Dads for Life Conference & Workshops 2013 – What Was Not Said

Having attended Dads for Life’s main annual event over the weekend, I thought it would be interesting to offer a different perspective to what was discussed and taught over the keynote, panel discussion as well as the workshops I attended. Specifically, The Blogfather would like to point out some important things that were not said over the 2-day event – and why it is important that these not be said.

1. How to be a Successful Parent

The Blogfather was quite heartened to find that the tone that drove this year’s conference was more one of realism and dealing with insecurities, rather than how to parent perfectly. As Benjamin Lee said during his and wife Dinah Lee’s ‘It Takes 2: Effective Co-Parenting’ workshop, no one would dare declare that he or she is a perfect parent. And indeed, that illusion needs to be removed from any parent’s mindset in order to parent well.

Benjamin & Dinah workshop re-emphasised, in large part, what was said during last year’s keynote by William C. Hoecke, that mothers and fathers approach parenting very differently, and that we as team playing parents have to accept and complement each other’s parenting styles in order for our children to absorb their parents’ influences – individually and collectively – to become well-rounded individuals.

As an old workplace mentor would always tell me, “Never let the perfect get in the way of the good.”

2. Getting Children to Excel in Their Education

Gregory W. Slayton speaking at the Dads for Life Conference
Gregory W. Slayton speaking at the Dads for Life Conference

It’s the foremost concern of many parents out there, and yet over the conference and workshops, no one preached any direct advice on how parents can improve their children’s academic study. And when education was mentioned, it was only because of various research studies that show children who do well in school are natural achievers largely because of a stable family environment, as presented in one of Professor Gregory W. Slayton’s “10 Tools of Fatherhood” (the one about staying married and loving your wife).

The message in this non-mention? It’s not the money you spend on tuition classes and assessment books that will make your kid a better academic; it’s the amount of time and effort you spend on your family that really counts.

3. Don’t Fight In Front of Your Children

Parents will try, but experienced parents will know this is an unrealistic ideal. The Conference reflects as much, with just about all invited speakers preferring to share how children learn to deal with conflict through observing and experiencing how their parents would do it, and offer advice on how to handle conflicts as couples, given how difficult communication can get when things heat up.

The moral of this story? Don’t think about avoiding an argument. Think about settling it.

4. How To Handle Your Job or Career Despite Fatherhood

This became sort of a running theme amongst dads during Q&A sessions at both the conference and the workshops I attended. “How do I switch from ‘work mode’ to ‘dad mode’ after work?” “How do I communicate to my kids that I need to work late?” “How do I juggle my work schedule with my family time?”

The answers given across the board was consistent: family comes first. “Nobody ever says at their deathbed, ‘I wish I stayed at the office more,” quoted Prof. Slayton and Benjamin Lee, and multiple times over the conference and the workshops they helmed.

Those that have followed The Blogfather and Dear Xander over the year will know the “family over career” mindset is one I have adhered to very strongly, and truth be told, there has never been anything in my work life that I can say defines me or has been of significant regret. But I work my hardest at being a father, because the pitfalls of regret in being a dad are many, and deep, and they are all pitfalls I am compelled to avoid at all costs.

So What Was Said?

You wouldn’t expect too much drama at a family-focused and rather male-oriented parenting conference, but there were quite a number of surprising moments, like Prof. Slayton’s “tough love” approach towards a couple of sleepers in the audience, where he threatened anyone who was dozing off with making them Sing the Singapore National Anthem in front of everybody just to wake themselves up.

Then there was that one guy in the audience that sprung an anti-homosexual question at the Professor, which was rather neatly sidestepped with US statistics in crime and delinquency relative to absentee fathers. (If The Blogfather were tasked to answer that man, though, I guarantee a very messy, and direct reply.)

Then you have Benjamin & Dinah Lee’s co-parenting workshop, where a number of (still-tasteful) references to sex and pyrography were raised, both jokingly and as subject matters for discipline and sex education; I found it very refreshing to hear a former church pastor use the word “masturbation” so freely and comfortably as Benjamin did.

But the one that absolutely takes the cake was none other than Gold 90.5FM radio presenter Joe Augustin, who was invited to the conference panel discussion as a member. Towards the end of the conference, and after hearing about how one audience member was having trouble choosing between family and work, Joe offered this stern opinion that sounded suspiciously like a direct reprimand, and that rendered the conference hall silent with tension (I have it on audio if you’re interested):

“I hear people putting the blame on or giving the power to somebody else – you know, time doesn’t allow, this doesn’t allow, the pressures of this and that… No, it’s you. I mean, really, it’s up to you. You decide.”

This conference just gets more drama every year, doesn’t it? The Blogfather is looking forward to next year already.

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