'You're disgusting': Perth dad's hostile encounter with mean mums in parent room

The father was abused for being in the shopping centre parent room.

Photo: Supplied

A dad abused by two mothers who called him ‘disgusting’ while he was changing his screaming son in a Perth shopping centre parent room has called for a shift in attitudes.

In a parenting moment he described as “hell on Earth” because his toddler son was screaming after a hair cut left ticklish hair clippings on his neck and t-shirt, Mathew Ferguson encountered a hostile situation when the women got abusive and told him to get out of the room.

The women came up behind him in the Wanneroo Central Shopping Centre parent room while his back was turned and said: “this is disgusting”.

“They said 'you are disgusting, what are you doing in here?'” Mr Ferguson recalled.

"Then they told me I needed to leave.

“I don’t know if it was a cultural thing, or they were not used to having men in that environment, but it definitely put them off and they were really disturbed about me being in there when it’s clearly a parent room.”

Another woman in the room stepped in and told the two aggressors to settle down.

This was not the first time he had copped abuse from strangers while caring for his children. Mr Ferguson said incidents like this were quite common, with some friends experiencing the same.

“You can see that they’re not happy or comfortable about it,” he said about women he encountered in parent rooms. He often felt critical eyes on him.

“But men are always going to have to go in those rooms.”

Mr Ferguson said he had a message for mums with these types of attitutes about parent rooms.

What this father was doing, engaging with his child and giving this type of care, it’s a good indication that he’s interacting with the child in a supportive and caring way which will be of great benefit to the child

Dr Garth Kendall, Curtin University

“You do not have sole rights to this space! Keep your disrespectful comments to yourself and understand if a child needs to be changed this is the place to do it," he said.

"Changing a child in the men’s room is a nightmare.”

In June Kidspot reported a dad from Mandurah who went to change his six-month-old daughter's nappy in a parent room was shocked when he was confronted by a group of mums and told to get out.

He ended up changing the baby's nappy on the mens room sink.

Mr Ferguson said while most women appreciated their partners doing their parenting duties, among some sections of the community attitudes towards fathers still had a long way to go.

“When you are a guy it seems to be a big deal when you have your kids with you, everyone offering you a hand, and I’m forever telling people I’m quite capable of doing this myself,” he said.

“They want us to step up but they still think we’re useless.

“I’m just a parent.”

Curtin University Faculty of Health Sciences lecturer Garth Kendall, whose specialty is child development and parenting and also works with The Fathering Project, said while the womens' behaviour was not appropriate, it was understandable.

Changing a nappy can be tricky at the best of times.

Photo: File photo

“What this father was doing, engaging with his child and giving this type of care, it’s a good indication that he’s interacting with the child in a supportive and caring way which will be of great benefit to the child," Dr Kendall said.

It was very beneficial for children to have fathers engaged in caring and child rearing activities, particularly from a very young age.

"While we want to encourage all fathers to engage with their children, the evidence suggests that the earliest dads can do this the more positive it’s going to be for their children’s social and emotional development," he said.

The roles that men and women play in society were changing rapidly, Dr Kendall said.

"For many people it’s hard to keep up with the pace of change that may be forced on people by forces outside their control. (The behaviour of these women) is not appropriate though because there’s a great deal of evidence that children benefit from the input of both the mother and the father, or a mother figure and father figure.

"As far as the child’s health and wellbeing is concerned it’s very much to be applauded, a dad that’s caring for his child and undertaking those sorts of physical tasks like perhaps changing nappies."

Mr Ferguson said it was common for him to be praised by strangers for parenting his boys when out without their mother.

Not long ago he was waiting in line with his two little boys who were being silly and having fun, when some women told him it was “so good to see him doing that”.

“Meanwhile, there is a lady with four kids behind me, not getting any appreciation,” Mr Ferguson said.

“I said – well what about her? She’s got four kids, that’s not easy.

“It happens too regularly, and people do think that we dads are useless.”

Father of twin toddler girls David Prestipino agreed he often received patronising comments and dodgy looks while out with his daughters. In an age where women had fought hard for equality, it was strange that the stigma continued.

"Often I am completely ignored or worse, I often feel eyes on me, following me around like an alien at a playcentre, which I find sad and offensive," he said.

Dads spending time caring for and connecting with their children is beneficial for the child's development.

Photo: Supplied

"A few months back we celebrated my nonna's 90th birthday with a big party at Riverbank Estate in the Swan Valley, where we booked the entire venue.

"I was seated at a table with my partner and two kids and my cousin, her husband and their two kids.

"Our waitress came over on three occasions to check if the children were happy with their meals, as the menu was not very kid-friendly.

"Despite being seated closest to the end of the table and next to my two girls, the waitress - on all three occasions - asked only my female cousin if the kids at the table were okay with their meals, despite her sitting at the other end of the table well away from the waitress, who never once asked me the question nor even took a glance at me so I could offer my thoughts."

During a recent outing to a play centre in Whitfords he felt the eyes of mums in the facility staring at him to the point he felt very uncomfortable as he supervised the girls.

"Only when my partner walked in a few minutes later after parking the car did the stares subside," Mr Prestipino said.

Mr Ferguson said men were still receiving mixed messages about their roles.

“We have been told to be strong, be macho, be this person that goes out into the workforce but then comes home and cleans, be sensitive, emotionally attached... and I think there’s a confusing message that’s going through society.

“I’m thinking about dads who are giving it a go, and they’re getting chastised for trying to do it.”

He said there needed to be some education about the rights of fathers to use parenting facilities.

“I don’t know how you are going to combat it,” he said of the attitudes he had encountered.

“There needs to be some education. If I wasn’t the person I am - I don’t care about people’s opinions when I just need to get something done - but if it was a guy who has never done the shopping before, he’s trying to make an effort, and he needs to go change a nappy – if he has to do it in an environment that’s hostile he’s never going to want to do it again.”

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