We must Look and Listen

All of my three children were delivered at the same hospital and the same thing happened for every one of them. A nurse would take the new born away in a towel to clean it up immediately after the gynae had cut the umbilical cord. Soon after, she would announce: “Ten fingers. Ten toes.” The parents would then breathe a sign of relief knowing that their child has no visible birth defects. I think this is the experience of all new parents.

In the months following the birth, parents would meticulously monitor the physical development of their baby: its weight and length, when it started to turn, crawl, walk, and speak. When the child is in school, parents would be concerned about his or her academic performance. This is very natural and good parenting. As parents, we should be aware and know as much about our child as possible.

In one of the activities in the father-child programme called Breakfast With Dad, we ask fathers 5 questions to test their knowledge about their child. These questions pertain to what we call the “outer world stuff” of the child – the things about the child that are easily observable. Besides the outer world stuff, we encourage fathers to learn the “inner world stuff” about their child: what makes him happy, sad, or scared; what are his dreams and fears; and so on. These are harder to discover but are worth the effort to do so.

With sixty-five per cent of families in Singapore being dual income earners, the amount of time parents can spend with their children is very limited. As a result, parents might not be as closely bonded with their children as they would like to be, or as they think they are, and they might not be aware of the struggles their children are having. Signs of mental and emotional issues can easily be missed. This almost happened to a friend of mine.

Lucas’ Story

My friend Lucas (not his real name) is a divorced father of two teenagers. Earlier in the year, he started to hear from his daughter that her younger brother was becoming increasingly bad tempered to the point of breaking things in the house. At first, Lucas dismissed it as “teenage pranks resulting from boredom.” Lucas began to realise that it was more serious than he thought when his son started to display other problematic behaviours, such as angry outbursts, violence, especially towards his mother, spending many hours gaming, neglecting school work, and truancy. Lucas’ ex-wife was ready to report their son as Beyond Parental Control and be placed in the Boy’s Home.

The alarm bells that were ringing in Lucas’ head rang even louder when he was informed about his son’s suicidal thoughts and speech. This was the last straw, the tipping point, for Lucas. Without hesitation, he quit his security job that required him to work 12-hours days, six days a week, just so he could pay more attention to his son. His action drew flak from friends and family. “Why did you let go of your job? Don’t you know how hard it is to find a job at your age?” Lucas is 62 years old.

Lucas made the choice based on what he believed was the best thing for his son. Besides the weekly time he was allowed to meet his children, Lucas would attempt to meet his son more often for a meal, a movie, or some activity. He also constantly gave positive affirmation to his son. Lucas was happy and relieved to share with me that his son no longer has suicidal ideations. He’s also more well-behaved, more diligent in studies and spends less time gaming. Lucas believed his sacrifice in quitting his job was worth it.

Listen With Your Whole Face

In this digital age, both the nature and quality of communication has been negatively affected. Our mobile devices often get in way and prevent real communication and connection. Since the majority of communication is transmitted non-verbally (70%), you cannot fully understand someone if you are only listening but not looking at the person at the same time. In other words, you need to LOOK AND LISTEN during your conversations. So, fathers, get the device out of your face when your child is trying to talk to you and “listen with your whole face.”

This article is written by Parcsen Loke. Parcsen is a Husband and Father of 3 children (27, 25, and 14). He is also the Head of Programmes and Development at Centre for Fathering. Please feel free to contact Parcsen if you have a question or comment about his article.

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