Dads the way we like it

A bigger gig economy, a stronger telecommuting culture and more awareness of the importance of a father's role in a child's life have led to more stay-at-home dads

For many, being a stay-at-home father is not always a choice. PHOTO: ST FILE
Stay-home day Ben Tay, 49, his wife Glenic Toh, 49, and their children (from left) Zachary, 12, Jeriah, 10 and Kymberly, 15, on March 15, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Photo of the Tee family, (from left) Elim, Channy Kim Cham Young and daughter Ena, Alex Tee and Elim. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Stay-at-home dads have always been a rare breed, but their numbers are on the rise here.

In recent years, the rise of the gig economy and a stronger telecommuting culture, coupled with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, have given some fathers the opportunity to work from home while caring for their children, says Mr Shem Yao, head of Touch Integrated Family Group (Parenting).

In addition, greater gender equality and more awareness of the importance of a father's role in a child's life have emboldened more men to become stay-at-home dads, Mr Yao says.

According to the Manpower Ministry's Labour Force In Singapore report, there were about 1,500 stay-at-home fathers, of children aged six and below, in 2017, more than double the figure of around 700 a decade earlier.

In the past two years, the Manpower Ministry adopted a new definition in the age range of the children involved. The number of male residents - who are outside the labour force and taking care of their own children aged 12 and below - was 1,300 for 2018, as well as last year.

For many , being a stay-at-home father is not always a choice. A child's illness or special needs, or a dad's unemployment or flexible work arrangements may compel some men to become stay-home parents.

As such, their roles have also become more diversified. For example, they may be freelance worker dads or self-employed and running their own business as home dads, or even home-schooling dads.

Whatever kind they are, they face peculiar difficulties, says Dr Aliya Hamid Rao, an assistant professor of sociology at the Singapore Management University. Unlike stay-at-home mothers, there is "no social script" for stay-home dads.

"The cultural codes aren't that clear for stay-at-home dads. There are many social factors that have to be unravelled before families taking this progressive step are bolstered and supported," she notes.

Laurence Wong (right), 47, freelance emcee, screen actor and choreographer, making cardboard armour with his son, Jayden Wong (left), 7, St Gabriel's Primary School. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

These systemic factors range from a dearth of dad support groups to a lack of societal prioritisation given to caregiving work, from notions of masculinity to schools that reflexively liaise with the mother, who is viewed as the primary parent, she says.

What is needed to eradicate the stigma that still surrounds being a stay-home dad is a stronger sense of shared parenting responsibility between couples here, says Mr Bryan Tan, chief executive officer for the Centre for Fathering.

"Such couples are able to discuss what is best for their children and come to a collective decision. Many families do not have such discussions.

"As parents, we need to know our own identity so that this identity will not be rocked," he adds, be it by social pressure or circumstances.

The three men interviewed by The Sunday Times say they consciously chose to embrace being stay-at-home fathers.

Some of them decided to reverse stereotypical gender norms by staying home before their wives did. One such parent is IT businessman Ben Tay, 49, who works from home.

He says: "I made a choice. I needed to know what was important for me and it was my children."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline Dads the way we like it. Subscribe