This is a lengthy post for the simple reason that this post contains gems of experiences which I gathered from a sharing by a large group of Dads. It is my hope that the points shared here would be as precious to you as they are to me in the journey of Fatherhood.
Dedicated to all my Daddy friends who inspire me. You know who you are.
“Any man can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad”.
Before I became a father, I thought this quote was cliché…until I became one. Now, I find myself quoting it TO myself all too many times. Truth is, being a parent is tough, being an active Dad even tougher. Not only because it’s physically draining but more so because of the divine responsibility given to us to nurture our off-springs in the hope that they will grow to be useful human beings, and contribute to make this world a better place.
Venus and Mars:
Problem is, while Mummies have their own support systems and can easily chat with one another about anything and everything under the sun (yes, EVERYTHING), most Daddies on the other hand are on our own. Even when we meet, the talk often center on food, football and well…functional stuff. Perhaps it’s our make-up harking back to our primordial past of the lone hunter, breadwinner, and alpha male stuff. Perhaps.
While Back on Earth:
Reality is that the society our kids grow into will be even more complex then what we have now. So, as a Dad, I find myself struggling hard and stumbling over how to balance maintaining certain core principles and values in life but yet being nimble enough to ensure my parenting is relevant and effective enough to nurture my children, bringing out the best within them and preparing them for the uncertain future which we ourselves are unsure of and perhaps, which we ourselves may not be around to handhold them anymore.
I can’t do it alone.
Dads are for Life:
I’m thankful to be part of a couple of Daddy communities both online and off which promote active and purposeful parenting. These platforms serve as a support for Daddies going through every stage of life: be it Dads who are happily married, Dads who are divorced, Dads who used to be incarcerated and now who reformed and looking towards a new lease of life. Dads for Life, started by Center for Father in Singapore is one of them.
At a recent forum organized by Center for Fathering and Dads for Life, a group of Dads gathered with Minister Tan Chuan Jin, a father himself of two teens, to talk and share about our struggles and successes as fathers. The evening dialogue turned out to be one of the most inspirational evenings I’ve had for a long time. The format was largely like a forum where questions are posed and answers are shared from the Daddies’ experiences.
From Divorcing Parents to ‘Un-shockable’ Dads:
While the panel members gave their insights, there were those nuggets of wisdom shared from the audience as well. Naturally, these are highly personal insights with no one clear right or wrong response. Here are some wisdom I’ve gleaned which have started me evaluating my own fathering style and principles.
Let’s begin …with the Mummies! (Brilliant Dave!):
a) When Mummies Hinder Daddies:
Mummies sometimes may hinder Daddies. Ever wondered why is there no ‘Mums for Life’? Or a Mother’s Group promoting active mothering? Well, mothers naturally have a strong bond with their children as they carried them in the womb during childbirth. So its sometimes easy for Mums to think that Daddies can’t take care of the kids as well as they do and then they take over, leaving Daddies no chance to learn and interact with their children. The term coined to describe such an instinctive bondthat may hinder a mummy from letting daddies to be totally involved is called ‘Maternal Gateway’. Hence Daddies need to be nudged/encouraged/urged to be actively involved to form that bond, starting right from the kids are born and mummies need to ensure daddies are given ‘all access’ to bringing up the children. This phenomenon worsens in the case of a divorcing couple where the mother may completely shut the father off.
Dave’s Insight: So Dads, when your wife wants to ‘take-over’ certain aspect of parenting, don’t just take the easy way out and give in. Insist on doing your part. Unless of course it’s breast-feeding.
b) Daddies should be ‘Un-shockable’:
A Daddy shared his experience when his young adult daughter decided to pursue an alternative career that is completely not what the parents planned for.
Another Daddy, an organizing member of Dads for Life, shared about the time he lost his cool and swiped his teenage daughter’s desk clean and threw her belongings on the floor.
We Daddies are not perfect but we have to know that the impact Daddies have in our homes are significant and often affects the emotional stability of the household. Hence Daddies should be ‘un-shockable’ and should not over-react. What Daddies do (or don’t do) leave a large impact on their children, wife and family.
Here’s an interesting research booklet on Daddies’ influence on their family:
(Source: From ‘Effects of Father Involvement: Allen and Daly, 2007 University of Guelph )
In the first instance, the Daddy decided to talk to his daughter and found that she was truly passionate about this alternative career (of being a vet). The parents supported her ambitions and today she is doing very well. This daddy also shared about taking time to discover your children’s ‘bent’ – where their interest will skew towards to indicate their natural and intrinsic motivation to who they like to be in life.
In the second instance, relationship between the Daddy and daughter was affected but he quickly cooled down, humbled himself, apologized and they made amends.
Dave’s insight: As the man of the house, he is seen as a steady and stable figure – un-shockable though at times, trembling within. Hence it is important for Daddies to meet and fellowship together with other daddies to share, to rant and to relate ‘shocking’ moments perhaps…then come home un-shockable.
c) Who is the Best Teacher, Where is the Best School?
