Daddy’s home: The importance of being an active father

Families for Life council member Jeff Cheong, on an outing with his wife and three children. He took a month off to spend time with his children over the school holidays. — TODAY pic
Families for Life council member Jeff Cheong, on an outing with his wife and three children. He took a month off to spend time with his children over the school holidays. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, July 2 — Parenting in the 21st century has changed in several ways, not least the fact that many are relooking the role of fathers in the family.

Dads are no longer seen as merely the breadwinners; with the buzzword — or “buzz phrase” — of the moment being “active fathering”.

It has become a widely-discussed subject the world over, and in Singapore, the Centre for Fathering, with the Dads for Life campaign, has been championing this new mindset.

In May, for example, there was the Dads for Life Camp, organised by the Centre for Fathering to encourage father-child bonding, where more than 400 father-child pairs camped overnight in front of the Singapore Flyer.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said at the time: “Our role as fathers is irreplaceable. It is important that we set aside more time for our children and make our family a priority. When we fathers consciously make time to parent and bond with our children, we can enjoy greater family-life satisfaction and better child outcomes.”

Richard Hoon, chairman of the Centre for Fathering, added: “An engaged father committed to building resilient families couldn’t be more important.”

But what exactly is “active fathering” and how does one go about being an “active father”?

A more complex role

“Active fathering is about being involved directly in the development of your children’s lives,” explained Jeff Cheong, a council member at Families for Life, and father of three children aged 13, 11 and eight.

“It’s (making) a commitment to provide for their needs, mentor and impart the right values and being available to them.”

Not only that, but research and literature over the past 10 years has indicated that positive active fathering does play “a particularly critical role in fostering prosocial skills and the capacity for positive relationships in children”, said Dr Natalie Games, a psychologist at Alliance Professional Counselling.

“Authentic, active fathers demonstrate positive behaviours such as accessibility, engagement and responsibility,” she said, adding: “Research has identified that physical activity and play exploration, such as sports and rough-and-tumble play — for both boys and girls — is a fundamental way fathers influence their children, helping to teach them limits, self-control, read social cues, regulate their emotions and take ‘manageable risks’.

“The dynamic of father/child play also encourages healthy physical activity and diet habits.”

Dr Games explained that it was only since the 1970s that studies started to explore the direct impact the role of fathers played in their children’s lives. These studies revealed how an active, engaged father can positively influence moral, social, emotional and educational development in children.

While the traditional breadwinning role for fathers remains important, the paternal role is now recognised to be much more complex.

“When we take into consideration how economic and social expectations have changed women’s roles, the evidence for supporting the contribution of paternal influences to children’s well-being is mounting,” Dr Games said.

“There is now more flexibility in the role each parent plays in their child(ren)’s lives, and with more scope in the parenting role, we recognise that children have unique experiences with their mum and dad.”

The benefits of becoming hands-on dads

So how can men step up and be active fathers?

Cheong said he took a month off work during the recent school holidays to spend time with his children.

“There is so much to do together each day, from baking macaroons to doing household chores, that there isn’t even a need to travel overseas for a holiday to keep ourselves occupied,” he revealed.

Cheong suggested being innovative and using technology to your advantage.

“When your children are old enough to use mobile phones, connect with them over messaging apps and drop them a note throughout the day; share a joke or what you are eating to keep the conversation going,” he said.

“This channel allows you to pick up challenges they may face at home or in school.”

He also recommended creating photos and videos with smartphones, and writing short notes to accompany them when you share the content with your kids.

You could also read an ebook or watch videos together; for example, before heading to the zoo, check out some videos about the animals and learn more about them before seeing them in real life.

“The integration of digital content and tactile activities provide a lot of opportunities for quality time bonding,” he added.

Johnson Soh, a 47-year-old director and father to two kids aged eight and 11, said he made it a point to do outdoor activities once a week.

“We’ll either hit the pool, go for bicycle rides or just visit the various new playgrounds located at the parks,” he said. “Other than the outdoors, we also try to spend at least an hour each day playing board games. I think working from home helps, but I love being a hands-on dad.”

Finance lecturer David Tan, 48, ensures he spends quality time with his 17-year-old son.

“I engage him in conversation about things that interest him, such as mixed martial arts, basketball and current affairs,” he said.

“We also exercise together during weekends and I get tips from him to fine-tune my swimming strokes. Whenever possible, I bring him to savour new food places. He enjoys Japanese and Italian food so I keep a lookout for interesting restaurants to try out.”

Dads who are actively involved with their children do improve their kids’ lives in many ways.

Dr Games acknowledged that it contributes to enhanced psychosocial adjustment, better social competence, higher levels of social responsibility, social maturity and life skills, as well as increasing the children’s abilities at problem-solving, verbal and mathematical ability, and having a more positive child-father relationship.

Children with active fathers who listen and support them also “demonstrate increased emotional intelligence, are better able to express their own needs appropriately and show a greater ability to be more in-tune with the needs of others”, she said.

These rewards are enjoyed by both sons and daughters. “Unquestionably, fathers can be important role models for both boys and girls,” said Dr Games.

“A father’s interaction with his son provides scaffolding for how to treat others and assists in the positive gender-role characteristics.

“When adolescent girls are fathered by an involved father, evidence shows that they are more likely to form positive opinions of men and are better able to relate to them.” — TODAY

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