john_jenkins3_webTaking time out to play in the sand, read a few stories, play board games or have a game of backyard cricket could be some of the best ways for non-resident fathers to establish a positive relationship with their children, says Southern Cross University academic Professor John Jenkins.

Professor Jenkins (pictured), who is head of the university’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, has just completed a study examining non-resident fathers’ leisure with their children, and has found that leisure pursuits help non-resident fathers to both engage with their children and reassert themselves as a parent.

“Separation and divorce are among many factors that have led to more and more fathers not sharing the same home address as their children,” said Professor Jenkins.

“With trends like these, the nature of fatherhood has been the subject of some speculation but unfortunately, much of the debate about parenting and non-resident fatherhood focuses on the impact of a father’s absence rather than what he actually does when he is with his children.

“This study looked at not only the impacts of separation and divorce on non-resident dads’ lives, but also what leisure activities fathers and their children participate in together and why, and how leisure assists fathers to develop their relationships with their children.

“It was found that leisure activities enabled the group of non-resident fathers interviewed to share experiences with their children, and were vital for building stronger relationships with them after separation.

“As well as that, positive experiences arising from leisure-based interactions increased many fathers’ happiness and sense of worth as a parent.”

In-depth interviews were conducted with 18 non-resident fathers residing in the Hunter region, ranging in age, income and background.

Professor Jenkins said common themes in his interviews with the fathers were the effects of separation on life circumstances, lack of contact time with their children, the leisure activities undertaken and their significance, and the fathers’ aspirations for future leisure experiences with their children.

“Fathers’ leisure activities with their children included skiing, surfing, cycling, playing in the sand at the beach and camping,” said Professor Jenkins.

“But other passive and educational leisure pursuits often less associated with fathering were also common: arts, crafts, drawing, reading and playing board and computer games together.

“The interviews were often very emotional, ranging from expressions of great sadness and guilt after separation, to the great joy of being a father or establishing new relationships, a new family and a home.

“But whatever the case, for these non-resident dads the importance of leisure time with their children was clearly evident.

“It is very apparent that although separation and divorce can affect family relationships profoundly, leisure is an important way for non-resident fathers to connect with their children and redefine or re-establish their roles as parents.”