Sunday, July 6, 2014

Celebrate Fatherhood: What Does "Fatherhood" Mean Nowadays? | Guestpost by Paul, Daddy IT Consultant

Sakura Haruka is not a blog just about celebrating motherhood. It shares the joys {& frustrations!} of parenting and of families as a whole. Inspired by my hubby's thoughts on being a dad, Celebrate Fatherhood is thus a monthly series where daddies from all walks of life share insights about what fatherhood means to them, and how we can appreciate their role in a family too.

I sincerely thank all those who took the time to guest post for me. Most of those I approached were very supportive and enthusiastic about this new series, sharing my belief that being an involved dad, and getting the dads involved, is important in building a strong family. If you have a story to share, please email me at sakuraharuka {at} live {dot} com.

It was love at first sight the moment our eyes met minutes after my son was born. I can still vividly remember the sense of wonder and love that I felt as I cradle this tiny life in my arms. I remember how excited I was celebrating each and every one of the major milestones. And the fantastic thing about living in our connected world is the instant updates I’ll get from my wife wherever I am through whatsapp/facebook/emails with the latest videos and photos she would take of him. I look at my 4 year old boy now reading, running, playing football, cracking “knock knock jokes” and I wonder how did all the years flew by. I think only a parent would understand the desire for our children to grow up quickly and yet lament at the same time on how we missed their younger days.

I was asked to write about what Fatherhood means to me. To me, the notion of fatherhood seems to have changed so dramatically in my lifetime.

My grandfather had a very hands-off approach to the way he raised my father and my aunt. He was a sailor who was seldom home and even when he was, it was always a distant relationship where my father feared and respected him. I remembered him as a man of few words when I was growing up. I would always fondly remember how he would be happily reading his daily morning news, oblivious to the chaos his grandchildren was creating.

My father was based abroad for work for around 10 years since I was 13. It must have been the strong bonds built when I was younger but I’ve never felt distant from my dad. We would have regular long distance calls in those days when such calls were expensive and my mum would often remind us the sacrifices my dad is making to be away from us to provide for the family.

In my family, you could say that the notion of fatherhood for the past 2 generations has been the traditional Father brings home the bacon; the mum stays at home to raise the children. Although my wife did not plan to stop work after giving birth, she decided to quit her job to be a stay-home mum after she had a major operation to remove a tumor. As my wife puts it, sometime God has a strange way of revealing His plans for us.

Even though 3 generations of fathers in my family has been the traditional breadwinner while the wives stayed home to raise the family, I feel that the demands of fatherhood have changed dramatically. Fatherhood for my grandfather did not include household chores, playing and reading to the children. My father helped out with the household chores and played with us whenever he could but diaper changing remains a novelty. When I survey the fathers among my friends, diaper changing is the norm and most of them perform the same tasks as their wife in raising the children. Fathers these days are also participating more in their children’s life. I see more and more dads at school functions/play dates etc. Given that both fathers and mothers are performing similar roles and tasks these days, is the notion of fatherhood still relevant or has the concept of parenthood taken over?

I was speaking to some of my friends who are working mums and we were challenging the term “working mums” in different ways. To them, they question the need to differentiate working mums vs stay-home mums since both group of mothers play the same equally important role of raising their children. To me, I question the term on the basis of gender equality. The term “working dad” never caught on given that in most societies by default, the male is expected to be working for the family. Yet in the changing society norm where fathers are expected to play a bigger role in raising and taking care of the children, is it still fair to highlight the struggles of working mums when millions of working dads faces similar challenges as them in balancing both work and family life?

I pointed out to my wife that working mums these days have so many champions (Sheryl Sandberg) and support groups but where is the equivalent for men? Is it normal or acceptable for a man to choose to slow down in his career and earn less in order to spend more time with the family? Am I being selfish or irresponsible if I choose not to work hard and go for the promotion in order to have an additional one hour every night at home to read stories to my son and put him to bed? Is a good father one who can provide the material best for the family or someone who is around to spend quality time with the family? I do not know whether all fathers throughout the ages faced such dilemmas or is this a recent phenomenon faced by fathers of my generation. Being the geek I am, I googled and found that I was not alone. A 2011 report by A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, an American legal advocacy organization, revealed that nearly 85 percent of fathers feel pressure to be both a financial provider and an engaged parent, and three out of four fathers worry that their jobs do not allow them to be the kind of dads that want to be. My wise wife said that these are personal family decisions that should be made jointly by both husband and wife and they should be responsible for the joint decision they take and ignore the opinions of others.

I am fortunate to be working in an organization where flexible working arrangement is available and I have the flexibility to work from home. The nature of my work is that as long as I have internet connection, a laptop/smartphone, I can work anywhere in the world. The benefits of such arrangement is that I have the luxury of sending and picking my son from school sometimes, attend school plays/functions and basically playing a bigger part in my son’s life than a father in a regular 9-5 job. However the flip side is that there is no clear demarcation anymore between personal life and work life. Even when I’m home, I can be having meetings and conference calls past usual working hours. Emails follow me on holidays and sometimes I find myself thinking of work even during weekends when I’m out with the family. It takes tremendous amount of discipline to stay in the here and now and it’s something that I’m trying to consciously remind myself all the time when I’m with the family. It’s no use just being physically there, be mentally there as well to respond to your children.

My family shows their appreciation for me in many different ways. My wife would send me videos and pictures of them having fun together with the message “Thanks for working hard for us Daddy!” My son draws me cards and my wife makes sure that we have our own little family hug and special song and dance whenever we can. These are special moments that I treasure and hold close to. Although I constantly worry about whether I can be the best daddy to Ryan, I know that my family will always love and appreciate all that I do for them.

Paul is a die-hard Man Utd fan who named his son after Ryan Giggs. When he’s not watching football or trying to be a photographer, he works as an IT project manager in a consultancy firm. His wife, Meiru runs Flip for Joy, an online children’s bookstore that provides quality Chinese books for children ages 0-9.

I guess it's true many of us are not vocal in challenging the term "working dads" and maybe we should, because like mums, dads are "working" full-time whether they have jobs outside the house, or when they come home. Like Paul, the boy is a very involved father and helps out a lot with the household chores. Even now although his diaper duty is over, he's still on bath-time duty and poo-poo toilet duty.  It is not a novelty to him, and actually something we have come to expect of him {sometimes when he comes home late Lil Pumpkin would still want to wait for him so that he can bathe her~}.

Fatherhood has certainly changed through the ages and just as more mums are stepping out of the household, more dads are stepping in. And that is a good thing, that deserves more support and recognition :)

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Masshole Mommy said...

I love to hear things from a dad's point of view like this.

An Apel a Day said...

I to think Fatherhood has changed a lot. My Dad was pretty active in our lives, but the generation before him was much more distant.

Punishment was much more harsh to. I'm not saying kids shouldn't be punished. It's just that today we talk about what they did wrong.

Unknown said...

What a great post, Paul!

Yes, agree that the expectations on fathers in the home have increased! In a good way I guess.

Ai Sakura said...

Masshole Mummy: Yeah me too :p

Alissa: I think it has changed a lot as well. My dad used to make me a breakfast drink every morning, read to me and drive us around.. but I'd never expect my grandfather to do that!

L Lee: I guess so too :)