A strong support network is vital for parents but working dads in particular often don’t have time for friends
Fatherhood is certainly a discombobulating experience and can be an isolating one.
The story of how Chinua Cole came up with a whizzy new tool to help tackle that problem has it all – the glamour of Jay-Z, the less glamorous setting of lower league football and whizzy new technology.
Cole is the brains behind DadApp, a way for fathers to get in touch with other people in the same boat at a time when that can be really difficult.
Where once after work pints with mates was normal, when a baby comes along you probably want to be home for bedtime (as does your partner who may be desperate for a break).
The Sunday morning game of golf or 5-a-side is trickier to fit in if that’s the only quality time you get to hone your parenting skills because you’re at work Monday to Friday.
And the fact remains that while women are trained from an early age to talk and to keep up with friends men are just not as good at it. And that really matters because parenthood is not straightforward and juggling it with work can be hard so having a support network that understands those pressures is at the very least nice, and can be a lifesaver. Those statistics that show suicide is the biggest killer of young men demand attention.
And that’s where Chinua Cole and his app come in.
Chinua’s not even a dad yet but he noticed the problem among his fellow football pros.
“I was playing for Eastleigh in the national league and there’s quite a few older players at that level who have stepped down from playing in a higher league, who are coming to the end of their careers and I had candid conversations with many of them about what they are going to do after football,” he explains. With many having moved around the country playing for different clubs while their family remained rooted in one place plenty of players were concerned they’d suddenly be around for their family a lot more when they retire, yet they’d lack a support network.
Chinua, from Wembley, West London, says, “That was the first catalyst, it opened my mind to the idea that this was a problem. Then I signed for Torquay and I felt so isolated on my own there I realised if I had a family it would be much worse.
“When I was released by Torquay I sat in the dark listening to the Jay-Z album 4:44 and I realised he wasn’t talking about the usual rap things like cars, he was rapping about fatherhood. I realised something is happening around fatherhood.”
Football has recently partnered with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) mental health charity to reach men who may need support and Chinua recognised the symptoms of so-called toxic masculinity. “I’ve seen players who have had a bad game sit by themselves and pretend everything is fine.”
He identified fatherhood as a particularly tough time. “Men only get two weeks paternity leave, three in five dads don’t feel they get the right support.”
There are apps for mums to connect with other local mums like Mush and Peanut but nothing for dads so Chinua set about filling the gap.
DadApp allows dads to see other users profiles and decide if they have enough in common to start a conversation on the app or arrange a meet-up. “Men aren’t just going to walk up to other dads in the street and ask to be their friends, that would be strange, it’s never going to happen,” says Chinua. “But making contact through an app is different.”
There’s sections for single dads, stay at home parents, stepfathers and LGBT dads where men with particular experiences can get in touch and share support.
Already the app has attracted dozens of users including some surprisingly far flung dads in countries including Nigeria, New Zealand and Canada allowing Chinua to start thinking about rolling out the app worldwide eventually. “We’ve got two guys in Ontario, Canada,” laughs Chinua, “That’s a big place so I hope they live near each other!”
DadApp also contains ideas for things to do with your kids and articles about different facets of fatherhood, including work and the struggle to find the right balance with home life. “I think the app will be particularly useful to working dads,” adds Chinua, “they are often the ones who are particularly short of time.”
The app has replaced football in Chinua’s life for now, he’s taking a break from the game. Plenty of men would love to have had the chance to play at the level he has but working with developers to bring his vision to life has led Chinua, still just 25, to rethink his life choices. “I wish I’d done coding instead of football!” he smiles.