June 10, 2022

Through the eyes of dads

Social Work-led photovoice study and exhibition gives immigrant fathers space to reflect on parenting experiences
A small child in a pink sun hat crouches in the shallow water of a lake.
Photovoice participant Eric Dizon says this image speaks to him of his child's independence and courage. Eric Dizon

When Eric Dizon looks at the photograph of his toddler pondering the water as she crouches in the shallows of a lake, he thinks of both his role as a parent and his child’s burgeoning sense of self.

‘It made me reflect [on] my responsibility,” says Dizon, who captured the image as part of a Faculty of Social Work-led photovoice study, Fathers in Focus. “At the same time, it also spoke to me: her being in the water at that age tells me that she's independent; she's courageous; she's not afraid to be there by herself.”

Dizon, who is originally from the Philippines and came to Canada by way of New Jersey, is among 14 immigrant dads — from Calgary’s Nepalese, Pashtun, Nigerian, and Filipino communities — who took part in the study, which used photography to open a space for the participants to reflect on their roles as men and fathers, as well as their migration experiences.

Fathers in Focus, says UCalgary professor and project co-lead Dr. Liza Lorenzetti, PhD, emerged from “informal discussions” between activist scholars from the Faculty of Social Work and violence prevention advocates with the Alberta Men’s Network, The Alberta Network of Immigrant Women, and Migrante Alberta. An additional catalyst came via the recommendations of the Alberta Men’s Survey, where more than 2,000 men discussed the barriers and enablers for men’s well-being, healthy relationships, and violence prevention. 

Dr. Aamir Jamal, PhD, UCalgary professor who co-led the initiative, says “the photovoice project provided a meaningful and creative platform for exploring and sharing culturally diverse beliefs, perceptions and practices of fatherhood by actively engaging communities with different cultural and religious backgrounds.” He emphasizes that the notion of fatherhood embraces and celebrates the beauty of father-child relationships with deep connection, love, respect, kindness and emotional responsibility.

Project co-ordinator Nellie Alcaraz of Migrante Alberta, a graduate of UCalgary’s MSW program, says the study prompted participants to “interrogate their experiences of fatherhood.”

For Badrinath Karki, who served as both a research assistant and participant, that meant confronting his understanding of gender roles in parenting,

“I grew up in a patriarchal society and my childhood nurturing was based on patriarchal societal norms,” he says. I thought that males need not be involved in raising their kids and that rearing kids is a female responsibility. When I became a dad, I realized that my previous thought was fallacy and now I realize my responsibility.”

Karki adds that through discussion with his peers in the study, he was able to consider other perspectives and approaches to parenting.

“For many of the dads, the desire to be a ‘good dad’ was complicated, as positive role models were often hard to find, and some had experiences with their own fathers that did not provide a good roadmap for how they wanted to parent,” says Dr. Lorenzetti.

The project is a key component of primary prevention work with men that uplifts their roles as nurturers, and challenges masculinity stereotypes that position men as aloof and disconnected.

"Turning the lens to immigrant and racialized fathers in particular, Fathers in Focus uses pictures and storytelling to remind us not only of the struggles that men and their families experience through migration and resettlement to Canada, but the strength and joy of family life for men’s emotional health.”

The general public is invited to take in the results of the study at a free exhibition and community event being held on Saturday, June 18 — Father’s Day weekend ­— at the Alex Community Food Centre (4920-17 Ave SE; 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.).

While the photos and words of the participating dads will rightfully be in the spotlight, a talented and committed team worked behind the scenes for the project’s success. This includes Dr. Rita Dhungel, assistant professor with the University of the Fraser Valley who brought in her expertise in photovoice and created a training video for the participants; artistic lead Nwel Saturay, who created a training portal, orientation video and virtual exhibit; and UCalgary MSW students Marie-Eve Lamothe-Gascon, Veronica Chirino, Benedicta Asante, and Claudia Ewing-Maine, who contributed to the research and community exhibit. Fathers in Focus was made possible by the O’Brien Institute Catalyst Grant and funding through Calgary Arts Development.

You are invited to "Fathers in Focus: A Community Gathering of Stories and Photos From Immigrant Dads" on Saturday, June 18 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. (Father’s Day Weekend) at the Alex Community Food Centre for a free fun family event and photo exhibit to view the artwork, share food, play games, and hear from dads their experiences of fatherhood. Register here.

This event is being led by fathers from Alberta Men’s Network, with the support of Alberta Network of Immigrant Women, The Alex Food Centre, Migrante Alberta, and the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary.