From late-night diaper changes to honest conversations: 6 men on being hands-on fathers
One is a brand-new dad. Another’s a widowed single father. And then there’s the Boomer who watches YouTube recipe videos to cook for his kids.
SINGAPORE: Are modern fathers more willing to get their hands dirty pitching in to run the household or change their child’s dirty diapers?
The programme On The Red Dot recently featured several fathers struggling to manage the children when their wives went away on a staycation.
But we found six dads who can tell us what it means to be actively hands-on. Indeed, 73 per cent of fathers have become more involved with their family since the pandemic, a 2020 Focus on the Family survey of more than 2,400 dads showed.
READ: Commentary: What the pandemic taught me about being a better father
CALEB LIM, 29, FATHER OF EVAN, 8 MONTHS
First-time parent Caleb Lim had thought taking care of his newborn Evan after his birth in October 2020, would be a breeze. After all, he loved children and had experience taking care of them as a Sunday school teacher.
But the months immediately following Evan’s birth turned out to be one of the most difficult periods of his life. With no confinement nanny or helper to pitch in, Caleb took on almost all the childcare and housework - including waking up every three hours in the middle of the night to feed his son and change his diapers.
“I did 90 per cent of the work for the first 3 months,” he said, explaining that he wanted to give his (appreciative) wife, CNA Insider journalist Lianne Chia, the time and space to recuperate from the childbirth and focus on breastfeeding.
The financial consultant took the first month off from work, but spent the other two juggling fatherhood with meetings and client appointments. “I was like a zombie.”
He survived mistakes - like accidentally cutting Evan’s tiny fingernails a little too deep (his screams were terrifying, he says with a grimace) and explosions of poop over his face and arms (pro tip: Never place your face next to your baby’s bottom when changing his diaper).
But when cradling Evan to peaceful slumber in his arms, he said: “Watching him sleep just brings me immense joy.”
He is buoyed not just by his love for his son but also his wife. “One of the best ways to love your child is to love your wife,” he said. “When he sees how his parents love one another and interact, he will feel loved as well.”
Tip: Love your wife. It’s one of the best ways to show your children you love them.
MOHAMMAD ALIF RAIS, 29, FATHER OF ALIKA KAYLA, 3
Dance instructor and choreographer Alif Rais, 29, has no qualms about making a fool of himself in public - all for the amusement of his 3-year-old Alika.
“People would look at us and laugh,” he said, of the times he acts as a “Big, Bad Wolf” who “huffs and puffs and blows the house down”. “It can be anywhere...shopping malls, restaurants, or even KFC or 7-Eleven.”
The father-daughter duo also enjoy dancing together in public. It is important to him to keep her entertained as much as possible without the use of gadgets or screens.
For Alif, being a hands-on father is more than just changing his daughter’s dirty diapers in a stairwell at a dance performance (he had no choice), or bringing her around to his dance classes. It is a lot about being a child at heart.
And sometimes, that can help your child face and understand her own fears. Covered, coin-operated kiddy rides can be scary for Alika, Alif said, and she tends to “panic a bit” when the ride starts moving.
“Look, Daddy is having so much fun, don’t be scared,” he’d say to her. And the image of a grown man perched on a tiny kiddy ride usually does the trick.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to be a child for your child.
JOHN MATHIS, 54, FATHER OF ISABELLE, 9
John Mathis, 54, has never used baby talk or euphemisms with Isabelle, nine. To him, it is important that she understands how the world works.
The impetus was his wife’s passing five years ago. She was diagnosed with cancer a year earlier. “We had to explain to her (Isabelle) what was going on. It wasn’t sudden and she got to see the journey,” John said.
A few days before his wife passed on, John sat Isabelle down.
“Yes, your Mummy is going to die. The doctors cannot fix it. It’s okay to be unhappy and it’s normal,” he recounted of the conversation. He wanted to help her, at the age of four, make sense of what was happening.
Those ‘hard’ conversations are a habit that has continued till now. Even topics like alcohol and drugs are not off limits. “The kids who don’t know about these things are the ones who experiment. I’d rather give her context and a straight story than rely on her 10-year-old classmate.”
The business director at an advertising firm is busy with his day job on weekdays, and a helper takes care of Isabelle in the daytime. But he always tries to keep up a family tradition of reading to her at her bedtime.
