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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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:

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