Building Trust, Raising Champions
What sets Centre for Fathering – Dads for Life’s (CFF-DFL) Adventure Camp with Dad apart as an outstanding father-child bonding programme is its immediate, action-oriented approach to helping them build trust and remove barriers in their relationships. The camp has positively impacted the lives of many families since 2001.
“In other programmes, we sit and listen to the speaker who gives us tips on how to care for our children and connect with them,” says Mr Roger Tan. “This programme is different because we jump into practising the principles as we do things together.”
Roger attended the 1-day camp (9am to 9pm) with his son, Zhengyuan, at The Tennery on 21 July 2018. Together with other father-child pairs, they greeted the morning with a cheer led by Mr Lee Teck Hong, Head, Programmes and Development, CFF-DFL.
Declaring each other as champions and gearing up with the right equipment, the dads and kids were ready to conquer all obstacles ahead.
“Adventure Camp with Dad activities have been designed to build trust between father and child through shared ‘adversity’ as they tackle challenges as a team, albeit in a safe and controlled environment. This draws them closer to one another and removes misunderstandings if any. They have to work together to achieve their goals,” explains Teck Hong.
Many of the fathers and children look forward to trying out Rock-Wall Climbing and High Elements –both ‘high-challenge’ activities that they cannot do on their own on a daily basis. Both activities require specialised equipment and supervision from a qualified instructor.
Mr Lee Zi Hao was at hand as Chief Safety Officer for the day’s programme. A CFF-DFL volunteer, Zi Hao is certified by the Singapore Mountaineering Association to conduct Rock-Wall Climbing activities.
Scaling Walls, Forging Bonds
Rock-Wall Climbing can be one of the more powerful experiences for the dads and kids at the Adventure Camp, says Zi Hao. An unyielding bond is built as dad and child belay each other. In Rock-Wall Climbing, belaying refers to the act of securing a rope by attaching it to a person to offer a stable support.
Tethered by a rope and rigorous climbing system, a dad acts as an anchor on the ground, belaying the child who ascends and descends a colourful seven-meter artificial rock wall. Safe and secure, Dad is at the base to stop a fall if his child’s foot or grip should slip.
“When it is the child’s turn to belay the dad, it can be intense and very touching,” Zi Hao explains. “Dads are used to playing the role of the protector or supporter. It’s very different when a dad has to depend on his child to stop him from falling.” As rock climbing is done in a team, a child can belay his dad despite their weight difference. Team members will back up the child who is belaying, providing counterweight when needed.
High Elements, Dark Maze
The High Elements activity saw the dads and children treading a rope and bridge suspended three metres above ground. Though securely attached to the structure with a safety harness, each step calls for courage and determination in the kids, as well as adults. Walking on anything but terra firma can be unsettling. Hence, it was an exercise in overcoming fear and uncertainty. At the same time, it was proof of their resilience. Not only did all the father-child pairs conquer it together, they returned for a second round, blindfolded.
“The Dark Maze and High Elements activities showed that our kids are fast learners. And, as parents, it is important to stay humble, hear their views, and even learn from them. In this way, our kids will be more willing to confide in us,” says Mr Ong Chee Siong. “Having said that, parents still need to guide them in their growing years.”
“My relationship with my son, Benjamin, is generally good and this camp is part of my journey with him,” he adds. “In the Dark Maze, we discussed and made decisions together. In that situation, there’s no hierarchy. Neither of us is in a good position to make a better decision,” he adds.
“It was both scary and fun. Initially, we went the wrong way. But, I saw a faint light and we moved in that direction,” says Benjamin.
The Dark Maze is a great equaliser, Teck Hong explains. It is a space where Dad and Child can learn to recognise one another’s voice and work out a strategy to deal with an unfamiliar situation. Going through it is a metaphor for facing life’s challenges. To navigate the unknown, they have to constantly communicate, drawing strength and comfort from each other’s presence. Most of the time, the dad will take the lead. But, at times, the dad will allow his child to lead. And, they will enjoy the fruit of their endeavours together.
With activities interspersed with debriefing sessions, the father-child pairs reflected on their interactions and responses. They bonded deeply through various awareness and affirmation exercises.
“I realised that I need to find more time to spend with each child, individually,” says Roger. “My son and I often play badminton and go hiking together. But, it’s always with his siblings and mother. The camp allowed me to interact one-on-one with him. It helps strengthen the bond and understanding between us. I learnt more about what he really wants from me. For instance, he would like me to stay fit, watch what I say when I’m upset, and spend more time jogging with him.”
The camp allowed me to interact one-on-one with him. It helps strengthen the bond and understanding between us. I learnt more about what he really wants from me. Mr Roger Tan, participant of CFF-DFL's Adventure Camp with Dad
“The camp brought us closer together. The feedback/reflection sessions after each activity allowed me to understand the importance of trust between father and son,” shares Zhengyuan. “This was particularly so when I wrote on a piece of paper the things I wish my father could do or change. I felt that I could be honest with him and he was happy to hear me out.”
The Camp ended on a high note as the sun set, with the fathers and children starting a fire for their BBQ dinner and chatting through the evening.
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“Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, storytellers, and singers of song.” Pam Brown, Australian Poet