Alex Vlahos was told to ‘jog it off’ and ‘toughen up’ to manage struggles in early childhood.

‘’This created an ongoing emotional challenge for me going into my adolescent years because I had all of these emotions but didn’t know how to express them,’’ he says.

A Dads and Fatherhood Worker at Centacare, Alex is now helping to break down the stigma around men’s mental health so that fathers feel comfortable to share their own struggles and seek the parenting supports they need.

Part of Alex’s role is to oversee Dad’s Business, a program which provides dads in the north with a designated safe space to seek parenting guidance, referrals to services, parenting education, advocacy and other supports.

Fathers engaged with Dad’s Business say they feel more confident as dads and have grown as people since they started visiting the program’s base, which opened at Elizabeth Rise Shopping Centre in 2019.

‘’I work with fathers in an honest and transparent manner,’’ says Alex, who shares his reflections on father-inclusive practices in new research released by Centacare and the University of South Australia.

‘’This creates a trust and will lead them to feeling comfortable with sharing their thoughts and feelings.’’

Many of the fathers Alex meets are impacted by inter-generational trauma and their parenting templates provide limited emotional responses and coping mechanisms.

Through a strengths-based and child-focused approach, Alex uses fatherhood as a motivator to address challenges such as financial distress, alcohol and drug use.

‘’The most satisfying part of my role is supporting fathers to be reflective around their parenting and the type of father they want to be for their children,’’ he says.

‘’When given a chance, most fathers can be incredibly insightful regarding their hopes and dreams for their children and how they want their children to think of them.

‘’One of the major themes at Dad’s Business is encouraging men to open up about their mental health, something that is generally seen as feminine.

‘’Supporting dads to identify and then verbalise when they are struggling has been huge.’’

Alex highlights the role of Dad’s Business in connecting fathers to supports such as Circle of Security.  

‘’The program encourages a lot of self-reflection, which supports fathers to identify how they are currently parenting and the changes they would like to make,’’ he says.

‘’I am currently supporting a father who has had his children returned to his care full-time.

‘’We meet regularly and he provides me with his good news stories of the week. I am proud that Dad’s Business provides this father with a space to share his successes and challenges.

‘’Another father has been able to reflect on the impact prioritising his work ahead of his children has on his relationship with them.

‘‘The father has expressed wanting to be more present for his children. I strongly believe that these conversations wouldn’t be possible without Dad’s Business.’’

Alex would like to see more men pursue a career in social work and notes the difference male peers and role models can make when engaging male clients.

‘’Being able to work with families to influence positive change is an extremely rewarding experience,’’ he says.

‘’Men bring unique perspectives and skills to social work. Breaking down traditional masculine norms, particularly around showing vulnerability and the need to appear strong, is central to our work.

‘’Being a male worker is an opportunity to be a positive example of masculinity, which is beneficial in building rapport, challenging gender norms, modelling emotion and share personal experiences as appropriate.’’