Making Fathers Look Bad

“Is it just us, or are mums WAY better than dads at chatting to other parents?”

This was part of an status published on a leading household brand’s Facebook Page.

I just couldn’t resist. “It’s just you,” I replied in their comments.

Of course, the offending status post has since been removed, but offenses like this has been happening. Every. Single. Week. If this keeps up, I have to change my site name to “y-u-no-think-first.com.sg”.

Halfway around the world, there’s a bunch of angry dads hitting out at advertisers and corporations for exactly this kind of talk. 8bitdad.com regularly churns out critical pieces on advertisers that put dads in a bad light in favour of the stereotype mother’s role in the household.

For over a century, it was the lady of the household that got a bad rap. Business Insider took a look at 18 ads from past to present that shaped public perceptions of the female role, and in all honesty most of them weren’t very healthy perceptions.

In recent years, the men have had the tables turn on them; my experience is a great example. But just as women’s lib has hit out against the objectification and sexualising of the female role in family and society, so it is here that dads are speaking out against gender comparison in parenthood and marriage.

We’re apples and oranges, but we’re still equals. It really is time for all this inane discrimination to stop.

Losing Sight of Parenthood

An educator friend of mine, who has a knack for drawing out the motivation in his students to excel in primary and secondary school Mathematics (and in some cases, studying in general), recently shared a couple of stories about how a number of parents have become so focused on their children’s “paper chase” that the parent-child connection unwittingly gets lost.

One mother actually told my friend off for trying to engage her son’s emotions in a bid to understand how to get the child more interested in school. “Don’t bother to ask my son about his feelings,” she chided. “I tried that already, and it doesn’t work. Just do what I’m paying you to do. Get the boy to go through his textbook and assessments, from page one to the end.”

She isn’t the first parent that so arbitrarily cast aside my friend’s efforts to engage a child in study, and my friend is very concerned that she won’t be the last by any measure. One might argue that our high-pressure, high-demand local education system is to blame for such a mindset, but then I remember encountering schoolmates with parents with the very same mindsets back when school life was much simpler.

Another friend, a board game geek, presented a very similar experience when introducing the European board games she was selling at a bazaar to a curious parent. As she introduced the various games, their suitability for age groups as young as 3 years old, and how these games create opportunities for family bonding, the curious parent asked a stumper of a question: “Wah, your games all very interesting hor? So ah, do you have any games that my child can play on his own? Then I can go and do my own things while he entertains himself, choo know?”

Both my friends are active parents, and highly focused on providing for their children physically, mentally and emotionally. Both cannot quite get over how other parents might not want to do the same for their own offspring.

But all of us will have, at one time or other, felt like taking a break from parenting, even if just for a minute. You’ve heard the usual clich?s; parenting is tough, parenting is a full-time job, it’s easy to become a parent but hard to be a parent, etc. When you’re knee-deep in it, these are just words you nod to. The truth is, no words can describe what being a parent is like, because no one parent works the same way.

Then there’s the question of priority: ambition, money, health, family, happiness, or doing the dishes… despite our differences, we all need to juggle with our goals and responsibilities. Dedicating the rest of your life to any one aspect isn’t impossible, but it is incredibly hard.

We all lead unique lives, and anyone who tries to generalise what parents go through is just asking for a slap on the back of the head, so I will not even try. But I do think about my priorities all the time, particularly during this period when I’m, ahem, in between jobs.

Every minute of every day, I ask myself, what is my priority? And is that priority worth my time and effort? Over my growing years, it was my friends (and not studying, I’m sorry to say). When I came out into the workforce, it was my career. When I settled down, it became enough money to settle my household bills. After running through the last few priorities and realising they weren’t doing very much for my well-being, it was happiness. And after my son was born, it is now my family.

I cannot say for sure my priorities will remain constant from here on. All I can say right now is the day I die, I want to know my family will be there for me. My job won’t be, my son’s education won’t be, my dishes will certainly not be. But with all the love of a husband and a father, even after I’m gone, my love will live on. And happiness is just a fabulous side effect of trying to achieve this priority.

What’s your priority in life right now?

Beating Some Sense Into Domestic Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment in the home draws a lot of flak from both ends of the spectrum, its controversy able to invoke strong reactions as much as provoke strong emotions; one reader here raised a very thoughtful debate in the comment thread of an article I wrote touching on physical aggression as a means of serving justice). In fact, according to the Wikipedia article that she pointed to me lists 34 countries that have outlawed the practice.

