Dad of five, Emil Poniente, has written a blog for Home-Start, opening up about the challenges of fatherhood; his mental health and how Home-Support for his wife and newborn twins has helped the whole family.

Emil says:

Fatherhood can be difficult to navigate. While my wife and I aren't rookies to parenting, having twins last year was a completely different game for us, and brought more intense challenges to being mum and dad.

There's an analogy for parenting that "just like an emergency on an airplane - you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others". In theory, this makes perfect sense, but if you're a parent, you know that theory and reality don't always line up.

Don't get me wrong, being a dad is amazing! Seeing your baby smile at you for no reason other than that they're happy, or when they reach for you in distress and you calm down with a hug, there's nothing better. The world makes sense when you feel those feels.

When our twin boys, Milo and Miguel were born, everything felt perfect. But when paternity leave ended and I went back to work, I struggled with lack of sleep, a full-time job with long hours and trying to support my wife Rufina with caring for the babies and the other children in the household (we have three older children, ages 15, 13 and 8). I realised I was trying to put on everyone's oxygen mask without putting my own one on first.

Why don't dads open up?

I'm not sure why so many of us fathers don't open up and talk about our problems. Or even seek professional help. The tiredness? Or the weight of responsibility to be the man of the house? Or in my case (but not limited to), the generational trauma of being a second generation British-born Filipino of emotionally unavailable parents (who did their best to raise me) potentially causing me not to be emotionally open and thus finding great difficulty communicating about feelings? A lot of us dads tend to bury things deep down for various reasons but the problem in doing so is that the things we bury tend to grow roots which eventually lead to cracks and if we're not careful, especially when life and parenthood get intense, the cracks can break us.

My amazing wife grew two babies inside her, then had a c-section to give birth to them. This is major surgery that needs recovery time, but paternity leave is short and I had to go back to work leaving her to care for two babies alone. On top of this, Rufina suffers from non-epileptic seizures which began when our 8 year-old was very young. She also deals with migraines and chronic headaches. Despite these often debilitating ailments, she dedicates herself to the family and the running of the household.

Recognising we needed help

But the truth is, that after the twins, and the surgery, we were both physically and mentally worn down and exhausted. We were not in a good way. But unlike me, Rufina recognised that we needed help.

In a bid to access support for our family and fast, Rufina reached out to various services for help including Home-Start, whom she had previously received help from when our second child (now aged 13) was still very young. We were introduced to Anna, the Family Liaison Manager at Home-Start Camden and Islington and she matched us with a wonderful volunteer called Vicky who came to help every Thursday for two hours.

The difference Home-Start support has made

One of the ways Vicky helps is by being with Rufina and the twins when they go out. Because of her anxiety about seizures, Rufina would worry about what would happen if she was out alone. It’s also tough to manage two babies with one set of hands, especially if one of them goes nuclear!

Vicky provides both hands-on and emotional support in this kind of situation and each time Vicky has supported Rufina with trips out of the home, Rufina seems so much more confident and at ease about her day.

Having help for a couple of hours a week might not seem much but having that support makes a huge difference to my wife which in turn makes a difference to the whole family.

For Rufina, there's comfort in knowing that you have someone reliable who cares about you enough to give you a helping hand each week. From a practical viewpoint, you can structure your week so that tasks you need support with fall on the day that your volunteer is with you. Vicky has also helped Rufina take the twins to a play club and the twins have grown fond of her too, seeking safety and comfort with her when she's around. On occasion, when I’m stuck at work, Anna has even supported Rufina during ad-hoc hospital visits.

But it's not only when times are tough that Home Start have been there for us. Recently, they provided us with tickets to London Zoo, and we were able to take our 8 year old too. It was so enjoyable, we were buzzing for the whole week after.

Did I mention I suffer from anxiety?

Home-Start also has a dad's group where we can chew the fat on fatherhood. I was apprehensive to go but Rufina convinced me to give it a try in case it helped with my anxiety. Did I mention previously that I suffer from anxiety? No - because a lot of us men aren't good at opening up. Anyway, I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised that although there was such a diverse mix of personalities, many of us had so much in common. There was comfort in knowing I wasn't alone in some of the difficult feelings I was experiencing.

Home-Start has been a crucial pillar in our family finding our feet again. I'm grateful to my wife for reaching out for support when we needed it, as I don't think I would have done so.

I’d like to say to parents who are having a rough time, especially to dads who are feeling lost and a bit broken, like I was, don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help. The help isn't you being incapable, it's a tool to be utilised to make the quality of life for you and your family better. Use it! Home-Start won't solve all of your problems but they're definitely a crutch to help get you and your family back on track again.


We'd like to thank Emil for sharing his story. Home-Start offers a range of support for dads, including through the Dad Matters programme.

Read more stories from families supported by Home-Start