When first-time dad Graham Sims looked to Google to help him through those first few life-changing months of fatherhood, he found himself lost in a tangled web of health and mum-led forums.
Trying to support wife Nikki as they both found their feet with daughter Chole, now 18 months, juggling life between a new family and full-time work as a student accommodation officer, he says he wasn’t quite sure where to turn when he found himself with an ever-growing stream of baby-led questions.
Graham, who moved to Preston from Blackburn 18 months ago, says: “It’s so true in that parenting isn’t something you can ever fully prepare for, every child is different and they don’t arrive packaged with an instruction manual.
“I remember there were moments where we both seemed to be searching the web for advice, constantly asking Google what is going on?
"My three-month old is doing this - is it normal?
“A lot of the online forums are very much geared towards mums and while there are lots of helpful people out there, I certainly found some sites to be a bit over-facing and sometimes a bit too judgemental.
“It took me a while to seek out a channel where I could find my own support, even if it was just a good moan, I didn’t want to be putting that pressure on Nikki who was at home and that’s how I came to find the dad network.”
Now Graham is a local ambassador for the online dad community, founded by teacher and dad-of-three Al Ferguson.
Al established the online blog and forum in 2014 as an outlet for his grief when he and his wife experienced miscarriage.
The site offers a safe place for dads to share their emotions and ask for support and advice within a private forum.
Set up to promote and encourage the role of fathers within family life Al and contributors also share articles of their often hilarious and exhilarating journey of dadhood.
Graham say it is a place where you are supported by other dads, not experts, who may have had the same experience or who may have some advice.
Subject matters range from 'daily dad' reports to love and relationships, health and lifestyle, working dads to reviews .
Graham adds: “Al has been a fantastic support and mentor in helping me establish the local group but for some people, particularly dads, men in general it can be difficult to admit needing help and to ask questions.
“The Dad Network provides a supportive forum without judgement. forum, platform and a social hub.
“It was somewhere safe I could go and immediately I felt part of a community ”
The network offers a number of blogs and articles on all matters on parenting from dad’s preparing for the arrival of a newborn, stillbirth to helping partners through Post Natal Depression, or dads themselves suffering through anxiety.
As well as forums, dads across the country are now working to create more local groups, through the dads’ communities, which help to organise or take part in local events.
Graham has set up the dad local community in Preston and manages the closed group via their dedicated Facebook page.
“It is restricted to dads but that is important so it gives an opportunity for people to feel confident in knowing there is a place for them to ask questions or just let go of something that has been bothering them all day.”
There are around 80 members in the local group but Graham is keen to see the community expand.
“I want to be able to give something back to the dads so at the minute I’m in the process of getting in touch with local events companies and looking at days out which we can perhaps partner with.
“I’m currently in touch with Preston City Wrestling and we are hoping to try and get the dads involved.
“We can share reviews and ideas on the site too so it’s about having a laugh and fun too.”
Graham says as well as offering him a wider support network , he now feels much more confident in his role as a dad.
He adds: “I love being a dad, it is just amazing . I come home from work and it’s just a look or a smile which makes my day. It is the most rewarding thing.
“Putting someone else’s needs before you’re own - I wouldn’t have it any other way.”