Yet the article also spends a substantial amount of space to detail why some countries (namely, Australia, Canada, the UK and the US) do allow domestic corporal punishment. Similarly, arguments are presented from religious, cultural, psychological and even political viewpoints, taking the controversial topic into a dauntingly expansive arena of debate and a slippery, deep divide, and making this blog post all the more difficult to write.

All for hitting a child.

Image via goodchildbooks.com

Rationalising Punishment

To understand why corporal punishment continues to be accepted, we need to look at the rationale behind punishment in general. Legislators may view punishment as a stop-gap for repeat offenders, and a warning message against other offenders; impose a fine for bad parking, or deal out the death penalty for drug trafficking or murder. It’s also a means of rehabilitation and restoring damage from the offence; here we have corrective work order for litterbugs, and everywhere, there are prisons. It’s even regularly used to educate offenders and potentially the general public on appropriate behaviour and social rules through denunciation and public shaming, and can even serve as a means to appease societal outrage; the NTUC’s sacking of Amy Cheong for her online remarks is one such example.

Punishment in this context has well-formulated over centuries of lawmaking and diplomacy, systematically enforced and accepted by any and all forms of society big and small. It’s quick, can be very painful if not deadly — and it can most certainly be misused.

Two Sides To Every Story

The rationale for domestic corporal punishment ends with a single distinction; are you disciplining your child, or are you angry? Arguably, you can be both, but as anger becomes the stronger counterweight to rational application, the differentiation between corporal punishment and child abuse becomes extremely clear, but also makes one’s intrinsic definition of corporal punishment extremely muddled.

Anger clouds judgment. Corporal punishment in any scenario stems from countering an incident of inconvenience or annoyance, precursors to what we know of as anger. And thus the whole idea of corporal punishment as a rational disciplinary approach is placed in jeopardy.

Rachel hit the point home when she said to me, “I have no doubt you are a good dad, but not many people are. (…) Many parents don’t know where to draw the line between spanking out of anger and spanking in control.”

Fighting Fear With More Fear

Rachel adds on to the debate with proposing legal action against the spankers, slappers, caners and whippers. “It takes laws to change people’s mindsets; Sweden, for example, has outlawed corporal punishment in schools and homes (since 1979). And once people’s mindsets are changed, they then realise that hey, actually this can work. Unfortunately if there are no laws about this, then people remain steadfastly stubborn and loyal to whatever parenting techniques they were brought up under when they were children themselves. People are very resistant to changes in paradigm shifts unless they are forced into it somehow — in Sweden’s case, the government.”

I can imagine the government of any nation on any given day will have trouble grappling with an extreme paradigm shift that might potentially sacrifice an entire generation of the nation’s population to a social experiment. In order to understand why, you need to know what happened to Sweden in the first place.

Yeah, So What Happened To Sweden?

Sweden’s pioneering law against physical punishment of any kind on children was passed out of necessity, not out of idealism. Professor Adrienne A. Haeuser took an exploratory look at how Sweden managed to get so far in its anti-spanking stance. Prior to the law being passed, child abuse was widespread in the country, prompting the authorities to take legislative action to stop home beatings and educate their masses in alternative childcare approaches.

Following the passing of the anti-spanking law, the next decade saw an effective parental education campaign in permissive parenting, non-violent childrearing — and a proliferation of spoilt brats. Professor Haueser remarked, ” By 1988, the picture had changed markedly. Child guidance professionals were admitting that permissive childrearing was a failed experiment, and parent educators were telling parents to ‘dare to be parents.'”

Okay, so now parents in Sweden are being told they need to be forceful in disciplining their children, but because the law is still in place, they can’t use force. So what do they do instead? It’s an alternative disciplinary approach called “verbal conflict resolution”.

In other words, they scream at their kids.

As Professor Haueser notes, “Parents insist that discussions involve constant eye contact, even if this means taking firm hold of young children to engage their attention. Parents and professionals agree that discussions may escalate into yelling, or that yelling may be a necessary trigger for discussion. Still, many point out that while yelling may be humiliating, it is better than ignoring the problem or containing the anger, and it is usually less humiliating than physical punishment.”

Apparently, it’s worked out okay for IKEA-land. Sweden’s now the de facto example used by anti-child abuse organisations to lobby for similar laws to be implemented across other nations like the UK and the US.

But will it work for everyone? The Blogfather needs to take a serious think on this one.

Learning To Take Care of Yourself

Dear Xander,

You’ve always had a strong love affair with balloons. Your mother didn’t mind it so much, but it drives me up the wall sometimes. But then something happened a while back that I think may have changed the course of your character, and i think it worth putting down into a letter what I think is a milestone achieved — with a balloon you never owned.

