Today, 32 riders have set out on a bike ride to raise money for The Fathering Project’s Big Push Charity Ride, hoping to highlight the important role fathers play in their children’s development as flourishing adults, as well as helping vulnerable groups in regional communities across Australia and combat generational Fatherless.
This is only the second time the event has taken place – the first being in 2019, pre-COVID.
Among this group of cyclists are father-and-son duos, dads and granddads.
The team has “successfully raised over $100,000 to go towards a dads and disability program, and a community fathering initiative in the Wollongong area addressing generational fatherlessness”, according to the Canberra Weekly.
National partnerships and community relations manager Sean Johns will also be out on the course, even though he confessed cycling is well out of his comfort zone.
“I was one of those people that laughed at ‘Middle Aged Men In Lycra’ (MAMIL) but I’ve been bitten by the bug,” Sean said, after training specifically for this event.
“I actually find riding a great form of exercise, catching up with someone. I think I might find myself riding a bit more after its finished, I’ve got a new middle aged hobby!”
The riders were given an eight-week training schedule with a series of milestones to reach over two months including six training rides, working up to distances of 100km.
Big Push Charity Ride
The Big Push ride kicked off at 6.15am, leaving Picton Showground in Sydney’s south-west.
From there, the team will head through Menangle, Bowral, Moss Vale and Bundanoon, Marulan and Belconnen – stopping at Goulburn for the first night. On Saturday, they will ride to Breadalbane, Gunning, Gundarro and Sutton, before finishing their incredible efforts at Parliament House Lawns in Canberra on Sunday at 10.30am. Over the space of three days, the group will cover 325km.
Sean said The Fathering Project offers a wealth of information from leading psychologists, researchers and a range of fathers including single dads and even comedians like Hamish Blake, who has shared his insights into fathering.
“Dads are doing the best they can and feel the pressure of health, work and family and that tension,” Sean said.
“They intentionally want to be as good as they can but in a lot of ways are working it out as they go.”
One thing that astounded Sean through this experience was how generous people can be, and how connected they can get to something that they believe in.
“One of our volunteers on the committee helped some of the riders by putting their dinner on for a rider and went over and cooked for 12 people and a couple of other volunteers went and served. They helped the guy raise $2000 in one night,” he said.
“That one person who’d joined our committee had just heard an ad about what we were doing, loved it, joined and has donated her time and energy and that blows me away.”
Sean said many of the men have already started to form friendships that will go beyond the ride, through shared experiences as simple as “encouragement or reassurance that ‘I went through this as well and you will get through it'”.
“To hear that others have gone through the same thing, and having a community makes a huge difference.
“You find when we’re at our busiest, most critical part of our careers, that’s when our kids need us the most. There’s this tension of ‘how do I balance this stuff?’.”
Sean compares fathering to that of a sliding door: “If a dad decides to change their situation early, it can make a massive difference to the outcome”.
“You can have great fathers who are separated out of the family through separation – 80 per cent of dads are out of the home – but in the home you can have dads that are completely absent.
“If they don’t father their kids, someone or something will. It’ll either be their peers, the internet or television but someone’s going to father them if we don’t. That’s the point for dads to step into that space and build values and connections for life.
“Every dad can’t give up the fact that they travel or work away or working long hours. What we’re saying is you can actually be practical about staying connected in that environment. A lot of that is being able to access dads and having these conversations, scheduling a child-dad date every month,” Sean said.
Australian Government Supporting The Fathering Project in Schools
The Federal Government has got behind The Fathering Project, signing up 500 schools, with plans for another 400 to be added within the next 12 months.
“Schools are paying $1000 over the course of a year to be involved,” Sean said.
“This includes principals connected in the school that say it’s so much better for us to know the father and have a program to engage the father. The schools see the benefit of that, the kids see the benefit of that, and dads see the benefit of that.
“Already we’ve seen men change the course of their work or what they’re doing to make sure they re-engage and spend more time with the kids. Some men who haven’t seen their kids may reconnect because of a message so it’s quite dramatic.
“Some men say they’ve now had the conversation of relationships with their teenage daughter or have started to do more activities with their young kids,” he said.
“Nothing is guaranteed but if we go in there with a loving relationship, knowing the battles we will have with our kids, we are in the game and the odds of them flourishing as adults are higher.”
Visit The Fathering Project to find out more.
By Rebecca Le Bas