‘Stay strong and work hard’: Cards from dads in jail to encourage their kids as school reopens

More than 200 incarcerated dads wrote notes of encouragement to their children as the new school year began. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: UNSPLASH

SINGAPORE - Prison inmate Raghav (not his real name) wants his 10-year-old son to stay strong and study hard as he enters Primary 4, and he let him know it in a handwritten card.

The 48-year-old, who is divorced, was jailed in 2015 for drug-related offences and will be released only in 2032. His mother is taking care of his son.

“I told him to be a good boy, be patient and study hard,” said Raghav in an e-mail interview with The Straits Times.

“I am here for him if he needs anything and I asked him not to worry much, and one day, I will be back with him.”

Raghav was among more than 200 incarcerated dads with children from 200 schools who wrote notes of encouragement to their young ones as the new school year began.

Called Back to School with Dad, the programme by the Centre for Fathering, Dads for Life and Mums for Life, in partnership with Families for Life, aims to get fathers more involved in their children’s schooling journey.

Launched in 2006 to encourage fathers to accompany their children to school and give them notes of encouragement at the start of the school year, the programme is being extended to incarcerated fathers for the first time.

It hopes to help these men motivate their children during the transition to a new school year despite not being physically present to cheer them on.

But Raghav said cards still cannot compare to being with his son.

“I felt sad and in pain as I can only write in words to encourage him and not physically be there for him,” he added. “I miss him, love him very much and I am sorry for what I have done.”

Another father who participated in the programme is Jebat (not his real name), who is serving a jail sentence from 2021 to 2025 for drug-related offences.

Jebat, 28, got his wife to pack marshmallows and chocolate, along with a card he wrote, for his 15-month-old son who is starting infant care this year.

“I hope he will feel the love and concern I have for him,” he said.

“I wished him well for his school year ahead and I apologised for not being with him during this period. I pray that God will always be with him and Mama. I hope we can reunite as a family.”

Mr Ganesan Maniam, a Dads for Life volunteer who works with incarcerated fathers under the Back to School with Dad programme, said children cherish words of encouragement from their parents.

“They like to hear some good words, (such as) ‘You’re awesome. Make new friends and do well in your studies’. (These are) some inspiring words which they can learn from because these words will be there throughout.

“My children remember whatever words I wrote to them in the last six years,” added the civil servant, who has two children, aged 12 and 13.

The 53-year-old said he learnt parenting tips from other parents at workshops held by the Centre for Fathering.

For instance, he and his wife make it a point to pick up their children after school and talk to them about their day over dinner.

When his son gets anxious that he may be bullied in Secondary 1 after getting bullied in primary school, Mr Ganesan reassures the boy, telling him to be himself and not to fret about making friends.

“My son likes to speak to everyone, but he’s worried that people might not reciprocate. But I tell him to just introduce himself and speak to them in a friendly tone. Then people will surely engage and reciprocate,” he said.

Another Dads for Life volunteer, adult educator James Ong, said his eldest son, seven, had difficulty transitioning from kindergarten to Primary 1 because of the longer school hours, which left him tired and “grouchy” on some days.

“We just help him realise that it’s okay to take some space for himself,” said the 39-year-old, who has three other children, aged five years, two years and two months.

“We tell his younger sisters to let him have some downtime, take his shower and lunch undisturbed, and not pester him to play with them straight away when he gets home.

“We found that he reconnects more easily with his sisters after he decompresses from a long day in school.”

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