I never wanted to be a father, as I did not know how to be one.
Then, my next child arrived in 2014, and I was really at my wits’ end.
Fatherhood was a very lonely journey at that point. I decided then to provide materially for my family as best as I could, and mask my inadequacies by being present physically, but not emotionally, to my children.
The turning point came when I attended a “Breakfast with Dad” event with the Centre for Fathering — a charity organisation that provides support for dads through education and awareness programmes — with my eldest child, who was 5 years old at the time.
During one exercise, the dads in the room were asked to shout, “I love you!” from around a corner — loud enough for our children to recognise our voices and run to us.
Was I really being a dad, if my own son could not recognise my voice?
To my embarrassment, I had to attempt this three times before my eldest son, Michael, was able to distinguish that I calling out to him. It was no consolation that two other children at the event mistook my voice for their fathers’.
This episode kept me up at night for a week. Was I really being a dad, if my own son could not recognise my voice?
I decided then that I needed to get connected to the Centre’s wide network of active fathers and fathering coaches. I needed support, I decided, from other dads, and I needed to have access to the tools that would teach me how to be a more involved father.
Because of my journey, I left my Singapore Armed Forces job prematurely to join the Centre for Fathering as a member of the staff in August last year. My personal mission statement by that point was ― and still is — to help raise awareness of the importance of involved fathering, and to minimise the effects of “fatherlessness” in our nation. I’m referring to people who do not have fathers, as well as those whose fathers are not engaged in family life.
Riding the waves of change
Moving from a secure Ministry of Defence (Mindef) career to a charity organisation that relies on public donations was daunting at first.
While my personal mission was to help children turn their hearts towards their fathers, and assist dads in building better relationships with their kids, it was also clear that my choice was going to affect my own family. The notion of making lifestyle changes for my family was intimidating.
In the same week that I gave notice to Mindef that I was leaving, my wife was retrenched from her job, and we discovered we were having a third child. It was a daunting situation then, but my wife’s unrelenting faith and belief in the organisation’s cause, and her unwavering support, gave me peace of mind
We have since learnt to make the best of an imperfect situation, and to better appreciate the many tiny miracles that happen daily, which we used to take for granted in the past.
While learning to negotiate new challenges and storms, we learnt to ride the turbulent waves together.
I will provide unconditional love, grace and acceptance to my children, so they never have to earn it.
The shift in mindset has strengthened my marriage, too. One insight I garnered through my now-frequent interactions with the active fathering community, is how my relationship with my wife is crucial to my children’s well-being.
How I treat my wife is essentially Marriage Preparation 101 for my children. A good relationship with the mother of my children, I realised, would provide the loving and secure base for them to grow as individuals — into adolescents and adults.
I could be a hero at work, but in the past, I would be drained by the time I returned home and got through the front door. And so, my wife had to put up with a side of me that nobody else got to see.
That had to change, I realised, because my wife and family deserve the best from me. I then strived to be accountable to her and my children for who I am as a person, not just to the people at work.
Like many other parents, we had become overly preoccupied with the issues and day-to-day tasks of raising children. But I am now learning how to “date” my wife all over again, lest we draw apart as a couple.
Leaving a legacy of being a good parent means having better relationships myself, as this has an impact on my children, and their children thereafter.
I am committed to reconciling with my father, as I must model what a good son should be, and show my children how I honour my parents.
I will provide unconditional love, grace and acceptance to my children, so they never have to earn it. Modelling what marriage and family should be, would help them in their choice of a life partner, and pass on a legacy of good parenting to their children.
My wife and I are also considering fostering or adopting a child someday, to do our part in fathering the fatherless.
Bryan Tan, CEO of Dads for Life and the Centre for Fathering, was a senior officer with the Singapore Armed Forces before making a mid-career switch to the social service sector. Married to Adriana, an entrepreneur, the couple have three children, Deborah, 4 months, Joshua, 3, and Michael, 7.
Photo: Bryan Tan
A version of this story first appeared on TODAY
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