We were having dinner at a food court, and midway through your noodles, you saw a bunch of balloons on display at a gym entrance across the other side of the mall, some 20 metres away. You wanted one, and started to ask us to get one for you. Your mum gave me a “so how?” glance, and then I said, “Finish your food, then we talk.”

In record time, you did as you were told. Your mother and I were not even halfway through our meals. Then I had an idea.

“Okay, Xan. You see that nice lady standing behind the counter? Go ask her. Mummy and daddy won’t come with you; if you want that balloon, you got to earn it yourself.”

By this time, you were poised to hold my hand so I’d go with you, but when you heard what I said, you dropped your arm and stood perplexed.

For the next 40 minutes, your mother and I watched as you tried to pluck up enough courage to ask for something all by yourself, periodically interjected with you insisting one of us go with you, and us insisting you go there and ask for one yourself.

That evening, you ended up not getting your balloon. We finished the remainder of our meal, I picked you up, and we started walking back to the car park. When you realised we were bypassing the gym completely, you started to cry. I said to you, quite matter-of-factly, “Well, if you’d just went up and asked, you’d have a balloon now, wouldn’t you?”

And then you cried harder. From the shopping centre to the car park, back to the food court (I left some shopping bags behind at the table we sat in), then back to the car, all the way home, for a total of almost 2 hours. We’ve dealt with your tantrums before, but that evening both your mother and I sensed you were crying a different cry.

You weren’t throwing a tantrum. You were regretting.

After that night, you changed. It started when you saw another bunch of balloons, this time at Swensen’s. “Balloon!” You pointed excitedly. And I said the exact same thing I did the last time. But this time, you were ready. Within seconds, you marched over to the nice lady manning the cashier, and came back waving your prize in the air.

It didn’t stop there. At the time of this letter, you’ve taken to ordering your own food, socializing with other kids and other adults, being respectful towards others (part and parcel of asking nicely for things). And you are doing this all on your own, with a little guidance, and very little prompting (save for asking us what you should say when you wanted to speak to a stranger).

At 3 1/2 years old, your mother and I decided not to dictate when you’d be ready to face whatever challenges in life lay out there for you. You could say we took a leap of faith instead, allowing you to — and trusting you would — tell us when you were ready.

And you did tell us.

With all a father’s pride,

Dad

Letting Go of Your Child — in the Interest of Your Child

When I was in kindergarten, I’d walk home after class all by myself while my mother took care of house and home, and my father brought home the bacon.

The first time I did it, it didn’t go too well. But I got the hang of it, and grew up doing grocery runs, joining friends at my neighbourhood playground every evening, and ran around everywhere. My parents just let me be, not because they didn’t have time to care for me, but because they needed me to learn to care for myself.

It sounds like a typical episode of Fighting Spiders, and indeed it was. We made new friends, learned to interact with people around us, greeted our neighbours and respected our elders. That was how my parents taught me, and how I taught myself. That was my childhood, and I can’t imagine growing up any other way.

We no longer live in those times.

Cars stream in and out of preschools, primary schools and secondary schools every morning and afternoon fetching our precious young with their 10kg school bags. Supermarket runs are a family affair, and provision shops are dying out because, well, if we have to bring our kids along with us all the time, why not go to someplace larger than a dingy little store? Our neighbourhood rubber-padded plastic playgrounds are deserted most of the day, with peak periods of 2-4 kids playing at any given playground location for 1/2 hour evening periods before getting bored or getting pulled home to study. And God forbid if we were to task our own child to reserve a table at a fast food restaurant while we go order a Happy Meal; i mean, isn’t that what packet tissues are for?! (Take pride, Singapore, for being the only country in the world where a non-descript packet of tissue has become a far superior symbol of occupancy than actually being there.)

For goodness sake, is it that dangerous out there? Are we so afraid the next stranger walking into McDonald’s is the one that will take our child away, never to be seen again, despite the 30-40 other strangers surrounding him already? How did we become so distrustful of everyone? And have we forgotten to trust our own children to grow up of their own accord? How do we love our children so much that we rob them of the childhood they could be having, the childhood we had?

What have we become?

At 2 1/2 years old, my son was already helping me reserve seats at a crowded food court — his rule for me is that I remain within sight of him when I’m away. At 3 1/2 years old, he’s already learned to order his own food while I’m seated at our table. And now he’s approaching 4, I’m already teaching my son to identify traffic signs, watch for traffic and cross the road unaided. Whenever we let him, he’ll run everywhere, climb everything, jump off any height he’s confident of landing off of. Most times he’ll be okay, sometimes he falls, and once or twice he faceplants on the floor and cries from a bumped nose and a bruised ego.

