Growing up, my father and I did not have a close relationship. In fact, I was rather afraid of him.
Dad, an army regular then, was often very strict and always looked stern – even when he wasn’t angry with me. Naturally, whenever I felt the need to confide in my parents, I would always go to my mum.
Over the last few years, however, I’ve noticed significant changes in our relationship. I now find it easier to have conversations with him, and I’ve begun to recognise the little things he does that shows he cares for me.
Torn trousers that needs to be sewn? He’ll be on it to make it as good as new. And whenever I say I’m craving for my favourite home-cooked dishes, guess who’s in the kitchen whipping them up?
Seeing my father, now 56 and semi-retired, open up and become more hands-on at home has also made me realise that the old stereotypes of fathers – strong, silent types who bring home the bacon, and generally don’t show affection to their children – may no longer hold true.
And now that I’m at an age where I’m thinking of getting married and starting my own family some day, I’ve started thinking about the kind of father I’d like to be for my kids. For inspiration, I decided to talk to three fathers who believe in being a nurturing influence in their kids’ lives.
Going the distance
Danny Koh, 40, is one father who’s opted to take the road less travelled – by staying at home to take care of his three-year-old daughter, while his wife goes to work.
“The main reason I chose to do so is because of virus vulnerability at childcare centres. The first two years are really crucial, and I do not want my child to fall sick frequently,” said Koh, who volunteered to be a stay-at-home dad.
A freelancer now, Koh added that in today’s society, there is no longer an expectation that the father has to be the breadwinner of the family, and people are also more receptive to the idea of a stay-at-home dad, especially if the family’s household income is sufficient.
“I believe modern fathers want to be great parents. And other than breastfeeding, dads can do practically everything the mum can do, and sometimes even better. (There shouldn’t be any) gender stereotyping.”
Koh, whose parenting style has evolved to become a “mix of authoritative and permissive parenting”, also noted that fathers need not be regarded as a fearsome, or solely authoritarian, figure.
He explained: “I feel that the more you restrict a child from doing certain things, the more he or she wants to do it. And when they do, they tend to be more obsessive over it.
For example, when my child asked: ‘Can I watch YouTube?’ and my reply was: ‘No, you’ve already had enough for the day’, what I realised was that children learn that their screen time is precious. They then crave it obsessively, sometimes to the point of it being unhealthy.
But when I tried to do the opposite – giving in to her request, but also letting her know firmly when it’s time to stop for real – she learnt that she can watch her videos anytime, and doesn’t obsess over it. Sometimes, she would even turn off the device on her own, without me reminding her or raising my voice.
Based on this observation, I’ve learnt that as a parent, it’s important to give your child the space to do what they want – within reason – and communicate clearly with them.”
A friend like me
Some fathers, like media practitioner Stanley Ho, find that they are able to enjoy a closer relationship with their children by becoming friends with them.
Ho, who has a 13-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter, believes this friendship has helped his children feel more comfortable in sharing about their lives with him.
“I’m very close to them and we can talk about anything under the sun,” Ho, 42, told The Pride. “To me, it’s important that I don’t come across as dictating what they can or cannot do. I believe in empowering my kids.”
In order to further develop this friendship, Ho says he actively tries to keep up with the latest things that his children are interested in.
This has seen Ho do things that he would otherwise not have done, such as listening to Katy Perry songs or reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. On occasion, he would even take time off work to go shopping with his daughter.
“I try to have a decent knowledge of what my kids are interested in so I can relate to them,” Ho said. “Sometimes, it may not be to my taste, but I’ll still make the effort to learn about it.”
And Ho, whose job requires him to keep up to date with the latest trends as he has to collaborate with influencers, says keeping up-to-date with his children’s interests has earned him brownie points with them.
“My daughter has complimented me for being rather ‘in’ and knowing exactly what she likes for clothes, bags and sneakers. So I must be doing something right,” Ho mused.
Part of your world
Like Ho, Farehan Hussein also makes the effort to pay special attention to the things his three children – who are aged six, four, and five months old – are interested in.
The 36-year-old – a manager at the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce & Industry – revealed that he would often do research into the cartoons that his children were currently watching, just so that he would have a common topic with his children to talk about.
Farehan, who makes it a point to spend at least four hours with his children each day, explained: “My children’s interests evolve over time with (cartoons such as) Tayo, Paw Patrol, Robocar Poli and Miniforce. No matter which cartoon that they like, however, I’ll do my own research and quietly watch some of these series so that I can learn about the different characters.
“That day, for example, I asked what happened to (the character) Rubble in Paw Patrol. They were so surprised that I actually knew who Rubble was. They asked me if Rubble was my favourite character, and began to share more about the other characters in the series.
“We’re able to bond through these interactions, and at the end of the day, I think that’s one of the most important things for a healthy parent-child relationship.”
A father’s reflection
Coincidentally, both Ho and Koh grew up without a father by their side. Because of that, both said that they are inspired to become the fatherly figure they themselves never had, for their children.
Ho said: “I had no guidance or role model (on how to be a father) to follow. But, because of what he did, I know very well what kind of father I don’t want to be, and must not be. I grew up with my mother and my elder sister and, from a young age, they taught me how to be a responsible man, a gentleman, a proper family man.
“Those lessons, delivered by two women who were hurt by a man, were invaluable in shaping who I am today.”
Koh added: “My mum brought me up, hence the desire to be a great dad is prabably due to what I’d lacked and hoping my child will have the most awesome dad ever.”
A whole new world
All three also agreed that the stern, stoic father is something of the past.
“The modern school of thought about raising kids is about speaking to them in a kind and firm tone, looking into their eyes and never laying hands on them,” Farehan explained.
Ho also added that being a father is no longer a one-way traffic, where a child is expected to follow and listen to whatever his father says or does.
“As parents, our job is to provide a guiding hand as our children move forward in life. Not to drag them along where we parents think is the right path, but rather, to usher them towards where they want to go.
“We also serve as a beacon of light, so they know where to go when they need to seek refuge during tough times. Always be there, always listen, always encourage and always be supportive,” he added.