UAE: These community groups bring fathers together for meet-ups and fun activities with children

Started for and by fathers, these platforms are for members to connect with one another through activities such as regular meet-ups, talks by experts, and much more

By Anu Prabhakar

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A few members of Dubai Irish Dads
A few members of Dubai Irish Dads

Published: Thu 11 Apr 2024, 6:30 AM

Last updated: Thu 11 Apr 2024, 11:42 PM

A few months ago, a health specialist delivered some news to Dave Griffin that hit him like ‘a ton of bricks’. “I was told that there is a possibility that I might have breast cancer,” he recalls, as we speak. One of the first people he broke the news to was Billy Garnon, the group administrator of Dubai Irish Dads. “The kind of support he gave me straight away was amazing,” he recalls.

Billy was, in fact, one of the first people Dave befriended when he moved to the UAE from the UK, more than a year ago. Dave had just become a stay-at-home dad here after working full-time in the UK, and the transition was difficult. But Billy, says Dave, encouraged him to come in for coffee and a chat once a week. “I used to walk away feeling so good and positive,” recalls Dave, who now runs his own construction business. As a member of the group, he has actively participated in many of its activities.


When the other dads heard Dave’s news, they rallied around the family - one of them, who is a life coach, even offered to meet him every week at Starbucks, just to talk. Luckily, further medical tests revealed that he didn’t have cancer and he was given the all-clear by his doctor. “Although I was worried, I remember I was never afraid to talk about it because I knew the kind of response that I would get from the group,” says Dave.

Dave Griffin with this children
Dave Griffin with this children

Unlike moms' groups, dads' groups are still rare today. However, a few groups in the UAE, started for and by fathers, provide a platform for members to connect with one another through activities such as regular meet-ups, talks by experts, and fun activities with their children. Dubai Irish Dads, for instance, which was started in 2022, has organised community activities like "family days, dads and kids walks, sporting events, and now, an annual Dad of the Year awards night,” says Billy.


A new platform for dads

Thirty-six-year-old Oliver Mohsen-Taheri relocated to Dubai from London with his wife, Rebecca, and their three-year-old son, Rumi, in 2022. He runs an international real estate investment company, and work brought him to the city. The majority of his friends and family, including his parents, reside in the UK.

The couple is fortunate to have jobs with flexible timings and can manage childcare, but Oliver realised that other dads who are in a similar position may feel isolated and lonely. “That’s why I started The Dad Network DXB,” he says. “I felt like I needed to create a community for dads because men don’t talk about their problems as much as they should, and dads sometimes find it hard. I wanted to create a safe space where dads could feel supported, have a shoulder to cry on, or have someone to put their arm around them and say, ‘Well done, you are doing a great job!’”

He also wants to help dads to ‘level up’ by passing down certain basic life skills to their children, like how to maintain a car – skills that he thinks are fast disappearing as they are no longer passed down through generations. “I don’t think the world is going to be an easy place for our kids to live in the next 20, 30, 40 years, so we need to arm them with as many tools as possible to survive and thrive.”

The group made its debut on Instagram last month and had its first meet-up at Night Jar in Al Quoz on March 26, where “half a dozen dads” turned up. Perhaps there is comfort in anonymity because even though none of them knew each other, Oliver says the group talked about their life situations, overcoming challenges, and their evolving relationships with their partners. “These relationships do change when children come along - not in a bad way, but it does add pressure to the relationship and there was a lot of discussion on how people operate differently as a couple.”

Oliver Taheri with his son
Oliver Taheri with his son

Buoyed by the group's feedback at the meet-up, Oliver has big plans in store – weekly meet-ups with members, monthly workshops with guest speakers on anything from parenting, health and wellness to budget management, basic DIY skills, and cooking, and fun day outs with kids. “We’ve already launched a Substack,” he says. “We are looking to build a website and set up a WhatsApp group for dads. It’s still early days, so we are going to treat it very organically and build it up depending on the dads’ feedback.”

Fostering deep male friendships

Chris Bradwell started British Dads Dubai nearly 10 years ago, but the group’s monthly breakfast meet-ups on the first Tuesday of every month at Arabian Ranches are a fairly new ritual. When we speak, we are days away from the group’s 10th breakfast meet-up. “It’s just a very casual thing, where the dads sit and have breakfast, and talk if they want to,” he says.

He started the group when he was a stay-at-home dad and felt lonely. “I had a very large group of friends back home, and we would spend a lot of time together. I didn’t really know anybody in Dubai, and I was on my own the whole time.” Although he tried to join a few moms' groups, it just didn’t fit, and his wife suggested that he start a group for dads instead. “But I didn’t want to because I didn’t know whether anyone would join it.”

Today, says Bradwell, the group has about 8,000 members and has organised dads’ night outs, quizzes, football matches and overnight camps for the dads and their kids. One dad, he says, compared the experience of being in the group to visiting the local pub back home filled with familiar faces. “It’s a proper community where we all lookout for each other.”

Vip Patel started the blog Dubai Dads in 2016. “I’d just had my first daughter, and there were no blogs or information on fun things that you could do with your kid, but things have changed now.” Vip was able to meet other dads at swimming and prenatal classes, and through activities that were posted on the Meetup app, partly thanks to his flexible hours. “But other dads, who juggle demanding work and family, might find it lonely,” he says. Vip meets up with friends on weekends for playdates, where they talk about everything from sports to parenting. “It’s good to have an avenue to vent. It’s also helpful to know that there are others who face the same issues as you, and that you are not alone,” says Vip, who suggests venues like Legoland, trampoline parks, Adventure Zone, and neighbourhood parks for perfect days out with kids.

Vip Patel with his children
Vip Patel with his children

A bonding class for dads and babies

When Rahul Janani’s daughter was born, the Dubai resident wanted to attend an in-person class that would help him bond with his baby and also meet other dads. “My son was born during the pandemic, so we didn’t get to attend any courses or classes in person. They were all online,” he explains. On his wife’s suggestion, he signed up for Father Bonding classes by maternity care service British Care, which are led by certified infant massage instructor and birth doula, Louise Atkinson.

“Before, the course just involved baby massage. But now it’s also an open space, like a therapy group, where fathers can talk about the challenges of being a father, the highs of fatherhood, and their evolving relationships as a father,” explains Louise. “There are many such groups for mums, but not for dads.”

Janani attended the class in February this year at Gargash Hospital. “It was a great bonding experience with my baby - she enjoyed the massage, and I felt a deeper connection with her from such a young age,” he says. He also got along with the other dad in the class – both were in similar professions and of similar ages. “It was nice to hear about his experiences,” he says.

“It felt good to be able to share my experiences with him and the ladies running the class. Also, it was good to open up about how lonely and challenging it can be - from both a physical and emotional perspective - as a modern father, who is committed and involved in parenthood and also juggles these responsibilities with a career.”

“It is important to my wife and me that we share parenting responsibilities as much as possible, and in doing so, I have realised that fathers are often forgotten by society in the early parenthood journey,” he continues. “I only wish there were a few more of these types of classes for fathers.”

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