Being a Dad Far from Familiar Places (Part II)

“No matter where you’re from, being a father changes you,” says Majid. But undertaking this new adventure in a new land, far from your original homeland, far from familiar landmarks, makes the challenge even bigger. Here, then, is an overview of the issues encountered by fathers who have immigrated to Québec.

By Takwa Souissi

Scared of the Youth Protection Directorate

In the real world, the general rule is that fathers are very reluctant to ask for help, confirms Prof. Christine Gervais, a nurse and researcher at the Sherpa University Institute. “They’ll end up being very uncomfortable, be it materially or mentally. This reality is even worse among immigrant parents.”

Causal factors for this hesitancy to ask for help include: a general ignorance of what services are available; a lack of confidence in counsellors and social workers; a culture of privacy; and fear of the Youth Protection Directorate (DPJ in French in Québec).

“I’ll admit I’m very scared. I’m told that they could easily take away my children and that there’s a lot of racism in the system” confides Adam, a young father of two recently arrived from Morocco. That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t access existing services for families.

The counsellors working in this area say it’s very important to demystify the role played by the DPJ. It’s especially vital to point out that most of the DPJ’s interventions take place when the issue is neglect, not physical abuse.

Some immigrant parents aren’t necessarily afraid of the DPJ. They simply don’t want any interference in their family life. “I don’t think that the system can really help me,” Majid, who came here from Pakistan at age 34, says. “I prefer to fix my problems myself. Outside interference just makes things worse. No one understands a family’s dynamics outside of that family itself.”

The willingness to help immigrant parents requires a lot of sensitivity. “You have to understand that these services are often set up to help mothers, because they make most of the demands for such services. Fathers, especially those socialized in a more traditional manner, demonstrate a need to be strong,” says Stéphane Hernandez, a social worker and counsellor for 20 years at the CIUSSS West-Central Montréal. “The immigrant father sees himself as the pillar of the migratory project, and doesn’t want to flinch.”

Pilot Project

Raymond Villeneuve is director-general of the Regroupement pour la valorisation de la paternité (association for the appreciation of fathers), an organization funded by the Minister for the Family to promote paternal involvement in Québec. A 2019 poll conducted among 2,000 Québec fathers brought to light several elements key to the development of good parenting. One thing is clear: sociodemographic data counts for a lot.

“I’d like it if we could consider immigration and cultural differences as real issues when we talk about men and fatherhood,” says Villeneuve, “because that really changes the support that we can offer them. For a long time researchers, organizations and social workers have talked about it, but few formal actions have been undertaken. It’s a problem that is rarely raised in public policy.”

Villeneuve’s Regroupement has launched a pilot project on immigrant fathers in association with Centraide and the Sherpa University Institute. “The goal is to get to know these fathers better so we can see how to improve our services, develop tools, and better support them.”

The director of the Regroupement says he’s already seen an improvement in the field. “As we are, in a general manner, more attentive to the issues of awareness and diversity, it gives a space for raising the question of immigrant parents. I sense a greater interest and openness to the question,” he says.   

First seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 29, no. 6, août (August) 2021, pages 12 – 13

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