The Fathers Action Network champions a higher level of involvement on the role of fathers in the lives of their children.
|CN PHOTO: Michael Chan
Fatherhood is no longer just about being a disciplinarian or breadwinner. On May 14, renowned parenthood and family expert Josh McDowell addressed 1,050 Singaporean fathers on the importance and urgency of fatherhood in today’s society. The conference was organized by DadsForLife, a national movement set up to get fathers more involved in their children’s lives. It is supported by the Fathers Action Network and funded by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. City News talks to Jason Wong, Director of Rehabilitation, Protection and Residential Services Division of MCYS, about being part of this one-of-its-kind fathers’ movement and his own take on fathering in present times.
How was the idea for Fathers Action Network birthed?
Well, nowhere in the world is there a mother’s movement because it is naturally accepted that mothers will always be there for their children. Having worked in the prison for so many years, however, I saw what bad or absent parenting, especially fathering, could do to children. When I left the prison service and joined MCYS three years ago, getting involved with child abuse, home violence, and juvenile delinquency, I realized that the common thread was, again, the role of the men in these cases.
This spurred a few of us to investigate whether society will really be stronger and kids will grow up better if fathers are more involved in their children’s lives. In a year, we were able to gather evidence that confirmed, not just in Singapore but all over the world, the fact that fathers need to be involved for their children to perform well academically, emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally. For this purpose, the Fathers Action Network was set up.
What are some of the initiatives undertaken so far?
When the movement was launched last November, we went around to 30 different locations in Singapore to distribute fathering kits. On April 1 this year, we launched the Fathers@Schools involving 60 schools, which aims to mobilize fathers to be role models to their children and to be more actively involved in their children’s school lives.
Tell us a bit about your background.
After graduating with a degree in economics from the University of Western Australia, I was first posted to the Ministry of Finance. When the department was corporatized a year later, I had the choice of either joining the newly corporatized company or remaining in the civil service. I chose the latter, and requested to be transferred to the Prison Service.
What made you join the prison service?
I recalled the answer given by my university professor, when three of us Singaporeans who were on the Colombo Plan Scholarship asked him where we should opt to go if we were given the choice to choose a department to work in. His response was, “Go to a place where no one wants to go.” When we asked why, he said that if everyone wanted to work in a particular place, then all the talented people would have gone there before us, and there would not be much left for us to do. He added that if we wanted to take on challenges, and contribute to making a difference, then we should consider volunteering to work in places that not many people are interested to work in. In this way, there would still be much work to be done.
What did you appreciate most about your own father?
Even though he had to work very hard to support eight children, he managed to find the time to be involved in my life. It wasn’t the toys he bought for me (not that he could afford many), but it was the moments that we shared together, like holding my hand and teaching me to write Chinese characters, bringing me to the football field, snuggling up to him at night as he told me stories of his childhood in China. Of course, he had to discipline me on occasion and I understood that.
What is your personal approach to parenting?
The passing down of values is important, but they need to be modeled, not taught or talked about. We also need to spend time together, and by that I don’t mean just being together physically but doing meaningful, purposeful things together.
How do you think the challenge of fatherhood has evolved from the previous generation?
The volatile job market coupled with issues of job security create extra stress on fathers as they can be in and out of jobs. On the part of children, there was less external influence in the past—it was never at the scale it is today, where they can just go into a little box and have access to the whole world. There’s also more peer pressure, as their friends are subject to the same influence, which is more often negative than positive.
Also, more mothers are going out to work, and this means fathers today need to co-parent and share the responsibilities of raising the children and running the household.
What can women do to help their spouses be better fathers to their children?
While most mothers yearn for their husbands to be more involved in parenting, sometimes mothers can hinder their spouses’ involvement. In research, this is referred to as “maternal gate-keeping,” where the mother thinks that she is the one who must care for the child and the father should be out working and not at home cuddling the child.
If this goes on for the first ten or so years in the child’s life, when the mother runs into problems disciplining the child later on and says to the father, “Go and talk to your son or daughter,” it will be useless as he would not have been involved in their lives.
Therefore, mothers have an important role in creating opportunities for their husbands to get involved from the start, for example encouraging them to sign up for parenting workshops or even buying books that will help them become better fathers.
What changes do you hope to see in the next generation of fathers?
In many countries, the materially richer people become, the poorer they are relationally. If we can turn the hearts of the fathers toward their children in this generation, the next generation will be stronger and surpass this generation.
Log on to www.dadsforlife.sg for more information and updates on events, including fathering workshops.