A Father Gives His All to Inspire Other Fathers to Love their Families

The early history of Centre for Fathering Singapore revolves around the conviction and faithfulness of three intrepid men, who identified a yawning gap in the lives of families in Singapore, as they put active and involved fathering at the forefront of conversations on the family.

Meet Edwin Choy, one of the three pioneers who brought Centre for Fathering to Singapore in 2000. Together with Wong Suen Kwong (Suen) and Raymond Koh, Edwin (then a church worker), set up the centre to address the issue of fatherlessness in Singapore.

It is important to remember the context, as Edwin describes, “At that time, if you went to a playground, very rarely would you ever see a father accompany his children.”

Edwin’s Story

Around the time that Edwin’s first two children were toddlers, he had been very involved in full-time ministry in his church, being caught up to the extent that he neglected his children, which even created major tension with his wife. This situation was made more ironic when early in his fatherhood journey, he was determined to be a good dad as he had been raised by an alcoholic father.

At that point, he applied to graduate school in the USA. One of the courses he took was run by Dr Ken Canfield, now his mentor. The course, which delved into fatherhood and fatherlessness, impacted him deeply, as he realised that among his fellow course mates from around the globe, there was a universal longing – the need for a father.

The course also brought Edwin to realise, “some of the things that my own father had done, I observed, I was actually repeating them hook, line, and sinker, without knowing it!”. This was the awareness that he needed transform his fathering.

A Life-Changing Course

A year after Canfield’s course, Edwin graduated, and he met with Suen, who was studying counselling in a nearby city in the US. Edwin shared his experience in Canfield’s course, and before long, both men decided that they would undergo training by Dr Canfield himself, with the intent of bringing the fathering lessons home with them to Singapore.

Edwin said, “Dr Canfield showed us about the center and how they spread their mission and The kind of programs that they have. So we got our tooling from them (Center for Fathering, USA).” Dr Canfield’s generosity to Edwin and Suen extended even to granting them copyright to republish his books, which they would do locally for 3000 copies in the first instance.

The Home Front

After that period, Edwin experienced a transformation in his own family life, as he became more conscientious about spending time with his children. “I was more intentional, something that I would do again if I had the chance to do so”, Edwin said. This change in intention and commitment has reaped wonderful fruits in his life.

“Now, there is a turnaround and my kids teaching me that they want the opportunity to take care of me. For instance sometime ago I had a bicycle accident and two of them immediately drove to assist me.”

Edwin still learns from his children today about things he did unknowingly as their father. “We became partial, especially because of the Asian style of parenting where we expect the older sibling to take on added responsibility, without knowing it. My kids were able to repeat some of the stories that showed my partiality and hearing them was very humbling.”

Sharing one of the proud moments of his journey, Edwin said, “Incidentally, my daughter recently wrote an article, reflecting that her parents were not the typical parents, in that they expect them to do things according to the parents way in terms of education.” In her article, she wrote of how her parents gave her all the liberty to choose the area (of study) that she would love to.

Growing a Seed, Expanding a Footprint

In 2000, the Singapore chapter of Centre for Fathering would plant its roots in a humble temporary office just above a famed prata (an Indian flatbread dish) store facing Upper Thomson Road.

Fortuitously, at the same time, the MCD (Ministry of Community Development), were talking about how important it was to address father issues. They engaged a chief psychologist, who happened to be talking about fathering as well. Edwin said, “when MCD heard our proposal to set up a Centre for Fathering, they were so glad that here were three young men who would start that.”

From that point, things were a struggle, and the three founders had their hands full creating programs, developing their capabilities, and running the business sustainably. However, their efforts were focused, starting with meeting fathers at the very beginning of their journey into fatherhood – the Maternity Ward. At KKH, the Centre for Fathering ran 2-hour talks for 60 expectant couples, every month. They also went to schools to create awareness, and established a firm base of empowered fathers through the Centre’s signature ICan Workshops.

Another of the marquee programmes from the Centre for Fathering is the Eat with Your Family Day. Edwin explains, “Around 2003, another mentor that I had named Dr. William Doherty, who sent me an article about some research done in the US, on the importance of a family meal. It stated that teenagers who eat with their family are less likely to get addicted to substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

So we decided to start Eat with Your Family Day in Singapore, to promote the idea of having a daily meal where it becomes a ritual for bonding. After several years, MCYS (Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) did a survey and asked Singaporeans, “Which government campaign did you remember most?” The answer that came back was “Eat with Your Family Day”. The thing is, this was not a government campaign but a CFF campaign.”

Ten years after its launch, the Centre for Fathering’s efforts to make active fatherhood mainstream, would find another ally, with the launch of Dads for Life in 2010, through the MCYS.

Taking the Centre Forward

Today, Centre for Fathering Singapore is led by a team, who are in Edwin’s words, “younger fathers, with better dreams, better connections, better ways of doing things.”

To the new team, Edwin offers, “If anything I would like to be a blessing to them if there’s any small pieces I can contribute, I would love to be of help, and to support their dreams.”

Edwin’s four children are now in their early 20s to early 30s. As for the Centre for Fathering, it is in its 22nd year. Here in Singapore, we bear witness to the social changes emerging surely, as more often we see fathers recognising and being involved in the lives of their families in ways that we almost never saw even 20 years ago. The work of the Centre for Fathering and Dads for Life continues to grow ways to support, equip, and encourage all fathers in our time and place.