, just being able to vent, to express what we feel, then to start thinking with someone neutral, can be helpful. After that, it’s certain that if the person wants follow-up, the request will be sent to me if they are in the Gasée Peninsula and Magdalen Islands,” replies Audrée.

Talking about men’s well-being is important

Au cœur des familles agricoles helps both female and male customers. However, “there are still a lot of taboos regarding mental health among men,” thinks the rank-and-file worker, who is also involved in the Table de concertation sur les réalités masculines GÎM. According to her, we must work to deconstruct certain beliefs (for example: men must always work things out for themselves). She explains how personalized support and accompaniment can make a big difference in the lives of the people she meets. “Once the step – not always easy – of asking for help is completed, we have created a bond of trust, then the person opens up, that leaves so much room for great successes” . Audrée adds that “people are super grateful”, because they find solutions that they would not necessarily have thought of on their own, help adapted to their needs, a helping hand to get better.

What to remember? That we should not hesitate to seek support when we are experiencing difficulties. The services of Au cœur des familles agricoles are free and confidential. And they can make a big difference. So if you feel like things aren’t going well, don’t be left alone with your problems. Because asking for help is powerful.

To find out more or to contact Au cœur des familles agricoles:
https://acfareseaux.qc.ca/travailleurs-de-rang/territoires/

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