And why am I risking my son’s life by doing all this? Is this about independence? Character building? Being gung ho? Is this a boy thing? Is it a “dad” thing?

I do this for two reasons:

  1. I want my son to have his childhood, the way he wants, and
  2. I want my son to survive his childhood.

You may have heard of the strawberry generation. I’m not about to contribute another soul to that demographic. My son is already so much better than that. His parents are better than that. And I believe we’re all better than that. We just need to remember our own roots, how we grew up, and how we survived. Then we need to understand and realise that as the next generation progresses with its own complexities and hardships, our children need those exact same survival skills, and more.

In my current situation, the one and only concern I have is that his only inheritance from me is the debt I now carry, coupled with the promise of a future laden with high work stress, crazy public transport overcrowding/service breakdowns and what looks already to be a ridiculous cost of living. And looking at how things have already changed so much between my childhood and his, I wouldn’t be surprised if our national pastime of complaining about it all becomes socially unacceptable by the time my son learns how to use Facebook.

So my son needs to learn the things I did, to make new friends, learn to interact with the people around him, greet our neighbours and respect his elders. That is how I teach him, and how he teaches himself. This is his childhood, and I can’t imagine him growing up any other way.

The Difference Between Correct and Right

This is a republished post I wrote?in 17
March 2011 from an older blog of mine called de.konstrukt.me. It
talks about bullying and corporal punishment in schools and at
home, and ultimately the difference between what is correct, and
what is right and how it has changed over the
generations.
Having watched ?Changeling?,
my wife extracted a quote from the movie that has since become the
guiding principle in raising our son: ?Never start a fight, but
always finish it.? Considering our son is just over 2 years old,
educating him on the finer points of full-contact defensive martial
arts may be premature. But the statement does bring to mind the
differentiation of what is correct, and what is right. Technically,
“correct” and “right” are synonymous, and should be interchangeable
in usage. But when you consider that one is a more formal usage of
the definition than the other, and apply that sentiment into
situational analysis, each holds new meaning in context to what you
are facing. Consider the
viral video dug up by Deadspin of Australian Chifley College
student Casey Heynes
fighting back a (no doubt
smaller-sized) bully with a swift,effortless bodyslam onto the
floor. Of course, the school?s code of conduct dictates that the
correct action against bullies and bullying should be reported to
school teaching staff or the discipline master, but honestly, how
often does that happen? Instead, the overwhelming public view is
that Casey did right, not just by himself, but by victims of school
bullies everywhere in representation as ?the victim that fought
back?. Through
discussions of a similar nature (a surprisingly wide range spanning
from corporal punishment in parenting, to the
?mentality?of today’s Singaporeans in nurture and
education, to the recent rise in corporate and public sector
whistleblowing policies), the disparity between correct and right
grows ever wider. The comparison really boils down to how one deems
justice and fairness to be properly handled, particularly in an
institution governed by a formal authority (e.g. a school, large
corporation or even a government office). In most situations, such
authorities will have set more immediate resolutions such as dress
code, usage of facilities and handling deadlines. However, you
start treading into murky territory when social ideals come into
play. The bully-victim scenario, for example, is not adequately
addressed by any authority?s code of conduct simply because the
underlying fear of repercussion has not been taken into
consideration. This is unfortunate, since the primary issue that
makes such situations so prevalent ? rampant, even ? is the very
fact that victimisation is rarely a one-off event. Fear also
creates a very twisted symbiotic relationship between bullies and
their victims; the more bullies feed on fear, the hungrier they are
for it, and the longer the victims suffer the bullying, the greater
their fear grows. That is not to say the overseeing authority of
the institution in question is to be undermined. In Casey?s
situation, both students suffered the consequences as befitted the
convention of their school ? they were both suspended, albeit with
the instigator serving a longer term. Though it does send a rather
mixed message on where the institution stands in the justice of it
all, one thing is clear ? no one oversteps authority, even when
it?s right. Middle-aged Singaporeans today will remember when their
own parents and even schools would regularly and without hesitation
use canes and wooden rulers for such disciplinary travesties as bad
grades, incomplete homework and dirty clothes. Indeed, schools of
our yesteryears saw no problem in meting out disciplinary action
with physical pain. My own primary school education saw me on the
receiving end of some rather memorable classroom knucklebusting and
even a couple of public canings. Today?s society will find such
corporal punishment archaic, low class, and generally frowned upon,
with complete disregard that they are one of the very same
generation of people who were the recipients of the same school of
discipline they regard as barbaric. Much more importantly, whether
we like it or not, most of us grew up into better persons because
of it. If we were to acknowledge this paradox between ideology and
reality, certainly this can be quite accurately described as
incorrect, but right.

