Sometimes, men can be such a contradiction.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the launch of a Dads for Life initiative called Dads@Community, which wanted to engage community groups such as CDCs and religious organisations to provide a more participative culture among the local dad community.
The event itself placed particular focus on community representatives that were currently running programmes to engage dads, and what struck me were the emphases these representatives put on the challenges they faced when trying to get dads involved.
Is there an awkwardness amongst men toward parenting? Randy Sng, vice-chairman of Family Life Champion, presented an interest group of enthusiastic family cooks (all men, by the way) based in Braddell Heights who’ve been getting together to learn the ways of the kitchen since 2008. “When the (FLC) was formed, there wasn’t much activities, so we were looking at a niche area (to start off). It was a risk (starting the Men’s Cooking Interest Group), that why our chairman at that time was quite worried about whether it was going to be another FLC ‘cold storage'”. Far from a cold reception, the Men’s Cooking Interest Group has since garnered a membership base of over 100 men, and FLC is actively working with Dads for Life to put a “fatherly” angle into their monthly cook-up gatherings.
Is it a matter of pride? Mr Abdul Mutalif bin Hashim, president of the Association for Devoted and Active Men (ADAM) remarked that the family men his organisation tries to work with have reservations about sharing their concerns on being dads, because they perceive this kind of thing as an acknowledgement of weakness, and apparently this isn’t a done thing amongst societal perceptions of fathers, much less as a statement of manhood.
Or maybe the men just don’t see it as their problem? The Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) has been trying to engage fathers into their various dad-targeted activities, but their Parents Division director, Ms Lathika Devi notes that the response they receive makes them look rather more like annoying telemarketers. She says, “Many Indian fathers are just not too keen to take part in our family programmes. To many, it is the job of the mothers to be actively involved in parenting. We have fathers who slammed down the phone on us when we call them for our programmes; we’re getting used to it.” SINDA’s Parenting Division has over the years managed to engage over 2,000 parents in its various talks and other family-centric activities – the problem is, they’re mostly only seeing mothers attend their events.
Or do we just prefer to suffer in silence? Bervyn Lee, member of the Fathers Action Network shares his own experience with his father when he was still a student. “4 times a week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – at 4 o’clock in the morning, (my own father) would wake up just to send me to the ACS swimming pool for my swimming training. And you should see him in the lift when he did that; his head was against the side of the lift, (eyes closed and mouth ajar). For 6 years, he did that. He didn’t spend a lot of time with us talking and all that.”
The North-East Community Development Council (North East CDC) created the Dads@North East Club with just that kind of scenario in mind. Mr David Ang, chairman of the North East CDC?s Family and Fathering at North East (FINE) said, “(A man’s) journey as a father and a husband can be a lonely one, and can be one that is in need of support, so we wanted to create a platform where men can come together and journey together, and learn from one another, because iron sharpens iron.”
I have to agree. More often than not, whether parenthood is planned or not, fatherhood has a tendency to catch you unawares and hit you like a ton of bricks. We can experience our way into manhood as individuals, but fatherhood is an issue that concerns a handful of other people ? in particular, your wife, your child(ren), your family, nuclear and extended. Its immediacy does require you seek guidance from those who know more, and if you can find the mind to further your career prospects through education, surely you would apply the same mindset to furthering your journey into fatherhood. Wouldn?t you?
The realisation of fatherhood as a community challenge that requires urgent addressing is fairly new ? Dads for Life has only been around for 3 years. You may have read my coverage of the Dads for Life Conference back in May 2012, where I, too, held reservations about attending events that make me question my ?fatherhood?. I have no qualms against Dads for Life?s method of engagement, though; in fact, the conference was a turning point in my career and drove me into parenting writing, and I quite enjoy the things Dads for Life – and many of the other father-focused initiatives – puts out.
The Dads@Communities initiative admits greater engagement is needed, through support of established community groups. It?s trying to get society to back up its views on making active fatherhood a priority, which really just isn?t a done thing. As much as we, the men, want to portray ourselves as heads of our households, decision-makers for our families and ?knowing what?s best? for our kids, we?re equally faced with adhering to societal perceptions that have, over years of establishment enforcement, ultimately undervalued our contributions as dads. And as much as we, the men, want to complain about it, we, the men, made it happen.
And therein lies the contradiction.
Dads, take a little time out, go look for other dads to talk to (I can even help link you up, seriously). But you need to know there?s a whole bunch of us out there that are happy to help you out, and who also need help.
And to the community groups that are proposing programmes in partnership with the Dads@Communities initiative, I have a very effective proposition for you to include in your proposal: free beer.