Working dads no longer mum on wanting time to raise kids

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 20, 2013

EVERY night, like clockwork, my sixteen-month-old son wakes up at 1am sharp for a milk feed.

Popping up from his cot to sit upright suddenly like a jack-in-a-box, he makes a distinct "doo-doo" sound that my wife and I know means milk.

His nocturnal thirst coincides nearly every night with the time I get home from the office. I make his milk, prop him up on my lap and watch him guzzle away. On occasions, he goes back to sleep, but those are the rare, lucky nights when he decides he is too sleepy to play pre-dawn hide-and-seek with daddy.

I count myself uncommonly lucky to have a job where my shift starts in the afternoon. I don't have to wake up early and rush bleary-eyed and grumpy to the office, unlike friends with more conventional eight-to-six jobs.

I'm not sure I would then be so sanguine about my nightly "doo-doo duty". In fact, I chose to be a sub-editor largely for the late starting hours: I get to spend time daily with my son.

Having a baby was a joint decision for my wife and me. It's only fair, to the child as well as to both parents, that raising him should be a joint endeavour too. With both parents now more likely to have full-time jobs, it is unfair and unrealistic to expect mothers alone to raise the children.

In a society that wants it all, dual-income families are, for many of us, non-negotiable. When we were expecting Rithwik, who is our first child, my wife and I pored over the options for childcare arrangements, including the possibility of her quitting work to look after our child.

By a stroke of luck, my wife's employer started a scheme last year to allow staff to work from home. She happily took it up, juggling a full workload with caring for an active toddler's needs. We have a helper too or this could never work. I do my share, helping with nappy changes, feeding, putting Rithwik to bed and joining him during playtime.

A Wall Street Journal report, titled The Secret Of Dads' Success, said recent research shows that "the way dads tend to interact has long-term benefits for kids". "Men tend to challenge crying or whining children to use words to express themselves." Such behaviour also helps to toughen up the children and take them out of their comfort zones, it adds.

Days off are spent taking my kid to the pool for a swim, to the park for him to have his fill of unrestrained running (and falling), or playing at home. And I squeeze in a bit of tickling and belly-nuzzling just before his bedtime.

Before, when I was a teacher, it was not as easy to spend this much time with Rithwik: long hours at work, and marking assignments and preparing lessons at home. Refusing to travel with students on overseas trips, for instance, was met with disapproval.

It's still a struggle though - when I have to feed, play with or rock to bed a toddler when all I really want to do is hit the sack.

I think many fathers, like me, want to play a larger role in their kids' lives. "The benefits of involved fathering are... improved cognitive skills, fewer behavioural problems in school-age children, less delinquency among teenage boys and fewer psychological problems in young women," says the Wall Street Journal report.

The Government's move in January to increase paid paternity leave to one week and allow mothers to share with fathers one week of government-paid maternity leave are steps in the right direction, a recognition of the growing trend among fathers to move beyond merely providing for a child.

Being an equal partner in parenthood does not simply mean divvying up "baby duties". Parents supplement each other's roles, with distinct parenting styles - as part of a larger cohesive family experience - which serve to develop different facets of a child as he grows up. In that equation, neither parent's influence is less important. But that's not possible when dad is the one always working late, or too busy to play because he has meetings to attend.

With baby steps taking place to get more bosses to allow flexi-work arrangements for mothers, maybe it's time to include fathers in the conversation. If mums can work from home, be with their kids and excel in their careers, dads can too.

The writer is an executive sub-editor with The Straits Times.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 20, 2013

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