Having honest conversations with his daughter is one way of knowing what goes on in her head, he says. At the same time, he wants to make it clear that she can ask him anything.
Though there is one impending topic he is unsure about: Puberty.
“I can talk about it from a biological standpoint. But when she starts asking questions about periods and tampons… That’s next level stuff, man, I’m totally not ready for it.” he said with a laugh.
Tip: Have frank and open conversations with your child, however young they are.
READ: Grit and a whole lot of love: When single fathers rise to the challenge
DAVID YIP, 59, FATHER OF JOSEPH, 26 AND CHRISTY, 25
From assigning chores and buying groceries, to cooking for his two adult children, and caring for the family rabbit, David Yip, 59, does it all.
“He puts a lot of heart into the mundane everyday things,” said daughter Christy, a CNA Insider journalist. “He makes sure there is variety in his cooking to keep things interesting for us and for himself.”
A lot of the household chores used to be mainly done by his children’s grandmother and aunt. But when they moved out in 2010, he realised that the family began eating out more often and the chores weren’t being done daily.
“If I wanted any changes in this household, I had to first step up as a role model,” he said. The general manager of a wellness company jokes that he is also a general manager at home.
Every day, he makes it a point to cook for the family. He watches YouTube videos to get inspiration for his culinary creations, and plans the day’s menu carefully, going to the market to pick up fresh produce so often that the stallholders greet him as a familiar face. Favourite dishes are tofu stew, fried spare ribs with salt and pepper, and omelettes.
To him, this is the best way he can love his children. “You don’t have to say so much. Actions mean more.”
Tip: If you notice something isn’t being done at home, step up and do it.
READ: Commentary: COVID-19 is giving dads more opportunities to be involved at home
STEVEN CHIA, 49, FATHER OF LUCY, 15, AND JOSHUA, 11
From eating fried chicken on camera together, to identifying different types of milk in an experiment, CNA presenter Steven Chia has given his children, Lucy, 15, and Joshua, 11, an unusual level of access to his work.
It’s a chance to expose them to public speaking and get them involved in his life, he said. They were reserved at first, but teenager Lucy has discovered social media and is starting to “enjoy the benefits”.
“It’s a bit of fun, and I think she’s become more confident doing a few more. And every now and then, she’s like, ‘Maybe I can do this as a job later on’,” he added.
He is grateful that when his children were younger, his work hours as a morning news presenter allowed him to spend time with them. One of his favourite routines: Bringing them to the supermarket at 4pm while his wife was at work.
“That was the highlight of the day,” he said, for himself as well as his children.
Later, he moved to reading the evening news, and found himself returning home at 1am every day. He missed his kids so much that he asked for a transfer to the current affairs department, when he became the host of Talking Point.
“I’ve always felt that the quantity of time (spent with my children) is more important than the quality of time,”he said. “Because for them, whenever you are with them, it’s quality time. So the more they have of you, the better.”
Tip: Find ways to spend more time with your kids.
GAMPANG PURUHITA, 36, FATHER OF NASEER, 4 AND NASRI, 2
When his older son Naseer was diagnosed with autism at two and a half, Hita and his wife remember being “totally lost”.
Which is why they started a podcast, Parenting Made Special, not only to share their experiences with the public about raising a child with special needs, but also to hear from more experienced parents.
“I want to continuously learn from others and be a good role model for my children,” he said.
One of the top things he’s learnt: To be present in his children’s lives. It’s something he picked up from a guest on his show who worked in Malaysia travelled back to Singapore every week to be there for his children.
This is extra important to Hita as his own father passed away when he was 11, and he had grown up without a father figure himself. “I want to create memorable moments with my children,” he said.
To do so, he carves out time from his job as a clinic assistant. And when he’s home, wife Ayu says, Hita has never shied away from tasks like changing his children’s diapers, bathing them, and (his favourite moment) carrying them to sleep - something he tries to do five to six times a week.
But it can be difficult understanding what Naseer wants, especially when he has meltdowns. When this happens, Hita has learnt to soothe him, bring him to a quiet place and point out things he likes, such as buses on the road.
Almost every day, he will bring his children on a bus ride to nowhere. Routine is important for children like Naseer who have autism.
“I’m not the best father in the world but I just try to give my best and be a good father to my kids,” he said.
Tip: Never stop learning from other people’s experiences