By Centre for Fathering’s Resource Team

Over 200 dads, mums and school leaders from 55, mostly primary schools, attended the Dads@School Forum 2017 on 16 February at Northland Primary School. The event, organised by Centre for Fathering-Dads for Life (CFF-DFL), was graced by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin who issued a clarion call for father support groups to be started in every school.

The Vision – a DFL Support Group in Every School

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Minister Tan Chuan-Jin emphasised that fathers play equally important roles as mothers in nurturing children throughout their lives. Dads who set aside time to spend with their children, build resilient families.

“I would like to see, if possible, for every school in Singapore to begin to grow this [father support groups],” said Minister Tan in his opening remarks for the Forum.

DFL support groups encourage fathers to stay focused on what is important and can help dads plan and prioritise their schedule based on what they value for the family.

Minister Tan lauded dads in Northland Primary and Catholic High (Primary) for starting father groups in their children’s schools.

A year ago, Northland Primary answered the call by CFF-DFL to get fathers more engaged in the community by starting a DFL support group. School leaders and fathers of the students attended CFF’s fathering workshops and seminars, and began organising father-child bonding activities in the school.

With a father group in place, dads at Catholic High (Primary) took a step further to address needs in the community with their children. Through such visits to the needy, they model the spirit of generosity and care that they want to impart to their children.

“If we begin to change, our families begin to change, [and] society will also change,” said Minister Tan.

Dialogue Highlights with the Minister
– “Fathers Matter…Ever More Now!”

Father involvement matters in the schooling years

p1030612Moderated by CFF-DFL Chief Executive Officer, Bryan Tan, with a panel comprising Minister Tan, DFL Founder Jason Wong, Fathers@St Hilda’s Primary School Volunteer Tio Chong Heng, and Mr Edwin Choy, CFF Co-Founder; the session started with the question,

“What is the relevance of a father’s involvement during his child’s school-going years?”

Minister Tan described education as a long journey and encouraged dads to identify what they value and is important to them. as they set tone and direction for their children’s education.

He also urged dads and mums to spend time establishing shared perspectives on their children’s education, to constantly talk and remind one another about what is truly important.

“We need to be clear about what matters to us and to run the race of life according to how we define it and not how others define it,” said Minister Tan.

Learning to think creatively

A father of primary school going-children, quoting George Monbiot’s article, “In an age of robots, schools are teaching our children to be redundant”, expressed concern that children in Singapore schools might be too focussed on grades, and are not being taught to think creatively enough for the future economy.

Mr Choy highlighted the tremendous natural influence dads have over their children. Regardless of what a child studies at school, he will be a better person simply because Dad was involved in his life.

“Beyond the education system, I can shape a child’s mind to be curious, to investigate, and to see the world as not a source of problems but as opportunities to learn, grow and be empowered,” said Mr Choy.

Such a stance will bring dads into the education system and open up opportunities for them to contribute their talents and skills to change, enrich and grow it.

Ideas for organising Dad Groups in secondary schools

jason1Mr Wong pointed out that children in secondary schools are now teenagers and growing in independence. This can make organising dad activities more challenging than when they were in primary school.

He advised dads to have more active and exciting activities such as Futsal, Netball and Night Cycling; and recommended CFF-DFL’s Navigating the Teen Years and Father as Coach workshops because the skill dads need most at this stage is communication.

Keeping cool to communicate constructively

“I was ‘shocked’ by my son’s dream to be a professional gamer. How can I be supportive, and respond in a constructive manner whilst guiding him to think through his choices?”

Mr Choy urged dads to learn the art of being ‘unshockable’. Dads who remain calm can communicate with their teen more effectively than those who lose their cool.

As teenagers are searching for a sense of identity, their goals may change overtime – a footballer today or a Youtuber tomorrow. Dads do not have to be shocked when their children voice their dream jobs.

“You are most helpful to your child if you are at your calmest. The calmer we are, the better we can give guidance.”Edwin Choy
The importance of support groups

“With the increase in marital separation and divorce, is there greater awareness of parental alienation and help available for fathers facing such issues in Singapore?”

Mr Wong said that maternal gatekeeping is at its worst when divorce happens and there is an acrimonious relationship. The message needs to go out to as many parents as possible that they remain to dads and mums for life, even if they do not remain husband and wife for life.

There is a need to mobilise the power of community to better help dads from all walks of life. Dads in support groups can encourage each other and together reach other dads who are struggling.

Minister Tan advised that there are measures, policies and services in place to support vulnerable families, from preventing divorce where possible and to cushioning the impact of on the children when a separation takes place.

Journeying Together – Dads Inspiring Dads

Dads@Schools Forum 2017 saw many enthusiastic and visionary fathers learning from one another, listening earnestly to the presentations and buzzing around the counters set up by CFF-DFL and dads from Northland Primary School, Catholic High School (Primary) and Greendale Primary School.

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Mr Vinson Chua, a dad of three enthused, “With such a movement… we won’t be so lonely as fathers.”

Bolstered by the support from CFF, Mr Clement Cheong hopes to set up a Dad Group at Palm View Primary School this year. He shares, “I learnt that there’s help available. We don’t walk through this fathering journey alone. Resources and encouragement are just a phone call away.”

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“The best teachers are the parents, and the best school is at home…Nothing beats what we do at home.”Minister Tan Chuan Jin