That Little Racist in All of Us

Things happen fast in this country.

Someone posts a really badly thought-out Facebook post on Sunday, then loses her job on Monday (with an ad placed for her position immediately after too), then gets a police report filed against her the same evening, and now we’re told she’s fled the country.

The scriptwriters for 24 couldn’t think of a more fast-paced story if they tried.

Then again, was there even any thinking involved throughout the entire fiasco?

Amy Cheong obviously wasn’t thinking when her post went up that Sunday; apparently thinking wasn’t a habit she cultivated because as it turns out, there were a whole series of posts depicting her very ugly personality. NTUC’s swift action to dismiss her, though warranted and appreciated, couldn’t have been much more than a reflex action given the time span it took to inquire and fire and process the rehire. And that police report. Aiyoh.

Now there’s even word going around that another hapless female did the same thing, barely a day after the previous incident reached its climax. Whether this is substantiated information or not, we can only sit back and watch the show.

But for everyone who’s got their popcorn out: it isn’t the first time such a thing has happened (let’s see, there’s one, two, three, four, geez, the list seems endless), and it’s not going to be the last. But there is one vital difference each and every one of us can and should make before succumbing to pride and prejudice: if no one else is thinking, we need to do the thinking.

So do let’s put things in perspective here.

Sit Down, Order a Teh Peng, and Think

If you think about it, Amy Cheong’s post(s) targeted a Malay wedding, a cultural phenomenon stemming from a racial tradition, and not the race itself. So was this a racial slur or cultural boneheadedness? Bertha Henson hits that point home for us in her take.

In the same vein, if you think about it, p_n_s can spell pants as easily as it can spell penis, just as v_g_n_ can spell vegans instead of… yeah, you get it now. So from blind reaction, do we see things in terms of genitalia instead of wardrobe and eating habits, just like we draw the conclusion that Amy Cheong is being racist instead of ignorant? If that’s the first thing that comes to mind, doesn’t that make all of us racist, however much or little our racist sentiments may be? I’m not even the first Singaporean to ask this out in public; Today published an opinion piece way back in 2003 (reproduced by by Think Centre) talking about this exact same notion in eloquent detail.

It’s even backed by science. The Scientific American published an article in April 2008 condemning pretty much the entire planet for its discriminatory ways. Racial, religious, sexual, age, weight and even habitual discrimination is hard wired into each and every individual that thrives in societal living. It’s a survival instinct, one that is as complex as it is natural, and hence a reaction rather than a thought process.

Admit it; we all discriminate. Amy Cheong has discriminated against a Malay cultural practice, and those who have reacted in shock, awe, shame and hate have in turn discriminated against her — lynch mob style. The incident has even spurred a handful of people to discriminate against themselves! We’re all guilty here.

The good news is, admission is the first step towards learning proper tolerance.

Are We Missing Anyone?

Be that as it may, one segment of our human race is nearly completely unaware of this concept we call discrimination: very, very young children. Our very, very young children. They’ll learn about it sooner rather than later though, one way or another. And who best to teach them but us adults? More specifically, us parents.

Image via schoolbag.sg

You know as well as I do that primary and secondary schools aren’t going to formally touch on the ugly side of humanity for more than a few minutes at a time; they would prefer to leave the school of life teachings to mums and dads while they handle the tough things like calculus, algebra and PE.

And we don’t do our children any favours if we shield them from what’s already in front of us. They’ve got to learn how to handle themselves, and we have to trust they will know how to, we need only point them in the right direction. So as a responsible parent, you teach your kids everything in your power and knowledge about everything they need to know about everything that’s out there. White, black, yellow, brown, blue and red, Christians Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, gay and straight, fat and thin, good and evil, right and wrong, Luke and Leia, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and everything in between, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

The important thing to note here is that because we’re already admittedly racist (right?), we know (well, most of us anyway) when to draw the line between when to joke and when to call someone out for going too far. In other words, we understand tolerance. And really, that alone will qualify you to teach that which our nation proudly proclaims as “racial harmony”. Hopefully if the entire country reads this post and agrees, the next generation won’t produce another Amy Cheong. I’m not getting my hopes up though.

But if you’ve gotten this far down The Blogfather’s ramblings, here’s something to start you off. You can teach your kids that Malay-Muslim void deck weddings cost as much as $25-50,000 (my restaurant wedding dinner only cost about $21,000), can stretch up to 2 days, and they do throw one hell of a party.

