In the months leading up to his wife’s pregnancy, first-time dad Amirul Hisham made it a point to read as much as he could about fatherhood.
But all the foresight and advice in the world did not prepare him for the responsibilities that lay ahead.
Despite his tight work schedule, Hisham incorporates family time into the everyday by making a point to have meals together in addition to weekly family gatherings at his grandmother’s place on Saturdays.
As a family ritual, he spends at least 3-4 hours of private time each week with his wife and daughter for a leisurely stroll at the shopping mall or at the park nearby his house —activities which he explains has allowed him to develop a stronger connection with his daughter.
Hisham’s experience is not isolated. Research has shown that the presence of fathers in their child’s lives has strong effects on their children’s development across a range of metrics.
A study conducted by a research team from Imperial College London, King's College London and Oxford University earlier this year found that children responded more positively in the presence of involved dads.
Analysing data from 128 fathers - taking into account factors such as income and age - the study found a positive correlation between the degree to which the men engaged with their babies at three months and how those children went on to score in the tests where they were asked to complete tasks like recognising colours and shapes once they reached two years of age.
A separate study by researchers from Oxford University in 2016 also showed the positive impact of having dad around.
The researchers found that it was not just about fathers being physically present. How they acted and how they valued their role as a father was equally important in helping to influence their children.
“The findings of this research study suggest that it is psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement in a child's infancy that are most powerful in influencing later child behaviour and not the amount of time that fathers are engaged in childcare or domestic tasks in the household,” the authors of the report wrote.
This in turn would mean that confident fathers were less likely to have children who displayed behavioural issues before the teenage years.
Similarly, research conducted by Michigan State University last year found that fathers’ mental health had a long-term impact on their children, leading to differences in children’s social skills like self-control and cooperation in the long-run. In fact, the study found that fathers’ depression symptoms during the child’s formative years played a greater impact on children’s social skills later in life than the mothers’ symptoms.
Centre for Fathering and Dad’s for Life CEO Bryan Tan with his wife Adriana and children (from left) Joshua, Michael and Deborah.
In Singapore, many men work long hours but they are also making the effort to be present in their children’s lives, said Mr Bryan Tan, the Centre for Fathering’s chief executive officer.
Having worked alongside fathers who hail from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, he feels that Singaporean fathers are highly proactive and forthcoming in learning how to connect with their children.
For Bryan, the decision to become more involved in his children’s lives came back in 2015, when he signed up for a Breakfast with Dad programme organised by the Centre for Fathering back in 2015.
Together with his eldest son Michael who was five years old at the time, he participated in a series of father-son bonding activities. One of the games had the children stand far away, with their backs facing their fathers.
One by one, the fathers were instructed to call out the names of their children who were then supposed to react, turn around and run towards their dads for a warm embrace.
All the children had no trouble locating their respective dads with relative ease, except for Michael. After two unsuccessful attempts, it was only on the third try that Michael was able to recognise his dad’s voice.
The incident shocked Bryan. He had always considered himself to be a good father, providing for his family.
“But that incident made me realise how disconnected I was with my son—so much so that he was not even able to recognize my voice,” says the 41-year old father of three children aged between seven months and seven years old.
Determined to set things right, he left his job as a senior officer in the Singapore Armed Forces last year in August to take up the role of chief executive officer at the Centre for Fathering and Dads For Life movement.
He started to spend more time with his family, especially his children. He makes sure that they have dinner together and sends them to school regardless of how busy his schedule might get.
And the effects of the switch in careers on his children were soon obvious.
“My children are much more confident in expressing their emotions and most importantly they have grown to show a greater sense of empathy to others,” he says.
While the positive impact of fathers on their children’s lives are clear, a bigger question remains: Given the frenetic pace of modern-day living where a huge chunk of the day is dedicated to work and other professional commitments, how many hours a day must fathers spend with their children in order to make a difference?
According to Mr Loh Soon How, a research assistant at the Nanyang Institute of Education who has published reports on the state of fatherhood in Singapore, there is no one-size- fits all solution when it comes to being an involved dad.
For instance, he advises that fathers refrain from using their phones around the child and instead, pay attention to what the child has to say.
He adds that the father’s involvement in the child’s formative years is crucial to build a sense of trust that will lay the foundation for a strong relationship in the years ahead.
According to Dr. Jonathan Ramsay, psychologist and lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, involved dads benefit not only the family at large but also themselves.
“Perhaps what is less obvious is that being an involved father also has positive implications for the fathers themselves. Enhanced parenting involvement has been found to be associated with things like maturity, self-awareness, and healthier living,” he adds.
The benefits of involved dads extend beyond the family realm and branches out into society.
Fathers who spend quality time with their children are more likely to build networks in the community, be more sociable and be more willing to take up leadership roles in society, says Dr Ramsay.
Dr. Indira Arumugam, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore says involved dads help to share in the emotional labour of raising a family.
“A lot of stress comes from the carrying out of everyday duties which women have been socialised into overseeing like attending to children’s schoolwork, preparing meals for them or scheduling their medical appointments. But the role of fatherhood is changing and there is a greater balance of familial roles which takes a huge load off from the mother.” she says.
She adds that spending quality time with the family shouldn’t be seen as an “extracurricular commitment” but rather as a normalized aspect of life.
As a father, Hisham feels that the role of being a dad has seen a transformation over the years from being the sole provider and discipline master of the family to someone who plays an equal role in the upbringing of the child.
“I believe the fundamental concepts of being a father remains the same but dads these days are more involved in helping out in the day-to- day duties of raising children and developing a stronger bonds with them,” he says.
Despite the demands of being a modern-day dad, Hisham feels that the most rewarding part about being a father is being able to learn something new about his daughter with each passing day.
“Seeing her grow into a fine young lady each day is a blessing and it makes all the hard work and effort that much more worth it.”
From 1st July 2017, fathers can take up to two months of leave during their child’s first year.
Comprising the two months leave are:
2 - weeks paid paternity leave
4 - weeks shared parental leave
1 - week unpaid infant care leave
6 - days childcare leave
Centre for Fathering
Ranging from one day workshops to 3-day outdoor camps, the Centre for Fathering organizes monthly father-child bonding programmes. You can also download the Dad’s Resource Kit.