The Problem With Dads is the Problem That Dads Face

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.

Image via Family Life Champion
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.

Mr Bervyn Lee
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.

When Young and Old Collide

By now you’d have heard or even seen that video of the female youth engaged in a battle of words with a disgruntled auntie over an MRT priority seat.

Regardless of who was in the wrong, whether the whole idea of reserved seating in public transport has skewed our country’s sense of morals, or “how come Singaporeans can act liddat ah?”, the incident raised not a few eyebrows and surely caused plenty of discomfort for adjacent commuters in the ensuing few minutes of that ride.

An inevitable question will be raised among parents viewing the incident, squarely directed at the aggro young lady: what if she was your daughter? Or (dare I venture a more uncomfortable hypothesis) what if the auntie was your mum?

The same ensuing queries would apply to both ends of the spectrum: would she be viewed as a bully? Would you take pride in knowing she can stand on her own against an injustice? Or would you not know what to think?

This essentially being a parenting blog, let’s draw from the “daughter” scenario (because let’s face it, I’d draw a complete blank in dealing with the auntie as my mother). Parents Magazine recently published 8 tips on preventing your child from becoming a bully that does deal with how to treat others respectfully, both among peers and towards the elderly. It stems from a comparable incident in which a group of high school students bully a 68-year-old school bus monitor in the US, and provides much food for thought in helping to understand how such incidents can be properly dealt with – or even avoided – if any one of the tips provided had been incorporated into parental guidance. And frankly, I’m not just talking about the girl here. That auntie needs to learn restraint as well; it would save a lot of embarrassment on both ends.

More importantly, kids have to learn to respect the elderly for the years they put into making the place you live what it is today. As for the old folks, return the respect; the youth of today are inevitably our future, after all.

Protecting your Children Through The Death of Privacy

We’re all social media pundits: we happily announce share our children’s activities and photos on Facebook, tweet to let people know when our favourite sports team has won (or lost) a match, tag our locations (whether on our own volition or by default) on Foursquare… the list goes on.

I do it too. It was only when writing an article for a magazine that I realised this is a major, major problem in the state of personal privacy today. while getting a quote out of a dad I was interviewing, I had to also find out the father’s and his children’s birthdates, so their ages could be accurately published when the article goes to print. My contact time with the interviewee was sporadic and limited, so I went and got hold of the required information through the Internet.

It was way too easy.

What worried me was that this is the same kind of information that banks use to verify customers over the phone, and depending on the security answers one provides online, much much more.

Here’s something to make you think: your friends will no doubt wish you happy birthday online when Facebook reminds them of the day. Doesn’t matter if you keep your birthday hidden; your well-intentioned friends will have effectively ratted on you. And if you just have your birthyear published on your Timeline, everyone will have your age down to the exact day.

And maybe Facebook may not have transcended into dual generational usage yet, but undoubtedly the trend has begun: if your children’s mum uses Facebook and she’s added as family; wouldn’t everyone then have your child’s mother’s maiden name for reference?

Geotagging posts are common on Twitter, Facebook, even your digital camera has in-built GPS to tag the location you took your photo for inclusion into its EXIF data, and accurate to 50 feet in a normal mobile phone setup. while this might take a bit more snooping for high-rise apartment dwellers, it can be quite easy to locate the address of landed property owners.

It takes a little effort to dig into such personal information, but again, it takes just a little. Banks may need to rethink their security and verification methods in time to come, but right now, you might want to rethink your family’s. This post is really for today’s dads, because it’s definitely going to directly impact your children’s security and online identity when they start getting their own bank accounts.

[Image via My eFacebook]

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]

Homework for a Three-year-old

The pressures of a child going through early childhood education doesn’t just wreak havoc on the child’s life; a large part of the time, parents are also – if not more – stressed out by what their child has to go through.

In this excerpt from Dear Xander, that same pressure led to an emotional breakdown between mother and child in what was ultimately a miscommunication between parents and preschool over how a 3-year-old’s homework should be done.

It begs the question: are we putting too much stress on ourselves and our children, in the quest to prepare ourselves for the rigorous, competitive academic life that is signature of the Singapore education system?

You can read the full post here.

Your mother tried getting you to write the Chinese characters on a blank piece of paper, without much success. Sensing something was up, she asked you to write your name in English; you went as far as X and A before finally exhibiting what you were only capable of writing at 39 months of age – crooked lines. Your mother started wondering what you’ve been taught in school since you enrolled back when you were 18 months old. Then she started getting angry, then anxious, then worried.

She started to cry.

You realised what was happening, and went up to hug her. you took some tissue nearby to wipe off your mother’s tears, and then started stroking your mother as you would always do whenever you think she’s sad. You started crying as well, and in between breaths, you said to your mother, “Mummy, don’t cry.” confused and not knowing what else to say, your mother replied, “But you’re not writing your words.” And then she cried even harder.