Also, I once played Hotel California at one Malay wedding when I was a teenager and the guests gave me a hearty round of applause for my guitar solo. We played Metallica as well; that didn’t go down so well, but talk about tolerance! True story.

About Last Week…

I came to a realization after reviewing my last 3 posts. For that matter, I took a long hard look at my life to find out what went wrong.

3 years ago, I decided to embark on a career in writing, and 2 months ago, against all odds, I did it.

Or so I thought.

The 2 months was a journey of hard knocks, mismanaged expectations and errors in judgment that came to a head on 28 September, when I resigned from my position as editor in the one company I truly believed was willing to take a chance on a rookie writer. The circumstances behind that decision were not at all pleasant, and the decision itself was the most difficult one I ever had to make.

Despite the support from my family and friends, the week that followed was a lonely struggle (in a sense) to stay positive. I spent the better part of the week thinking of an excuse to celebrate my new-found free time; a friend graciously sent me an international calendar of public holidays to justify why I was not working. My 9-to-6 weekdays were spent at the library, fervently writing for this previously neglected blog, determined to put Blogfathers back on track, with everything I learned in my short stint as a full-time writer, my own beliefs as a parent, and more importantly, with the remaining part of my heart that wasn’t worrying about where my next paycheck is going to come from and when.

I only realised my true emotions had found another outlet for release without telling me: my writing.

Much as I was told otherwise, I felt like I failed, in my career, as a father, as a writer, and as myself. And I was angry. I was so, so angry, with what happened, what I did and where I am now. I didn’t even realise what I was doing — what I was feeling — until I re-read my posts here and on Dear Xander, clicked through the e-mails I sent out, and remembered the conversations with everyone I spoke to, following my departure from what I thought was my dream career.

I absolutely hate writing to drive web traffic; it was a major reason why I had to leave my job. I live only for content, and so I stand by my beliefs as reflected in my words of the last week, and in all my writing; my one driving force in all that I say has been — and will continue to be — to stay true to myself, and make no compromise about it. As I pushed out those posts from last week, I knew I was going to step on some toes, but I didn’t expect the toes I stepped on the hardest to be my own.

The support I have received over the last week from my wife, my family, my friends, and you, the readers, has been nothing short of overwhelming, and I cannot easily put into words how humbled and thankful I am to have everyone tell me I’m doing more than okay with the craft I am still very passionate about honing.

And so comes the big question: can you expect more of what you saw last week, last month, or even since Blogfathers! started? You bet (but I will try to calm down a bit, okay?); I’m even reconsidering my previous position on taking up endorsements (I am unemployed now, you know).

I am only just bloody getting started, people.

But I realise that Blogfathers! cannot be a voice for all fathers, much less a community of dad bloggers, many of whom I have come to know and befriend, and very evidently have wonderfully loud voices of their own.

So one thing must change. I’m removing that “s” and making The Blogfather a singular term (good thing I purchased both domains). The site will be getting a revamp, too, logos and all (I’m anal). While the spirit of sharing fatherhood stories from the dad blogger community lives on in the Blogfathers! FB page, I am humbly relegating this site to just my own actions and my own voice, sharing what I learn from my own fatherhood experience, from my son, and from other fathers who are willing to teach me; my About page has been updated to reflect that sentiment. And if I sully any name with my writing, let it be my own and no one else’s.

From time to time, I ask my wife if she feels she made the right decision in marrying me. Her reply is always consistent: “With you, there’s never a dull moment.”

So let’s keep things interesting, then.

Spare the iPhone, Lose an Opportunity

This post is in response to an article published by Focus on the Family Singapore published two days ago titled “Spare the iPhone, Socialise the Child” written by 22-year-old Economics undergraduate Abraham Ponniah. Dads for Life even said it was a “nice article”.

I cannot disagree more with that opinion.

To begin with, Mr Ponniah’s article, lightly peppered with disclaimers of “not definitive” research and a generous dash of personal experience, sets the tone with a portion that immediately did not sit well with me:

“To get the maximal benefit out of these devices without incurring any of the negatives is a matter of balancing how much children are exposed to such devices. I believe that it is better to err on the safe side.”

Mr Ponniah, the Blogfather would like to have a word with you.

1. Are We Even Talking About iPhones Anymore?

As much as I feel for Mr Ponniah’s family (I used to travel a lot in my previous job after my son was born), his personal account of having to communicate with her sister overseas via Skype, Whatsapp and FaceTime is, unfortunately, oversimplifying his own point on two counts.

