Learning to be a Dad for Life

I never wanted to be a father, as I did not know how to be one. Growing up, I failed to appreciate my father’s tough love and high expectations as being beneficial to me, and drew away from him as I got tired of seeking his approval and love. So, when I had my first child, I was disoriented because I was too proud to ask for help. Then my next child arrived, and I was really at my wit’s end. Fatherhood was a very lonely journey at that point, as I lacked the counsel and support from other fathers. I decided then to provide materially for my family as best as I could, and mask my fathering inadequacies by being present physically, but not emotionally. And for a while, I thought I was doing a great job as a father and husband!

Centre for Fathering – Dads for Life.  The turning point came when I attended a “Breakfast with Dad” program with the Centre for Fathering. During an exercise, we had to shout, “I love you!” from around a corner, and our children must recognize our voices and run to us. Very embarrassingly, I had to attempt it thrice before my son could recognize my voice. And it was no consolation that two other kids mistook my voice for their fathers. That episode kept me up at night for a week! I decided then to join the Dads for Life movement, get connected to their wide network of active fathers and fathering coaches at Centre for Fathering. This journey convicted me to join CFF-DFL as a staff in Aug 2016, to raise awareness of the importance of involved fathering and minimize the effects of fatherlessness in our nation. I hoped to get fathers to look beyond their households, to role model and father the “fatherless” within their spheres of influence.

Career Transition.  Transiting from a secure MINDEF career to a charity organization, which depended on public donations, was daunting at first. While it was clear to me that my personal mission of “Turning the hearts of children towards their Fathers” beckoned, the notion of making lifestyle changes for my family intimidated me. In the same week that I gave notice to leave, my wife was retrenched from her job and we discovered we were having a third child. My wife’s unrelenting faith and belief in the organization’s cause, and her unwavering support, released me to serve fathers and the “fatherless” in our community. We have since learnt to make the best of imperfect situations, and better appreciate the many tiny miracles that happened daily, which we often took for granted. Case in point, there was a children’s musical that my wife wanted to bring the kids to, but the ticket prices were out of our comfort zone. As I deliberated to justify for an economical alternative to watching it live, my colleague randomly offered me complimentary tickets to the musical that evening. It was the first of many acts of kindness that we experienced as a family, and we were never left wanting. We had our share of challenges and storms, but we learnt to ride the turbulent waves together, which provided opportunities to share my concerns and vulnerabilities with our children, so they grow up with an accurate picture of who they are.

Strengthening my Marriage.  One insight I garnered through my interaction with the active fathering community and CFF-DFL programs, was that my relationship with my wife was crucial for the well-being of my children. How I treated my wife was essentially Marriage Preparation 101 for my children. And a good relationship with the mother of my children would provide the loving and secure base for them to individuate into adolescents and emerging adults. I could be a hero at work, but I often returned home in a state that was difficult to live with, because I was drained by the time I got through the front door. And my wife had to put up with a side of me that nobody else gets to see. That had to change, because my wife and family deserves the best from me, and therefore I strived to be accountable to them for who I am as a person, and in the many roles that I take on daily. Having been overly preoccupied with our children since we became parents, I’m learning to date my wife all over again, lest we start to draw apart.

Leaving a Legacy of Good Parenting.  We constantly resisted the urge to outsource parenting, and chose to put up with Life’s inconveniences just to remain present and invested in our children’s lives. Despite my erratic schedules, I made it a point to be home for dinner, even for a short while, so we get that daily face-time as a family. And I try to help with school work, bathe and put my children to bed after bedtime reading, as often as I can. I used to bring my negative emotions home from a bad day, and it had always affected the tone of our evenings as a family. Now, I consciously prepare myself before I step through the front door, and carry the mood that I want our family to enjoy the evening with. I have also learnt to release my children to pursue their interests, and not to impose my ambitions for them. We want to create family values, traditions and good memories for our children, so they have blueprints for their own families subsequently.

The Fathering Journey Ahead.  I commit to reconcile with my father, date my wife more regularly and create a legacy of good parenting for my children, and their children thereafter. I must model what a good son should be, and show my children how I honor my parents. Loving their mother is key for my children’s individuation into healthy adults. I will provide unconditional love, grace and acceptance to my children, so they never have to earn it. Modeling what a marriage and family should be, would help them in their choice of a life partner, and pass on a legacy of good parenting to their children. Finally, my wife and I are considering fostering or adopting a child someday, as our way of fathering the fatherless.

Back to School with Dad!

It is that time of the year after we are done with the festive season, that my wife and I would start to prepare our children to resume another year of school.

In addition to settling the back-to-school administration, logistics and providing words of affirmation, we also took time to reflect on the past academic year with our children.

We began 2017 with the focus on being more present in their schools, which included accompanying our children to school on their first two days and back, and volunteering in the various parent support groups whenever our schedules permitted.

I also made a commitment to personally wake and send my child to school every morning, so I could get some uninterrupted time with him before we started our day.

Accompanying my child to school every morning was exhilarating at the beginning, but it started to take a toll on me as my work commitments increased. At one point, I even started to view it as a chore, and would dread the early morning routine.

What changed my perspective was when I noticed that my child would always look back at the school gate to see that I was still there, before he entered the clock tower towards his class. I realised that my presence reassured him that Daddy would always be there, watching his back.

Sometimes, I would walk my child to class whenever I had to deliver a short sharing on values education, and he would always wave to me and point me out to his friends when I appeared during assembly to share on topical interests of the school.

The benefits that my wife and I garnered from those volunteering experiences in school were three-fold.

First, we got to know the school leadership and administration better, and was assured of their dedication towards ensuring that our children got the best education in character-building, values and academics.

Next, we got to meet many other parents who were deeply invested in partnering the schools to ensure a holistic development for their children, and a community of support quickly formed amongst us.

Finally, our children seemed to appreciate our regular presence in school, especially during the major school events. And those moments that they observed us serving in school formed good conversation topics at home subsequently.

Since 2006, the Centre for Fathering had been advocating strongly for fathers to take time out from work in the first two days of the school year, to ease their children into a new class. This “Back to School with Dad” campaign strived to reassure children of our interest and involvement in their academic journey.

A Back to School with Dad card was also designed for fathers to pen a note of affirmation and encouragement, so their children could be pleasantly surprised during recess when they find it with the lunch box. For more creative ideas, Mommies would always be a good source of inspiration.

According to research, children whose fathers are highly involved in their schools are more likely to do well academically, participate in extracurricular activities and enjoy school. These benefits hold for both intact and single-parent families, and are independent from the effects of mother involvement (Nord, C., & West, J., 2001).

Almost 40 schools and 27,000 families are regular supporters of Back to School with Dad, and we hope that many more will pledge their support towards affirming children through our presence in schools, by registering with the Centre for Fathering.

The next Back to School with Dad falls on 2nd and 3rd Jan 2018. Don’t miss it!

Back to School 2018 Card Artwork (Back)