By Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim
This article was first published in Berita Mediacorp in Malay and then translated into English.
“My father is my hero”, Jocelyne, 8 years old, happily shared with me while pointing her finger at her dad during a community event.
“I always have a place for my dad in my heart, regardless of who he is”, Anita, 23, tearing as she said those words, looking at the zoom screen during a family event at Changi Prison.
“Although my dad influenced me to take drugs when I was young, now, we look out for each other as we continue our recovery journey together”, Ali, 46 years old, sharing with me with confidence, how he and his father support each other throughout their drug addiction recovery journey.
“I find comfort from my father, especially when I have a bad day in School”, Kamala, 16, appreciating her father’s efforts to provide a safe space at home.
“Things started to break loose when my parents divorced. My father went missing after that. I grew up not having a father figure. I miss him.” Jamal, 23, sharing how his life changed after his parents divorced.
The above were some of the words of children on their fathers holding a special place in their hearts and playing key roles in their lives. Growing up with a father figure in my life, I too, saw his impact on the family, from being the main and responsible breadwinner of my family to raising spirits through his small gestures. Besides that, I am fortunate to be involved in various platforms to better understand the roles that fathers play in the development of their children and family. I came close to these issues relating to family developments during my time in the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social and Family Development, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development. My exposure in these contexts convinced me of the need to get more fathers to be actively involved in the lives of their children and partners.
Traditionally, we may often think of fathers as the main breadwinner, the one who pays for the family’s finances or puts food on the table. In some instances, fathers are seen as the Disciplinarian and Protector of the family. Together with mothers, parents provide unconditional love and care to their children. In the current day, we see fathers further complementing the roles of mothers, in playing a more active role in the family’s everyday life. This may range from sharing the responsibility to babysit the child when the mother is out at work or having her personal time or chipping in the preparation of food for the family. However, I feel that a lot more can be done to move the lever to encourage more fathers to be active. On the other hand, some families still face the “fatherlessness” phenomenon. Inactive fathering and “fatherlessness” would certainly affect the development of the children, missing the care from their fathers and socio-emotional engagements, especially in their growing up years.
I grew up seeing my father and mother as partners in caring for my siblings and me. As we were not well off, my parents had to work hard to care for the family. My father was the main breadwinner, while my mother chipped in to work and pay for our transport money and other expenditures. My father was very particular about living our lives with values, such as respect, from our body language to the manner we spoke, especially to the elderly. He was busy at work and his night shifts, however, spent much of his free time at home with the family. While we felt the deep love from our mother, we learnt values relating to work ethic and working hard to save for the children’s education from our father. As we grew and enjoyed the family’s progress from my parents’ hard work, my father became closer to us, exploring our time together. He liked to buy fruits and enjoyed taking care of the needs of the family. As my siblings and I got married and both my parents got older, he showed exemplary love to my mother, which gained praise from many of my relatives.
Throughout my life and my involvement in the various Ministries, I have come across many instances which illustrated the significant role fathers play. While some children were able to benefit from the positive role of fathers, others suffered due to the lack of a father figure in their lives. Nevertheless, the children and wives never seemed to give up in providing opportunities for the fathers to play their role, although, at times, they did not have his presence in their lives. A few fathers realised the gap and played their part, opening up the opportunities for their families to experience the joy of their involvement.
For me, I am grateful for having to discover this through my interactions with my children since they were very young. To be honest, I discovered the joy of being involved with my children, led by example, from my wife. Over time, despite my busy schedule, I made it a point to communicate with my children physically or online. While this helps me to reach out to them and helps in their socio-emotional development, it also helped me to discover the role that I can play in their lives and contribute to the development of my family. I feel respected, appreciated, and acknowledged for who I am as a member of the family, partner of my wife, and their father. I realised that I have a special place in their hearts that is irreplaceable. My absence will leave a vacuum in their hearts, thus, may affect the development of their lives. This motivates me to play my part, wherever possible so that it can value add to the joy of living together and bring positive benefits to the development of my children and family.
As we have just celebrated the Bulan Kebapaan, I would like to rally all fathers to be actively involved and be part of our children’s and family’s development and lives. As with a family, no father is perfect. Fathers need support and encouragement to play their part. My hope is that wives and children will continue to appreciate their husbands and fathers, and welcome their contributions to the families.
Every gesture from a father is a sincere one, borne out of his love for his family. If there is one cherished memory I have with my father, it is him bringing home fruits and food. The house lit up with his presence and my siblings and I were excited to eat the fruits and food. Maybe you have a similar experience with your father or children. If you happen to remember them, may those moments of happiness drive you to love your families and make many more blissful memories with them.
The author is a Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development. He is also actively involved in M3 initiatives to strengthen marriages and families, as well as helping vulnerable individuals and families.