In the rural town of Kyneton, nestled in the scenic Macedon Ranges, a determined father found his purpose. 2023 YMCA Victorian Father of Year Gabriel Carazo’s motivation was clear: to create a community where dads could come together, break free from traditional stereotypes, and forge deeper connections.
Gab's journey began with his own realisation when he discovered he was going to be a father. The excitement of impending parenthood inspired him to make profound changes in his life. With a strong aspiration to be actively involved in his kids' lives, he restructured his priorities and interests for more quality family time.
He also noticed a gap in his town – a lack of spaces for dads to gather and share their experiences. The concept started modestly as a playgroup on Saturday mornings, where men could bond over shared parenting joys and challenges. Yet, as Gab became more deeply involved, he uncovered underlying issues affecting men's mental health in the community.
The transition to fatherhood can be tough for many men, and Gab's playgroup evolved into "RAD Dads," aimed at fostering a supportive environment for dads. Gab recognised that there was a hidden crisis of mental health and isolation amongst many new fathers. Inspired to take action, Gab transformed the group into the "Responsive and Active Dads" (RAD) community, centred around holistic support.
His professional background in community services and counselling gave him the skills to address these gaps – and his philosophy was simple: if a need was evident, he felt a responsibility to assist. He saw his role as helping to fill the void and encourage open conversations about mental health and fatherhood.
The path was not without its challenges. Gab understood that many new dads were apprehensive about stepping outside their comfort zones. The shift from stereotypical male bonding, like going to the pub or engaging in sports, to participating in a dad's playgroup was a monumental one. It involved a redefinition of identity for some.
Growing up with an absent and troubled father, Gab experienced firsthand the consequences of bad parenting. Instead of allowing this negative upbringing to define his own approach to parenthood, he resolved to break the cycle and become a better dad. Drawing on his own experiences, Gab transformed the struggles and lack of guidance from his past into valuable lessons for raising his children. Recognising that others could benefit from his journey, Gab extended his support to fellow dads through RAD Dads.
Through time and refinement, Gab's ideas expanded to include "Dude to Dad," a program that targeted expectant fathers. By catching them before they fully transitioned into parenthood, Gab aimed to ease their path, providing them a safe space to discuss the upcoming changes and challenges.
Gab’s motivation was deeply rooted in his own experiences and the pressing need for support in his community.
“It's all about offering more alternatives for new dads. Our focus is on action, not just conversation. Through RAD Dads, we've tapped into dads' individual interests and hobbies to motivate them.” Gab said. “It's a blend of responsive and active elements. Some dads want to engage in open discussions, while others find comfort in doing activities with their kids.”
They've seen transformative changes as the community grew. “It's beyond just a playgroup; it's about building connections. We've formed a WhatsApp group where dads can chime in anytime, providing a supportive backdrop.”
Community involvement is vital – The group recently helped each other build garden beds and formed “Mow Bros", where they traded skills like lawn mowing, creating a sense of purpose and camaraderie.
“At RAD Dads, we wholeheartedly believe in celebrating the unique strengths each dad brings to the table. We're aware that being a dad isn't a one-size-fits-all role, and for many blokes, visiting cafes or playgrounds can feel rather out of their comfort zone. That's why we've developed RAD Dads to be more adaptive and experiential, focusing on activities that dads typically love to do, and modifying these to be suitable for their little ones, no matter their age or skill level.” Gab said.
Many dad groups promote a seemingly right or wrong way of engaging with our children, yet at RAD Dads they champion an approach that is centred around the personal skills and interests of each dad. This allows them to remain within their comfort zones, share their skills and interests to strengthen connections, reduce isolation and grow as individuals.
“We try to incorporate activities to focus on more time in nature and more time sharing skills as through these settings and activities asking for 'help' and 'support' comes easier,” Gab explains. “This philosophy helps us navigate the more challenging aspects of parenting, relationships, and personal growth.”
“We've also realised that many of us have prioritised family to the extent that our hobbies have taken a back seat. Therefore, sharing skills and creating learning opportunities have proven to be a vital aspect of our group. From learning to paddle a kayak to mastering the art of downhill mountain biking, our approach ensures that all dads remain active, connected and focused.” Gab said.
Gab’s hope is that the approach he has developed can be easily replicated elsewhere. Inspiring others to take his lead and form a RAD Dads in their local community.
“I envision RAD Dads becoming a model that can be adapted to various local communities. It doesn't require special qualifications; it simply requires motivated individuals willing to make time and create connections. It's about fostering a space where dads can bond over shared interests, from mowing lawns to flying kites, and in doing so, they enhance their own well-being while setting positive examples for their kids.” Gab said.
A unique aspect of RAD Dads is the family playgroup idea. By incorporating mums and kids into these gatherings, it creates a comfortable environment for dads to engage. This strategy has drawn in some who may have been hesitant about joining a dads' group. The idea is that once they experience the relatability and friendships within the group, they're more likely to return and participate in meaningful ways. This family-oriented focus is apparent in activities that support mums too - they organise events like bush walks to give mums a break.
“Our success lies in the fact that it is not a boys' club centred around traditional male stereotypes or drinking culture. Instead, it's values-driven, focusing on daytime activities and steering clear of drinking-centered gatherings.” Gab said.
Gab’s partner Andie nominated him for the award, honouring his altruistic nature of prioritising others, especially within their family. Like setting up a jumping castle in the living room, Gab's dedication to their children illustrates his commitment to fun, involved and positive parenting.
Despite having a troubled upbringing, Gab has managed to break free from negativity to become an inspiring father and richly deserves the 2023 YMCA Victorian Father of the Year title.