Levelling The Playing Field For Single Dads

Emma Brophy talks to Billy McGranaghan about Homes for Fathers and Families

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Billy McGranaghan

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William McGranaghan does not look much like a charity founder to me. As I sit across the table from him watching him devour his ‘hangover cure’ breakfast I decide he looks more like a drummer or perhaps a guitarist until he begins to speak about his project with such conviction I change my mind.

I met William, or Billy as he is known, the morning after a charitable night before at George IV where he had hosted a concert to raise funds, and awareness, of his charity Dad’s House.

Dad’s House, or Homes for Fathers and Families (“HOFF”), is a project aimed at providing the same degree of support for single fathers as is available for single mothers in the UK. “Fathers who look after their children on their own have much the same difficulties as mothers. In addition they are not necessarily as naturally gifted when it comes to caring for their children, nor are they seen as needing help.” explains Billy.

He knows what he’s talking about. Single father to the now almost fully grown Sam, Billy describes how they were both left by Sam’s mother, who went abroad when Sam was one year old. “I was totally unprepared emotionally, mentally and practically to care for a small child.”

He learnt to care for Sam through trial and error and the sheer determination which has brought him to where he is today, wanting to make life a bit easier for other fathers who find themselves in the same predicament. He wants them to get the help he did not get.

“There is nothing out there for fathers; people think that men will be ok. Some can but some can’t cope and there’s no real support of anything that is out there 99% is internet based, there’s nothing tangible nothing practical. When I first approached one council about Dad’s House I was told to start a coffee morning! Really a coffee morning!”

Fathers can find themselves looking after their children for many reasons, including divorce, abandonment, bereavement or the sickness of the children’s mother. Like single mothers, single fathers find that life can be very tough. Finding somewhere to live with their children is usually the first obstacle they need to get over. Often their capacity to earn a living becomes hampered by the need to look after children on their own. They can work, but only if the hours are flexible or if they can afford childcare. Employers appear less flexible with men in this situation than with women. Many of these difficulties can be eased if the father has a supportive family of his own, with say sisters or a mother who can help, but many fathers just do not have this support structure.

“Men need to know someone is there for them, it’s the simple things just to know that you could have a good day today and a not great day great day tomorrow.”

Dad’s House aims to tackle this problem by providing accommodation and support for fathers who are looking after their children on their own.

“We’re right at the beginning of the road at the moment making sure we keep it simple. There are so organizations where everyone’s a genius. Too many people with too many ideas and the real goal gets sidelined. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen and then I want to make sure I open a Dad’s House in every city in the country.”

Billy is currently working with a local Housing Association and looking for a property I Chiswick in which to launch his first HOFF. “Chiswick will be the pilot project but will be open to any dad regardless of where he lives.”

Referrals will come from the local Housing Association but this is by no means a free roof over anyone’s heads. “Dads who are going to be living at Dad’s House will not dossing around all day,” says Billy emphatically, “They’ll be learning new skills and those who are working will be paying minimal rent. Most are already working their b*****ks off, you can’t take all his money he needs to save needs to support his family.”

Whilst all the i’s need to be dotted and the t’s crossed, one cannot help but believe that Billy is really onto something positive with this project. “I like to think I’m astute, not clever just aware of my surroundings and men do open up when they trust you. A lot of men don’t like getting involved don’t want to relive what’s happened but maybe when they see others in the same position they think they can do something.”

A typical Dads House would house 10 to 15 single fathers and their children. In addition to family bedrooms, there would be a restaurant providing three meals a day for the residents as well as visitors to the centre. There would also be a quiet area for homework and for fathers to receive advice from counsellors or specialists in finance or law or other needed skills. As in the case of hostels for mothers, a Dads House would be staffed by a mixture of full and part time paid staff, and volunteers.

Official statistics for the UK show that in 2005 there were 1.9 million single parents, with 3.1 million dependent children. Two thirds of them live in rented accommodation. One in nine of these parents is a father. Families who depend on a single father tend to be smaller than average: 64% of them consist of the father and just one child, and a further 28% the father and two children. So there are about 210,000 single fathers with about 280,000 dependent children living with them. In Inner London alone there are around 19 000 single fathers who are known to various social services, But there is no official specific help for this group, in contrast to the provision made for single mothers.

Dads House was recently approved for charitable status (official number is 1125904).

Emma Brophy

October 10, 2008