Count 1: The January 2012 Stanford study which was quoted in the CNN article (and subsequently in Mr Ponniah’s) hinged on a survey conducted through Discovery Girls magazine, involving 3,461 girls aged between 8 and 12, and covered a wide range of activities, including “watching video (television, YouTube, movies,) listening to music, reading, doing homework, emailing, posting to Facebook or MySpace, texting, instant messaging, talking on the phone and video chatting“.

I see a few problems with this survey being used in context to Mr Ponniah’s views:

  1. The survey isn’t just talking about mobile devices here, but about daily tween girls’ activities that may hinder social interaction. That being said, being so focused on such a set of activities already sets this survey up towards a predetermined result.
  2. Parents’ concerns about their child’s mobile device usage start at 2 1/2 years old, very much earlier than the 8-12 year demographic covered in the survey. I should know, my kid has had his own iPad 1 for a little over a year (he turns 4 in December).
  3. Contrary to the researcher’s opinion, the survey results cannot easily be applied to boys as well. A much larger, more well-defined statistical analysis of social networking sites show that females, being as community-driven as they are, dominate the social networks. The Telegraph also has an article published in June about how “women are more attracted to social networking websites“, while guys are more inclined towards online entertainment, gaming, gambling and music. The psyches between the two genders are almost completely different in this respect. So it goes without saying, when you put the two contradicting surveys together, you are going to get “not definitive”.

Count 2:?Circumstantially, Mr Ponniah’s family doesn’t have much choice but to communicate with his sister online, but the rest of us — who have all our family at home — do. It’s a fallacy to educate families about technology control when the circumstances are so vastly different; Mr Ponniah’s experience simply cannot apply to the audience at large served by the Focus on the Family blog; he doesn’t have enough information about the rest of us to be convincing.

Social Interaction Is Engagement

Mr Ponniah believes that “one of the main reasons (smart devices are increasingly being used in children’s education) is (their) ability to grab and hold the attention of a child”. What he fails to understand is what parents and schools know: that modern technology is an unavoidable part of our children’s future, and education in the technology is as important as the education in the content the technology holds.

There is no refuting that one-on-one social interaction is paramount to a child’s social development. All this blog does is talk about how parents need to spend much more time with their kids than they already are. But parents — dads in particular — are the best-equipped to deal with both engaging their children with technology as well as personally engaging them as parents. So why make it sound like it has to be a choice?

Children cannot afford to fear technology. Neither can parents afford the resentment that develops when they restrict their child’s use of technology. Of course, rules need to be set in order to balance the scale, but not, as Mr Ponniah puts it, “balancing how much children are exposed to such devices”. We don’t want to fight with the devices, Mr Ponniah, we want to work with it.

Forcing the Devices Off Anyone is Terrible Instruction

I will be honest, as per Mr Ponniah’s request; technology, whether mobile, office, home, entertainment or otherwise, plays an integral role in all our lives, every waking minute of every day. But his final point makes technology sound like the Hunchback of Notre Dame; unwanted and misunderstood. The problem, as he succinctly explains, is that “(w)hile things relating to our work and our recreation are undoubtedly important, nurturing children should be of at least equal importance.”

The solution isn’t abject removal of any device from your child’s hands, and replacing it with another object of the child’s (suddenly diminished) desire; that’s such an authoritative move (and in the child’s eyes, a rather rude one, too). Technology is by no means a replacement for parenting, but parents can leverage on children’s attraction to technology to help with their parenting. Parents just need to recognise this, and this is where the parents, not the children, need education.

The Blogfather Recommends

Parenting is a full-time job. So are actual full-time jobs. If you wouldn’t give a second thought to using technology for work, why give a second thought to using technology for parenting? Granted, the learning curve to striking a balance between parent-to-child social interaction and technology is steep, but it likely isn’t going to be any harder than your on-job training during your work probation. We just have to remember, we run the technology, not the other way round.

That being said, it is essential that parents experienced in the art of online social communication (that’s pretty much everyone, isn’t it?) educate their kids in one very vital fact: words cannot replace direct, face-to-face communication. Emotions through facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are lost through text messaging and wonky videoconferencing feeds (even I learnt this the hard way, over years of instant messaging dependency).

That’s why, mums and dads, if you’re thinking of trying out what is suggested here, you must ensure you place yourself as the first and main point of direct contact as much as you can when guiding your child through using technology. Your presence is immediately and much more felt to your child than a back-lit screen that, despite modern advancements, still can’t emote very well.

