Dads get more hands-on while battling workplace bias

As a teacher of 10 years, Keith Tan, 38, has seen first-hand the effect of hands-on parenting.

“I know the model answer to a happy, bright, successful kid. When I talked to the parents of my top students, I could see the bond, the chemistry they had,” says the former assistant head of department in a secondary school.

He had dreams of being a great teacher and father, but found himself barely spending time with his children.

He was so tired that when he read books to his daughter Rebecca, seven, she kept correcting his mistakes. His five-year-old son, Aaron, has had multiple allergies and eczema since he was a baby, which led to anger management issues as he could not sleep well and kept acting up. It put a strain on the family.

When Aaron, then a toddler, suffered a near-fatal allergic reaction during a flight back to Singapore from Tokyo in 2018, Tan’s dad guilt came to the fore. He quit his job the next day.

Never mind that he was the sole breadwinner or that he and his wife had bought an executive condominium.

“That incident triggered the fathering instinct in me,” says Tan of the experience that put his “family first” philosophy to the test.

His journey to active fatherhood may be dramatic, but it mirrors the struggle of fathers today who strive to be parenting equals to their wives.

The pandemic has given them the blessing of bonding time with their children, yet they still face challenges such as dad guilt and the subtle stigma that comes with taking paternity or childcare leave.

The shift is most noticeable in millennial fathers aged 40 and younger, such as management consultant Faiz Apandi, 32.

He describes his role as “being in a partnership” with his wife Hani Julyani, 30, a civil servant, as they manage household chores and take care of their two-year-old daughter, Sarah Hana, together.

“In the past, you could draw the line that the men were the breadwinners, but in the current age, where women work equally hard, sometimes even harder than the men, it’s tough to say whose job is more important,” he says.

“Young fathers today increasingly aspire to be a supportive husband, an involved father and a financial contributor in the family,” says Dr Hu Shu, head of the sociology programme in the School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

“The ideational shift towards gender egalitarianism is largely driven by rising educational levels and women’s growing participation in the labour force and the public sphere in general,” she added.

Hands-on fathering benefits not just children but also the whole family, says Bryan Tan, chief executive for the Centre for Fathering (CFF), a charity that seeks to empower fathers.

However, hands-on fathers say more should be done to support dads, although they acknowledge that they are up against entrenched social norms.

Bryan says “subtle workplace prejudice” makes it difficult for fathers who are seen to “take too much time off” to care for their children or elderly parents.

This adds to their “mental load” in having to provide for the family yet wanting to be there for their children. Additionally, it is also difficult for them to find safe spaces to talk about their uncertainties.

Bryan hopes to see agencies such as CFF reinforced with resources to help men become active fathers and to set up more fathering groups in schools, of which there are more than 120 currently.

“Every man and father in Singapore needs to know that on this journey of manhood and fatherhood, he will never walk alone,” he adds. — The Straits Times/ANN

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