On the bright Sunday morning of 16th September 2018, well before 9am, it was already full attendance at the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre. Some 100 Malay couples turned up, well dressed and spritely, eagerly awaiting the start of the third annual parenting seminar jointly organised by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) and the Centre for Fathering (CFF-DFL).

Titled ‘Membina Keluarga Yang Berkelakan’ (Building Families That Last), the seminar attracted many couples into the Crystal Ballroom at the hotel. With good coffee, tea and late morning snacks, the stage was set.

The presence of President Halimah Yacob as the Guest of Honour, emphasised the importance of the occasion. Her warmth and approachability, that made her a hit with the predominantly Malay audience, as well as with the non-Malay hotel staff and media personnel present, also helped establish an open and positive atmosphere at the event.

President Halimah made a clarion call for more father groups to be formed in the community and mosques. She, who successfully raised five children whilst running a tight day at the office even before she became the Speaker of Parliament and now Head of State,   urged attendees to spend as much quality time with their children as possible, no matter how hectic their schedules.

The President candidly lamented that the tech-savvy youngsters were not easy to understand and that she had not kept up with the latest apps and software after Skype! She stressed that fathers can do better for family bonding as much as surveys show that more fathers are actively involved in raising their children. She commended AMP and CFF-DFL for establishing more support devices for Malay Muslim fathers and having a vibrant DadsForLife movement.

Twin-turbo Motivation!

The audience was treated to an interesting combination of a female and male speaker, who were so different, yet equally engaging. They were, Professor Che Muhaya, a well-known eye surgeon with more than ten thousand successful operations to her credit, a motivational speaker from Malaysia, and home-grown Ustaz Zahid Zin, the CEO of the Muslim Youth Forum.

Professor Muhaya engaged the audience with lively exercises to drive home how strongly correlated the physical body is to one’s mental happiness. She demonstrated that people need to feel physically and emotionally pleasant, before they can communicate these vibes to their children or spouses.

She stressed that using the right intonation to speak to children is very important. Most parents are guilty of trying to correct our children incessantly. The good professor urged them to “correct their faith before correcting their children”. This resonated very well with the audience as everyone present already knew the importance placed on parental role-modelling in the Quranic injunctions and prophetic traditions.

Ustaz Zahid had the audience roaring with his deadpan humour. He shared a funny incident that happened last year, when he was present at a similar seminar, as his wife delivered their third child successfully after seventeen hours of labour. The good news came through a Whatsapp message while Ustaz Zahid was seated next to President Halimah. Trying to impress the President and get her good wishes, Ustaz Zahid shared the news, only to be chided by the President with a glassy look, “Then what are you doing HERE?!”

Broadly, Professor Muhaya covered topics from the parent perspective, while Ustaz Zahid spoke from the millennial youth perspective.

Seminar Takeaways

Mr Muhamad Sabar Bin Adam, 43, was quite pleased with this meaningful Sunday morning outing that finished off with a nice lunch. The secondary school English teacher and his counsellor wife have 3 children – 2 girls aged 15 and 13, and a 11-year old boy. Mr and Mrs Sabar by profession and by choice, deal well with the underprivileged segment of the Malay community. Mr Sabar joked that this seminar has taught him to be more sabar (patient). On a more serious note, the affable Sabars acknowledged that the teenage years of their children will need more novel approaches to ensure family cohesion. The professor and ustaz gave good takeaways.

The youngest participant in the room was little Mahyra Md Lenny at the age of sixteen months. She patiently sat through the session amusing herself quietly while her parents Md Lenny, 39, and Della Fardina, 37, listened attentively and took notes. The couple have two older children, also girls. Ms Della wanted to get perspectives on managing three children. She had also attended Professor Muhaya’s events before – another motivation to turn up this day. Mr Lenny, a Mediacorp cameraman, felt that he needed to tune himself more to the sensitivities of the four females in his family. Prof Muhaya’s advice for husbands and managing daughters was quite helpful in this regard.

From the CFF Board itself (seated with President Halimah) was Mr Muhamad Imaduddien Abd Karim, who thoroughly enjoyed the session. Imad, as he prefers to be known, gamely did all the physical exercises and singing that Professor Muhaya had coaxed the participants into doing. The relatively new father of a young boy with special needs was full of appreciation for the two speakers. Along with their credentials and experience, their advice was just too resounding to dismiss, said Mr Imad, a legal veteran with the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Most participants were rushing off after lunch to return to their families – many waiting at home for ayah and ibu. The kids surely, must have been pleasantly surprised with all the hugs, kisses and affirmative phrases their parents had been armed with during their fruitful time in the morning!