Active Fatherhood: An Uphill Battle

Dads don’t have it easy in Singapore. (Bear with me ladies; there is a silver lining.)

While mothers (who, under the Child Development Co-Savings Act, get up to 16 weeks maternity leave) get an entire section dedicated to maternity leave entitlement on the Ministry of Manpower’s website, dear old dad gets a less-than-honorary mention at the bottom of their Annual Leave page stating:

“There is no statutory entitlement for… paternity… leave under the Employment Act. The entitlement to such leave depends on what is in the employment contract or agreed mutually between employer and employee.”

So in short, if you’re looking for a good paternity leave package (employment contracts will usually stipulate paternity leave at between 2 to 7 days), go talk to your boss.

The law also has a special section just for women; the Women’s Charter, according to the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, “was passed in 1961 to protect the rights of women and girls in Singapore”. While the Charter does try to promote gender equality, it was formulated on an assumption that the female is the weaker sex and thus requires more protection. Speaking as someone who’s been working in a law firm, I would say with some trepidation that given the modern society’s mindset on gender equality, that’s a lot of protection in the arsenal of women to have; in fact, to run through the Women’s Charter as a man, the prospects of being male can be downright scary.

The mindset is not lost in women’s perception of men in parenting either; in a recent Huffington Post article, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg remarked, “I don’t know a lot of men who feel guilty for working full time, it’s expected that they’ll work full time…I wonder if there were more shared responsibility if more men would feel guilty too and women would feel less of it.”

The Men Actually Agree

The strange thing about all this is that most men are actually okay with this mindset. We generally accept being seen as “men of the house”, able to traipse through our career without the guilt of sacrificing family time in favour of work; we understand how women might require more legal protection; and most importantly, we agree that because our wives effectively go through so much more through child-bearing and childbirth, and thus deserve their time off work.

It won’t seem so strange if you look back at what happened in Western society way back in the 50’s and 60’s when women’s lib was first introduced. The fight for independence in gender was so strong coming from the women – what men can do, women can do too – it led to a cultural tectonic shift that enabled women to take charge fo their own lives, establish their own careers, and even have a stronger voice in politics. That fight for independence was strong indeed; but traditional sentiments that govern society’s view of the man’s place – in family, in particular – was much slower in development.

While the women are still gaining a foothold in the corporate/political arena, the men are still expected to (mainly) bring home the bacon, pay the bills and ensure their family is well provided for at any cost, to have a strong focus on their careers in order to provide, to be okay with sacrificing time with their family for their family. Indeed, through talking to a stay-at-home dad about the issue, it seems it’s a generally accepted view by both men and women, to the point where the hapless stay-at-home dad in question was wondering if he was actually doing the right thing by choosing to be the homemaker.

And because this perceived role of men is so widely subscribed – by both men and women alike – society struggling to deal with what modern parenting experts are struggling to push – we’re short of active fathers.

And Here’s the Silver Lining

The truth is, the men are changing (more like adapting) too, and it started a good 2 decades ago. We’ve witnessed in the 90’s a trend of SNAGs (sensitive new age guys) and metrosexuals, and guess what? those very same SNAGs and metrosexuals have grown up to become fathers (at least, the ones that still like women).

Here’s more good news; society seems to be changing with us. Case-in-point: I frequently find myself taking public buses and trains with just my 3-year-old in tow, and though there are times when commuters don’t know what to make of me, I would say 80% of the time someone would stand up and gesture to me to take his or her seat without a second thought. And no, I do not look like a woman, despite what my widely publicised wedding photos show.

It was really quite surprising for me in the beginning, and given that I’m a father (read: male), I still don’t take such offers for granted. Being conscious of what society still deems men as in many aspects of living and lifestyle, I wouldn’t take anything for granted at this point.

That’s why Blogfathers! is looking for a way to connect to fathers in general, be they active or otherwise, firstly to understand what makes the Singapore dad tick, then where the challenges in fatherhood lie, and finally to find solutions for dads who want to play a more active role in their children and families. From what I’ve seen and heard, that last bit with the solutions is the hardest to decipher, and it might take more than an idea and a website to get the point across.

But I’m going to try.

[Image via Listen To My Whine]

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