I have been a father for more than 32 years now and during that time I have experienced many highs and lows in my journey as a dad to a son and 2 daughters. There were also many lessons that I’ve learnt but here are three that I would like to share.
Invest time and effort to be equipped to be a better father (You don’t know what you don’t know)
Since the day I knew that I was going to become a dad I knew that I resolved to be the best dad that I can be for my children. I will always remember that for each of my child I took 3 weeks of annual leave (back in those days there was no such as paternity leave and so I saved up all my annual leave for this) to be home for my child and my wife (as all 3 were delivered by way of C-section) and therefore my wife needed to recuperate from the operation. So I learnt how to bathe my new-born in the pre-natal classes organized by the hospital, as the only father in a roomful of new mothers. Looking back, I realised that if I had not taken the time and effort to learn how to bathe my child that job would probably have gone to my helper, the nanny or even my parents and I would have totally missed the joy of bathing my babies. Believe me the memories and the beautiful smell of the baby still brings a smile to my face till today. However, that was to become the only formal equipping that I had as a father.
In 2014 (my son was already 24 by then), because of a friend’s invitation I attended for the first time a 3-day course on the most important roles of a father. Up until then I had thought that I was a pretty good father and had invested a lot of time into my children. To my utter horror, after the course, I realized that some of the things taught to me was a real eye-opener and I wished that I known about it much earlier. After the course I realized the errors I made and the things that I’m supposed to do but didn’t. Mind you, I did do many things right but all said and done, I would have been a way better dad, if only I had known. So that’s why I use the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know”.
So to all dads who do intend and want to be the best dad that they can be, please invest your time to be better equipped for the roles that we need to play. It is a continuous learning journey, not just a one-off. As a father for so many years I would declare that no amount of wealth can substitute the good and meaningful relationships that I now have with my adult children. It will prove to be the best investment of time that you will ever make.
Help our children to fulfil their potential
These days there are still many parents who are overly concerned and who agonised over their children’s academic results and performance like PSLE. I don’t blame them because I used to tell my children to get their university degree and then their life’s career and success will be set. This approach was what I grew up with and so I bought into the philosophy too. But this inevitably ties our children into a system and ideology that our self-worth and value is intrinsically linked to our academic results and therefore academic failure is likened to failure in life. Can you imagine the amount of stress we placed on our children?
Parents should realise that education is a means to an end but we need to start with the end in mind. This end is not necessarily what we think is best for our children but it’s about the dreams and passion of our children themselves. We need to take time to talk and listen to our children. Engage your children in conversations about what fires them up, what holds their interest or what changes would they like to see in the world. Then look for ways and means for them to try and experiment with it. This helps them in either sustaining or losing their interest. Either way the self-discovery and learning that they pick up is invaluable. Parents will find that once the child discovers what motivates them, the real pursuit of education begins because they have an end in mind.
A heathy and a happy child
My last and most important point is that after all that I’ve been through, the biggest realisation I have is that as parents, we should be very thankful and grateful already if our child is alive, happy and healthy. It does not really matter what school they go to, what results they have, what career choices they make. It is not because I don’t care about schools, results, career etc, or that I do not worry about them. I do but in the grand scheme of things, all this doesn’t really matter if our child is unhappy, sick or dead. Long term unhappiness will eventually lead to illness anyway. Why do I say that?
My wife and I struggled for many years when one of our children came down with depression. Looking back on those dark days, I am glad that we decided that we will take our time to slowly nurse our child back to life, however long it takes. It wasn’t long before we realised that it really doesn’t matter what school, what results and what our child’s career was going to be. All that we wanted was for our child to be healthy and happy, and I am glad that it is so today! Nothing is more painful than to lose our child prematurely.
So to all daddies out there enjoy the journey. But it helps a lot if you’re much better prepared for it and let our children live for their own dreams and goals happily and healthily.
This article is written by Yuen Chee Onn, Group Head, Engagement and Programmes, Centre for Fathering