Since Monday, an organisation known as Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (MHFI) is promoting Men’s Health Week, and it comes to an end on Father’s Day. It’s an event that is celebrated worldwide to heighten the awareness of men’s health issues and hopefully prevent problems through support and information.

Each year they choose a specific theme and ask individuals, professionals and organisations to help spread the necessary message that men need to be more aware and proactive in dealing with their health. This year’s theme in Ireland is ‘Action Men: Turning Words into Actions’

So, in support of this great cause, and to coincide with the forthcoming celebrations on Sunday (Father’s Day!), I wanted to share some essential information to unmarried fathers. I want to share this information in the hope that they will take action, if necessary, to get themselves fully recognised as a father, rather than believing that they have an automatic right to this title. I want them to realise that being a father is more than helping to produce children; there’s a lot more work after the birth they can be involved in. Even if the relationship with the mother of the child doesn’t continue, the child will still need paternal involvement.

In Ireland, when a man becomes a father it’s usually officially recognised through his name inserted onto the birth certificate. However, this really only means he has biologically assisted in the creation of a child. And many of us know, the parenting of the child – i.e. the guardianship of the child – is the essential part in helping that child survive. Fathering is more than a single moment event.

Therefore, I want to do my part for Men’s Health Week by promoting an attitude of ‘turning words into actions’ in the role of fatherhood. If you want to be an active father, and want to have this role officially recognised, and don’t want some of the problems of unmarried fatherhood arise, then keep reading and then be proactive. Talk to any man who has lost access to his child(ren) and discover how his mental and physical health has been affected by his struggle to remain a guardian in their life.

Many unmarried father’s are actively involved in the rearing of their child(ren). They may, or may not, be still in a relationship with the mother of the child, but they still make efforts to care for the child on a regular basis. There are fathers who are still in a relationship with the mother of the child(ren) and therefore see themselves as a part of a family unit, like many other families. Sure why shouldn’t they?

Unfortunately, in Ireland, it’s not that simple. It’s a little bit harder for an unmarried man to be recognised fully as a member of the family he produces. It comes down to the two prong approach to parenting. Parents can be the biological producers of children, and they can also be the guardians of these children. Married couples automatically acquire the two titles when they have a child together. They are guardians as well as the recognised mother and father. However, unmarried couples have to approach this differently and get these rights recognised by the State.

The woman that gives birth to the child will usually be considered both the mother and guardian. However, the man who played the biological part in producing this newborn, has to be recognised as father and guardian. Getting his name onto the child’s birth certificate will award him the title of the biological father. However, to be legally recognised as the child’s guardian, when not married to the mother, involves a bit more paperwork. It involves recognising the legislation in Section 6 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you read it – just be aware of it and know that you need to take action to be the recognised guardian of your child(ren).

To help you with all this, there is a lot of information through various websites, namely Treoir, Citizens Information One Family and FLAC. However, it basically boils down to completing a simple form known as S.I. 5 of 1998, a Statutory Instrument of the Guardianship of Children (Statutory Declaration) Regulations 1998.

So, on this week of Men’s Health Week, and focusing on the theme of ‘Turning Words into Actions’, I ask that any man who is a father, and not married to the mother of your child(ren), to print the S.I. form and get yourself recognised officially as the guardian of your child(ren). Mothers who are reading this; are you in a relationship with the father of your child(ren) and want the State to recognise him as the guardian, not just the biological father? Do you know any other man or woman out there who is affected by this classification of parenting? It’s rarely mentioned, so it could easily go unnoticed. Start talking about it more, but also remember to stop talking, and to take action! Do the practical thing – be an Action Man (or woman, don’t want to be discriminatory) – and get the form signed.

After all, with only a few days to go before you celebrate your role of fatherhood, do you want to be just a father to your child(ren), or do you want to be their guardian as well? Your health, and theirs, could depend on your actions.