Hello! My name is Eli, I am a deaf father of 3 hearing children. My family and I all communicate in British Sign Language (BSL).
Sign Language is very important to me. At the age of 2, I attended the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children, in London. They offered free BSL courses for parents, and my mum and sister signed up to learn BSL. It felt so good to be able to communicate with them in my first language. My father didn’t sign and could only communicate with me through gestures or using pen and paper. Sometimes he would have my mum or sister translate for me. I always felt that he should have learnt BSL. But I do recognise that he maybe didn’t have the time needed to commit to learning it. My mum would encourage my dad to try and sign to me, but it never happened. That feeling is very hard to describe.
Being A Deaf Father In A Hearing World
My own experience as a child has left me with strong feelings about about the importance of sign language. It’s why I ensured my children were taught BSL. I feel it is important to teach children sign language and believe BSL should be implemented into all households where there are deaf children or parents.
There is a lack of accessibility for deaf parents in the hearing world. Interpreters aren’t readily available at parenting groups, or at my hearing children’s school. I can communicate with hearing people. My mother taught me great spelling and grammar! In fact my teachers used to ask me to help my peers. But, there is still a barrier when I can’t use my first language. I often use gestures, or written communication wit hearing people. But it isn’t the same as being able to communicate in BSL. I often felt isolated as I don’t understand information which I need to. For example, when attending my child’s school and getting information about their education.
Trying to Access Parenting Groups
I used to attend a hearing fathers’ group, however I always faced barriers. There have often been times where I feel isolated. It was especially isolating in these groups. The other fathers were able to fully engage and I was on the outer edge. I couldn’t join in the conversations or talk about my parenting worries. It was frustrating.
There was no option or offer for an interpreter to be provided for me. I believe groups should have the responsibility to provide interpreters if a deaf person joins. Or they should be able to request this through their local council. I should not have to provide an interpreter myself to attend a group like that. If there were more opportunities for people to attend free Deaf Awareness or BSL courses, this would improve access for deaf people to hearing groups. Unfortunately, the barriers to communicating effectively meant I had to stop attending.
Sign For All: Making Dad Groups Accessible
This is why I am part of Sign for All. We are an organisation that provides accessibility and awareness for deaf and hearing people. And as part of Sign for All, I lead the Deaf Father Group. We provide support for fathers from all cultures and backgrounds. The group allows fathers to build their confidence, communicate with new people, and discuss topics of importance. We give the fathers the opportunity to request topics that are of interest to them, or will help them as a parent. Some topics they’ve asked us to cover are mental health, relationships and communication.
At the start it was hard to encourage deaf fathers to join the groups. I think this was linked to low confidence and and feeling apprehensive about being open with other parents. The group is extremely important as fathers are able to talk about areas of support required in their first language. And they can then use the advice at home with their children. I feel deaf and hearing fathers should mix together. For parent groups to become a more inclusive environment mix and share. So far around 25 deaf fathers have joined Deaf Fathers Group, which is great! And we are always encouraging more fathers to join. We are a very inclusive group and welcome fathers with deaf and hearing children.
Deaf Father Group – What We Do
We have covered a range of topics in the deaf father group. Including mental health and safeguarding. We also do activities that the fathers can enjoy with their children. We feel proud that we were able to organise a pizza making workshop, in partnership with Pizza Express. This was a great event! Fathers got to see their children enjoying a fun activity they can’t do when they are at school.
The more fathers that get involved in the group the better. It will also benefit new fathers or those who have maybe lost their relationship with their child or children. Some fathers may struggle with work and spending time with their child/ren. These are topics we discuss and offer suggestions, and tools and tips that can support fathers.
Why It Is So Important For All Fathers to Access Parenting Groups
It is important for men to have a group where they can learn and discuss parenting openly in a safe environment. Dadvengers have explored this in their blog piece “Why It’s Important to Have a Good Parent Community To Support Dads“. Our group can help provide new parenting tools, and support strategies. Historically, women are known for looking after their children, and dad’s go out to work. We want to help empower dads to take on more responsibility and be hands on with their children. I also feel it is crucial to have male role models that our children can look up to,
Fathers often prefer it if there are local groups they can join. Therefore Sign for All are offering hearing fathers groups advice and information on things that can help improve access. Such as deaf awareness training and BSL courses. Since COVID, more fathers than ever feel isolated. It is important to offer them the opportunity to access mainstream settings and thereby enabling inclusivity.
Our group also aims to raise awareness within the hearing community of the importance of sign language. I feel Deaf Awareness needs to be implemented by the government, into schools, social work teams, and all other educational departments. We await to see the impact of the BSL Bill, once it passes its final readings.
Please reach out if you would like more information on our group.
Dadvengers and Sign For All: Working Together to Support All Dads!
Dadvengers are proud to be working with Sign For All to provide accessible content for all dads. Our ethos on Dad Groups and parenting communities align so well. All dads should be able to access a great parenting support community and Dad Groups.