More dads taking time off to accompany kids for start of school

More fathers are taking time off to be there for their kids as the school year begins

The first day of the school year, which started on Jan 2, arrived amid a buzz of anticipation felt by children and parents alike.

Compared with generations past, many fathers are now actively involved at school from Day 1, whether it is buying books and uniforms, teaching their Primary 1 newbies to handle money or sitting down with their children to supervise homework.

All the fathers profiled here, for instance, took time off to be there for their kids as school began.

They say being involved at school helps them bond better with their children and reassures them of their support during key milestones in their formal education.

They are also keen to stress to their children that grades are not everything and that the school years are also to be, simply, enjoyed.


Gives a yearly pep talk to son

Mr Bryan Tan’s start-of-school pep talk for his seven year-old son, Michael, got slightly derailed this year.

Before he could finish the little speech about how he and his wife wanted Michael to enjoy learning and to cherish the relationships he forms at school, his son, a Primary 2 pupil, told his father not to worry.

Michael said he would “be obedient to his teachers, be a good friend and eat during recess so he wouldn’t get too hungry”, recounts Mr Tan, 41, chief executive officer of the Centre for Fathering, the charitable organisation that drives the nationwide Dads for Life movement.

His pep talk also included assurances to his eldest child of being unconditionally accepted by his parents, regardless of his academic performance. It is a consistent message with variations to suit each year of school.

For Primary 1 last year, he concentrated on minimising the anxiety his son might have felt entering a new environment with longer hours than kindergarten.

Next year, when Michael is in Primary 3, Mr Tan hopes that he will continue to do his best and be able to cope with failure, though expectations that have to do with schoolwork or sports might be higher.

Mr Tan is married to Ms Adriana Lim Escano, 38, who runs a social enterprise selling accessories.

They have two younger children, three-year-old Joshua and Deborah, who is a year old.

Mr Tan says that being actively involved in Michael’s schooling is “not without struggle”.

For instance, he finds it challenging not to pass judgment when it comes to school grades.

Also, for a while last year, he was irritated when Michael regularly neglected to eat his packed snacks. He later discovered his son was playing at recess, then going to the library, instead of eating.

He is in charge of waking Michael up at 6am, having breakfast together and taking him to school, while his wife and their domestic helper are occupied with the two younger kids.

“Early in my fathering journey, I preferred to outsource the care of my kids so I could get more me time,” he says. “I realised I didn’t know them as well as I thought I should have.”

For example, in 2015, he attended a programme with the Centre for Fathering with Michael and realised he did not know things such as the name of his form teacher.

Mr Tan joined the centre in August 2016 after 21 years in the Singapore Armed Forces.

Now, he values the school run, even though he sometimes wishes Michael would hurry up when he faces a busy work day.

“It’s protected time for me to get to know him and set the tone of the day right for him,” he says.


Seven-minute drive to school is quality time


Mr Ganesan Maniam and his wife Kanjana having breakfast with their children Jayashree and Kavi. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

Every year, civil servant Ganesan Maniam, 48, takes leave on the first day of the school year so that he can take his children to school and spend some extra time with them.

This year was no different.

The family sat down to breakfast together before Mr Ganesan drove his elder daughter Jayashree, eight, who is in Primary 3, and her brother Kavi, a seven-year-old Primary 2 pupil, to school.

At their school, Concord Primary, last Tuesday, Mr Ganesan also helped take photographs of more than 100 fathers taking their children to school, many with their wives.

Last year, with the help of nonprofit organisation Centre for Fathering, he started a father’s group called Concord Fathers. The group, which is growing and has 14 members, aims to build a community of fathers involved at school.

“It’s usually the mums who are supporting the children at school, while dads mostly provide the finances. Having more fathers involved helps promote more bonding between fathers and their children,” says Mr Ganesan, who is also a parent volunteer with the school’s Parent Support Group.

When it comes to academic subjects, he coaches Jayashree and Kavi in Tamil, their mother tongue subject. Their mother, customer services professional Kanjana Ganesan, 46, guides them in the other subjects.

Last year, his dads’ group organised parenting workshops and breakfasts with dads and their kids, with the support of Centre for Fathering. This year, he hopes they can do more, with events such as overnight camps, kite flying and prata-making sessions in the works.

Besides such parent-child bonding activities, even the sevenminute drive to school affords quality time for Mr Ganesan and his kids.

During this time, his children tell him what happens in class and at recess and he tells them about values and good behaviour.

“I always tell them to be more responsible, for example, by doing good deeds and picking up litter they see lying around,” he says.


Taught daughter how to order canteen food


Mr Warren Poon and his wife, Ms Alaine Chiam, with their daughters Germaine and Isabelle. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

Mr Warren Poon, 40, has ensured that his younger daughter, Isabelle, who just started Primary 1, is aware of the pick-up and drop-off areas in school, and how to order food in the canteen.

He has diligently cued her on such key pieces of information as he realises that not everything can be covered during the orientation process for new Primary 1 pupils.

“For Primary 1, it’s more a case of getting them familiarised with the school and not so much about academics. It’s more important to start building good habits, such as learning how to pack their bags and conveying messages from the school to us.”

However, he is now more relaxed about his children’s first day at school, compared to his apprehension in the past when he was a “first-time” Primary 1 parent with elder daughter Germaine. “I’m grateful that this is our younger one and we know what to expect. It’s not as scary,” says Mr Poon, who works in corporate banking.

He is married to stay-at-home mother Alaine Chiam, 42. Their daughters Isabelle, six, and Primary 4 pupil Germaine, nine, both attend CHIJ (Katong) Primary.

One thing he wants to guide Isabelle in is social etiquette, such as remembering to ask permission.

Her elder sister Germaine had encountered occasions where her stationery was borrowed without her being told. Germaine had told her parents about how other children had lent others money but promptly forgot about it.

“We never thought of such situations before she encountered them,” says Mr Poon.

He says he will advise Isabelle about such soft skills later, to avoid overloading her with information in the first week of school.


Went cycling on Pulau Ubin


Mr Cyprian Wong has been reading more Chinese books to his daughter Sophie at bedtime to give her more exposure to her mother tongue. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

Sophie Wong’s parents have spent the last six months preparing her for Primary 1.

Mr Cyprian Wong, 44, and Ms Vanessa Yeo, 37, have been reading more Chinese books to her at bedtime to give her more exposure to her mother tongue. The couple also have a 22-month-old daughter, Isabella.

To get six-year-old Sophie more accustomed to the school environment, Ms Yeo, a stay-at-home mum taking a break from her management consultancy job, has taken Sophie there for events such as the Mid-Autumn celebration last year and told her how she used to have dance lessons and sing in the choir there.

Sophie is a pupil at Nan Hua Primary School, where Ms Yeo is an alumna.

To help Sophie “take ownership” of entering primary school, her parents got her to write her name on her schoolbooks and put plastic covers on them.

Late last month, Mr Wong, who works in banking, took Sophie cycling on Pulau Ubin to “calm things down”. He sensed that she was feeling slightly anxious about going to school. He also took a few days off for her first week of school.

Ms Yeo says such dedicated oneon- one time with daddy helps Sophie see him as “a person who provides safety and comfort”, especially since she usually sees him for only 30 minutes every work day, in the evenings.

Sophie’s parents each wrote a letter to her for the beginning of school.

Mr Wong says: “We’d heard from my peers about primary school stress and we wanted to reassure her that it would be fine and that we could manage it.”

Sophie showed she treasured the letters because she kept reading them, says her mother.

Her favourite part?

The part where her father called her “my little princess”, says Sophie.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'Dads on deck'. Print Edition | Subscribe