Dads in Gear facilitators Jonathan Alexis (left) and Corey Onofrey

Dads in Gear facilitators Jonathan Alexis (left) and Corey Onofrey

Dads inspired to butt out

Starting Feb. 15, a new program in Vernon — Dads in Gear — is aimed at new or expectant dads to help them quit smoking

The thought of not being around to see his son play soccer, walk his daughter down the aisle or hold his newborn grandbaby was enough to butt out Corey Onofrey’s killer addiction.

At 25 years old, Onofrey didn’t even have a family yet, but he couldn’t bear the thought of still smoking and the likelihood that it would devastate his life in some form.

The urge to be a better dad was stronger than his urge to smoke. So he quit. And today, the father of three is all smiles as he packs around his one-year-old son while playing with his two daughters.

Onofrey’s decision to quit smoking not only makes him a better dad, but significantly reduces his chances of cancer and cardiovascular disease (one of the leading causes of death among Canadian men).

And now, for the first time ever, expectant and new dads have the chance to change their lives around like Onofrey, with a new program designed specifically for fathers.

Dads in Gear is a pilot project put together by UBC Okanagan which is being offered at Vernon’s First Nations Friendship Centre.

The eight-week program runs Monday evenings, starting Feb. 15, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. with food provided. And there’s childcare, as new dads (those with children newborn to six years) are urged to bring their kids with them, enjoy some food and enjoy an evening centred around getting healthy but also parenting.

“There’s not a lot of support for new fathers to start with,” said Caroline Huisken, who is co-ordinating the program at the Friendship Centre.

Facilitators Jonathan Alexis and Onofrey, who will be leading the program, can attest.

“Men in general don’t get that (support), they’re just thrust into fatherhood,” said Alexis, a father of two who quit smoking after his daughter was born more than two years ago, after 27 years.

Since smoking had been part of every aspect of his life, it wasn’t easy to give up.

“It’s hard to let go because it’s like losing a best friend,” said Alexis, who is looking forward to teaching other dads different strategies to help them deal with the cravings.

With his new family, Alexis had grown out of his life-long habit, and was ready to be a better dad.

“One of the things that will help you quit smoking is being a better father.

“It’s important for fathers, young or old, to learn to become better fathers.”

Onofrey admits it’s not an easy task, as he had to completely change his habits such as drinking coffee and alcohol, since cigarettes go hand-in-hand with them.

But, he adds: “Once you get past that three-month mark, it’s surprising how easy it is to quit after that.”

Onofrey admits that men aren’t likely to do things they are instructed to do, which is why he sees the program as a chance for men to take quitting into their own hands.

“Men don’t like to do what they’re told, they like to do it on their own.”

The program creates a community by bringing dads together so they help each other with the trials and tribulations of parenting as well as quitting smoking.

“We’ve been through it before, we’ve fallen down, we’ve gotten back up,” said Onofrey.

“Everybody needs support. They want to do it on their own but no one wants to do it alone.”

Dads in Gear offers support, teaches preparation, physical activities and games dads can play with their kids and is theme-based every week.

“It re-inforces their reasons for quitting,” said Onofrey. “They (dads) are reinforcing it themselves.”

The website (dadsingear.ok.ubc.ca) and the face to face program evolved out of a decade of research with new parents. Findings about what motivates new fathers to quit and reduce smoking have been translated into DIG program offerings that include videos, interactive polls, discussions and activities on fathering, healthy eating, physical activity, and reducing and quitting smoking.

Locally this is a pilot program, but if it goes well it is hoped that some funding will be obtained to keep it going.

Anyone interested in taking part in the local program can contact Caroline Huisken at prenatal@fnfc.ca or 250-542-5448.