A question was asked if schools should teach more life skills etc…to prepare our kids for this volatile world. A Daddy shared that children learn best via parents’ role modeling. Schools can only teach so much and teachers often have an entire class to teach so if you want your child to grow up the way you want, as a parent, take ownership of your children’s growth and stop being so busy that you outsource parenting to others.
Parents are the best teachers and the home, is the best school.
Dave’s Insight: As both an educator and parent, I can’t agree more. Schools don’t conceive children, parents do.
d) Duties of Divorced Parents:
As part of his sharing, one panelist shared about his experience counselling divorcing couples. For divorcing couples, its important to remember that while sadly, you may want to end your marriage, to the children, you both are still very much their parents. So while you are no longer legally married to your spouse, you can never stop being your children’s parents. Therefore, it’s advisable to make alternative arrangements to keep in contact with your children where possible.
Dave’s Insights: This is obviously something that is highly personal but from what I gather, you may no longer be married but you are still the child’s parent…so as much as you both can, don’ t let your adult decisions impact/affect how your children grow up.
e) On Work Stresses, Societal Demands and How To Find Time for Family?
Do we have a choice? Can we choose to spend time?
Well…we can’t stop society’s stresses or the stresses of job demands. In fact to a large extent, we chose that job or that career. So, we do have a choice whether to accept them and succumb to them or to make a choice to take the road less travelled…and be home and spend time with the family.
We all create opportunities to spend time with the people that mean something to us. If your family is precious to you, you need to create opportunities to spend time with them.
Dave’s Insights: I remember a time when I wanted to take time off to celebrate my daughter’s birthday in school (during her recess break) on a weekday. When I asked my boss for permission, instead of replying, she questioned, ‘What will happen David if each of my staff starts to take leave or time off for their children’s birthday? You decide David.” Well, I was stunned. But I did what I had to. I went to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and took the rest of the day off to spend with her. This move probably affected my career progression but really, I am convinced that I’m replaceable to my employers but I’m irreplaceable to my family.
f) Foundation in the Formative Years:
A question was asked why the 2-day childcare leave are only given to parents whose children are under 12 years of age. Is spending time with teens seen as less important then?
There were no clear answer to that but related to the issue, we discussed about the formative years being the golden window opportunity to form strong bonds before your children become teens and adults.
The experienced Daddies concur that the kids’ in their later years will start searching for their own identity and it is during that time that the bonds you form with them in their formative years will draw them back to you . So form your bonds with your children early so that when they are older and start discovering themselves, they know who to turn to when they are in need of guidance or just someone whom they can trust.
Dave’s Insights: I’m a firm believer in this which is why my wife and I even endure the ‘inconveniences’ of travelling with our kids – to form strong bonds early. We all have choices and I guess policies such as childcare leave have other complex implications, especially to employers. Besides, if you really want to spend time with your children, do you need to wait for government policy to do that? Time and tide wait for no man nor policies.
g) What Should We Focus On?
On the phenomenon that we as a society is focusing excessively on education, an experienced father on the panel adapted famed philosopher Robert Nozick’s ‘ Philosophical Explanations’ on what constitutes a human’s worth.
In the diagram below, he explained that by merely being 50% alive, it would be the base of what makes us a living thing. Other human characteristics – such as laughter, crying, emotions etc…makes the other 30%. So being alive and exhibiting ability of emotions,character and values would define us as being human, a person. Skills and decision-making then constitutes the other 10% respectively. (Diagram 1)
Now, inverting the triangle (Diagram 2) and adapting it to parenting, it would mean that education and the ability to make choices (decision-making and skills) constitutes only 10% respectively of a child’s make-up while other characteristics like nurturing the character of the child, including ‘Resilience’ and ‘Confidence’ constitute 80%. So why are we focusing excessively on education (skills) and ability in making choices when the other characteristics such as values, resilience and confidence actually form the basis of a good human being?
Dave’s insights: Guilty as charged! Food for thought indeed.
All Good Things:
Alas, the night got the better of us and the session had to come to an end but not without first having extended by over an hour! We could sense that Daddies there still had questions to pose and perspectives to share. For this Daddy here, it was an invigorating and inspiring night to hear from these experienced daddies and to know that through my struggles as a daddy, I am not alone. Here’s to many more of these as we support one another along this journey of parenting and fatherhood.
Snapshot of my life as a Dad, recorded on FB and IG in the past 2 years: colorful, tiring but fulfilling.
Here are web links to some of the fathering websites which I personally find helpful. Do check them out for workshops and sessions where Daddies can come together to spur one another on:
Center for Fathering, Singapore: http://fathers.com.sg
Dads for Life, Singapore: https://dadsforlife.sg
Daddy Matters Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaddyMatters/