A message to fathers: Get involved

Fathers participating in an event to learn how to use baby wearing techniques. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Having both fathers and mothers share the upbringing of their children is the foundation for healthy functioning families.

In my father's generation, if dad brings the bacon home, he has done his honoured duty. In this day of dual-income families, such a practice is insufficient.

There is now a large body of literature and research that points specifically to the importance of involved fathering in children's lives.

Studies in the United States have highlighted the ill effects of fatherlessness on children, which include how fatherless youths have significantly higher chances of being incarcerated. On the other hand, children from homes with involved fathers are more likely to possess higher self-esteem, empathy and cognitive competence, be less susceptible to peer pressure and do better in school.

In Singapore, research on parental styles show that neglectful and authoritarian fathers, absent fathers and poor father-adolescent interactions play a part in youth delinquency. Teenagers who succeed typically have warmer and more involved fathers, and more interactions with their parents.

These findings prove that children need their fathers more than ever. But while society has prepared mothers for the workforce through education, it has not prepared fathers to turn their hearts towards their children. Many involved fathers do so instinctively, especially those who have good role models in their lives - but not all of us do.

For those of us who are not so blessed, the best place to begin is to realise the impact our own father had on us. Some of our fathering habits are the result of a good legacy our dads left us, while other habits are formed as a result of overcoming what we do not like about our dad's ways. Either way, our fathers have impacted us tremendously, even without our realising it.

Many of us will be amazed at how we are either very similar or different from our dads.

This realisation will help us appreciate the depth of our children's need for us to be involved fathers. While our desire for a better relationship with our dads may not be fulfilled, our children's desire for their fathers can be met with our commitment to connect with them. How our children perceive our involvement when they are grown up can be changed now.

Before we blame our dads for everything that is wrong in our parenting, we also need to realise that our fathers are also someone else's son.

It will help us to reconcile with our own dads if we understand that our fathers have done their best with what they knew about fathering. We must discover our own fathering ways that will be best for our children.

I find it helpful to think about fathering as our greatest contribution on earth. While most of our endeavours in life don't last, fathering is one that impacts not only our children's generation, but also their children.

In raising our sons, our love for them will influence how they become fathers in future, and in raising daughters, our love for them will influence them as mothers in future. Consequently, we are not just raising sons or daughters, we are raising future fathers and mothers who will shape the next generation.

•Edwin Choy is a co-founder and director for Centre for Fathering. He also has been conducting workshops in parenting and fathering for the last 16 years.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline A message to fathers: Get involved. Subscribe