To Mr Ponniah: erring on the side of safety is still erring. I have learned much more about parenting whilst erring on the side of technology than I would if I decided that my son shouldn’t play with an iPad. The difference in my tact and your opinion is that my wife and I are sitting right next to my son teaching him how to use that iPad than just leaving him to his own devices.

When it comes to the debate over technology versus parenting, we can take both sides. We don’t need to choose.

Image via Social Firefly; apparently they agree with me too.

How Much Does Your Personal Information Cost?

Yahoo! Singapore pushed out an article last week on a Singapore Polytechnic survey about social media security concerns, drawing information shared from a panel discussion hosted by Trend Micro (which I should have attended; sorry guys). More than in the capacity of being Trend Father, though, there’s something very important that everyone needs to understand about online privacy and internet security, which the article unfortunately does not address.

You’re Responsible for Your Own Information

To put it plainly, if there’s stuff in your life you’re inclined not to share, just don’t share it, particularly on a platform as volatile as Facebook. Nicole Yee, Cozycot.com founder and my Trend Wife, said it herself in the article: “I consider myself to be pretty savvy but because things are constantly changing, I chose not to use [Facebook] because I just don?t have the time to understand it properly.”

What’s more, we’re only human. When it comes to information, be it our own or others, intended or accidental, we have been able to prove to ourselves time and again, as this planet’s most intelligent race, that we cannot even trust ourselves.

The Internet Isn’t Free

On the flipside, how can we avoid going online? With the exception of Nicole, our online lives are so intertwined with our real lives that they have become one and the same. On the other hand, the social networking tools we engage in, the blogging platforms we write on, even the e-mail accounts we use, that we depend on to keep our lives sane and our communications open, also depend on us. They’re all businesses with a bottom line they need to take care of, each and every one of them. And we pay for these services rendered not with money, but with information. The lot of us have lived through the dot-com bubble burst, so you can imagine how this new, 3rd generation of technology is holding our world economy together.

When you see it that way, you might have an understanding of how your personal information is being valued, and possibly being used. You might also understand that there is a transaction being made for what you enjoy on a daily, hourly, per-minute basis. Whether that transaction sits well with you, I leave for your interpretation.

A Father’s Take

If you’ve read the articles here and on Dear Xander, you might get the idea that as a dad, I have no time to entertain fear, nor do I want to bring my son up in a world where fear rules your every decision and movement. Fall down and hit your head? Get up, rub the bump off and carry on. Stranger-danger? Go on and talk to everyone you see that goes, “Oh you so cuuuuuute!”. Hackers and tech misfits? If you ever meet one, by all means, make friends with the fella; you’ll learn a heck of a lot about what these people really think about your privacy concerns.

Being a blogger, a writer, and an uber-liberal parent who treats social media like my bloodline, my two golden rules for protecting myself online, then, is this:

  1. I must live an honest life. I will steer well clear from being a hypocrite, ensure I stand firm to my beliefs or don’t believe in them, and I will not lie. If I’m honest about everything I do and everything that defines me, I have absolutely nothing to hide.
  2. Pursuant to golden rule number 1, I cannot trust myself.

Wait, what?

Look, if I’m going to be sharing my life online, in part or in my full naked glory (no, I won’t go that far, so don’t worry), I have to make sure the assets I do need to protect isn’t tainted by any personal info that may or may not already be out there. And I know as well as any other connected individual that having become so dependent on putting up my name, my stories and my info on blogs, social media, online registration forms, geotagging apps and GPS maps, there is no absolutely no way I can assure myself that someone out there already knows my e-mail address, my mother’s maiden name, the name of my first pet and what my grandfather did that fateful night when my father was conceived.

So with all my trust issues, I’m just gonna let a non-human do all that protection for me.

I get a good proper Internet security program to keep script kiddies, hacker groups and info-stealers out of my hair. I get a password manager to create and maintain the passwords I use, that even I cannot see. And I do not respond to rich Nigerian princes who want to transfer US$50 million into my account and give me 5% share (unless I want funny pictures of them).

Most importantly, as long as a piece of information is liable to be shared on my many personal outlets for venting my joy or frustration, I do not put any of it in on registration forms where I can help it. As far as any of these places that use such verification tools are concerned, my mother’s maiden name can well be Queen Cleopatra Estella Kowalski the Fifth, because while I endeavour to live an honest life in the presence of my fellow human beings, I’m perfectly fine with lying to a computer.

This post is proudly NOT sponsored by Trend Micro (I sumpah!). So if you don’t agree with any of this, don’t blame them, blame me.