“No, I am your Father”.

Darth Vader’s infamous response to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back resonates with me as a Star Wars fanatic, and even more so as a father. It is an iconic father-child moment immortalised on celluloid that I would love to share with my children one day.

One of the greatest moments in my life was when I held my daughter in my arms moments after she was born. It is true when they say that fatherhood changes you. That for me was a defining moment, when my girl, my little Ri, looked at me for the first time.

Studies have shown that fathers set the bar for how their children interact and have relationships with others; being instrumental in contributing to their cognitive and social development.

However, in many societies, mothers are often still seen as the primary caregivers, handling the household and nurturing the kids while fathers are usually the protectors and providers.

But such gender roles are shifting. According to a Ministry of Manpower’s report, there were about 1,500 stay-at-home (SHF) fathers in 2017, almost double that from a decade earlier.

The report shared interesting insights into why some fathers have opted to be the primary caregivers in Singapore while their partners go to work. Some did it while pursuing their PHDs; others did it to catch up with lost time with their children. Sometimes it was for financial or medical reasons.

Sharing my experience as an ‘incidental SHF’ before Father's Day
Image source: Shutterstock / Willrow Hood

Yet, stay-at-home fathers often still experience the stigma of not being “as effective” in the nurturing role as their other halves. Why though?

Perhaps I can share my experience as an ‘incidental SHF’ during the circuit breaker.

My wife works in essential services and goes to the office at least four days a week, leaving me at home with my kids – my daughter, who is 10 and my son, 8. Perfect opportunity to bond with the kids!

Here’s a caveat though. I have a helper, whom I’m very grateful to, who takes care of the cleaning and cooking.

With two different home-based-learning (HBL) schedules, I had to ensure both kids wake up on time, the laptop charged and headphones working and connected for their online sessions. There was also quite a bit of relaying from the teachers to the students via Class Dojo (an app that allows teachers to communicate with the kids through the parents).

So far, so good, right?

As HBL was new to all of us, there were quite a number of technical issues, especially when their schedules crossed. This was on top of me juggling working from home and attending virtual meetings, not to mention receiving texts from my wife checking up on the kids!

There were some frustrating moments too, like when my son missed a Zoom session. It had been updated on the app but I missed it!

Lunch was often short and quick, as both had to get back to completing their offline work that needed to be uploaded within the day. My son, being younger, was always coming to me for help with his work.

Are we done yet? Nope.

My kids, like all siblings, will have their Jedi and Sith moments (Edward and Jacob moments for the non-Star Wars fans) coupled with BFF moments as well. Being the adult at home, I often had to play the role of the judge, jury and sometimes jester.

This Father's Day, I found my silver linings in the time I spent with my children during the Circuit Breaker
Finding the balance! Photo taken during our holidays in Panton Hill, Melbourne.

It was challenging but I found my silver linings in the time I spent with my children. As much as I was looking forward to the weekend, I gradually found myself enjoying the caregiver role during the week as well.

I have heard that fathers are instrumental in showing their daughters how a relationship with a man should be like. If a father is loving and gentle, his daughter will generally look for those qualities in the men that she dates. Likewise, if the father is strong and valiant, she will relate closely to men of the same character.

Unlike girls, who model their relationships with others based on their father’s character, boys model themselves after their fathers. Boys seek approval from their fathers from a very young age. If a father is caring and treats people with respect, the boy will grow up much the same.

Sadly, when a father is absent, boys look to other male figures to set the rules for how to behave and survive in the world. We all know what happens when these authority figures are not the right ones. I lost my father when I was a boy and have always felt that void.

But I do not want to take away credit from the mothers. Although I lost my father, my mother was able to also assume the role of a father and raised me and my brother single-handedly.

As fathers, we secretly hope we can all be as protective as Bryan Mills from Taken, as regal as Mufasa from the Lion King, as inspiring as Edward Bloom from Big Fish, as committed as Marlin from Finding Nemo or as respected as Victor Corleone from the Godfather. We all want to play an influential role in our children’s lives. But most importantly, we should aspire to be true to ourselves and to our children.

To all fathers, father figures, mothers who are wearing the father’s hat, to the stay-home fathers to whom I take my hat off to:

Happy Father’s Day – Cheers!

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