Fathers, spend quality time with your children
Richard Seow cherishes the things he did with his dad, and wants to make people aware of fatherhood issues. -ST
RICHARD Seow spent hours fishing with his father as a boy. He can't remember catching a single fish, but the times alone just talking to his dad are among his best childhood memories.
'During those conversations, he taught me things like how your word is your bond, to stand up when a lady enters the room, and of course the importance of family life,' says Mr Seow, 47.
'My father was a very influential role model, and his values reside in my subconscious.'
Richard is the second of three children. His father Gordon is a former oil executive and diplomat, and his mother Eileen, a former teacher.
Now himself a father of four, the Parkway Holdings chairman also sets aside plenty of time to spend with his brood: at dinner, on weekends and holidays, and behind the camera at almost every sports competition and music performance.
As chairman of the newly formed Fathers Action Network (FAN), he hopes to encourage other fathers to do the same.
The network - funded by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) - drives the 'Dads for Life Movement' that aims to get fathers more involved with their children. Its 16 members include Singapore Children's Society executive director Alfred Tan, and The Straits Times sports editor Mathew Pereira.
'We want to make people aware of the issues of fatherhood, and to get them to make a commitment to spend time with their family and kids,' says Mr Seow, who is also chairman of the board of governors of both the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and Republic Polytechnic, and a member of the Singapore Sports Council.
Demands on fathers are changing. For instance, women increasingly expect their spouses to play a bigger role in parenting. Mr Seow believes men should not outsource their fathering duties.
'Whether it's values, work ethic or sex education, you can't expect schools to take over. Don't let computers and video games take away from the time the father should be spending with the child.'
FAN's plans include islandwide distribution of 'Dads for Life' toolkits by volunteers, including children, to fathers on International Men's Day tomorrow. People will also be asked to share personal stories on fatherhood, to be published online.
For families without a father, there could be a Big Brother programme to provide mentors to children.
A good start, he says, would be to get schools and groups to hold sporting competitions on weekends so that it is easier for parents to attend them.
As ACS board chairman, he has looked into disciplinary cases, and a common element behind many behavioural problems, he says, is an unstable family, where the father is often absent, for example.
'In one case, a counsellor told me that she wished the boy knew what it was like to have dinner with the family,' he says.
According to the findings of the first large-scale survey on fatherhood here, commissioned by MCYS, most fathers in career-centric Singapore wish they could spend more time with their children. Major obstacles are work, financial difficulties, and a lack of parenting resources and knowledge.
The Internet, school pressure and work pressure also draw on family time, said Mr Seow.
'School can be intense and competitive, and many parents are forced to spend long hours at work to make ends meet. It's not easy when work gets in the way, it's the most unforgiving thing for family life.'
He confesses to being a clueless parent sometimes, but says it helps to listen to his wife Jacqueline about parenting matters, as she is right most of the time. 'My kids will say: 'Dad, you're heading this movement, are you sure?',' he jokes.
Mr Seow readily admits that many fathers, unlike him, may not have the luxury of spending so much time at home.
If time is an issue, the focus should be on quality, not quantity, he suggests. He says fathers should, for example, make time to attend some school events or a family dinner at least once a week.
'If you want to go out to the coffee shop or for a drink, do it after your child is asleep. It's about getting engaged and showing interest in what your children do, and listening to them sometimes instead of just telling them what to do.
'It's never too late to start.'
Sometimes, he says, sacrifices must be made. He gave up a highly lucrative investment banking career after 16 years in 2004, so he could focus on his family.
'As a banker, your work is your priority. But I realised that while I could explain to my wife why I couldn't be there for a birthday celebration, it was very difficult to explain to a child. I was missing the best years of fatherhood.
'Your children are your living legacy, and I thought about what I wanted them to remember about me,' says the former athletics star.
So he became a stay-at-home dad for 14 months. He then became Parkway Holdings chairman, a job which allows him to spend more time with his children Samantha, 17, Sebastian, 14, Jeremy, 13 and Alexander, 10.
The results of the fatherhood survey of 2,220 people, done this year, were released on Monday, and the findings were generally positive. Most people agreed how important fathers were, and felt they were active parenting partners.
But it echoed the results of international studies - that fathers were seen as important in their children's lives but not as involved as mothers.
Independent groups such as the Centre for Fathering and the Association for Devoted and Active Family have led the charge here to take fathering to the next level. They have organised activities such as camps, 'eat with your family' day, workshops and support groups.
MCYS stresses that the network would not be replicating their good work. Rather, as a national platform, it would provide the visibility and resources to drive fatherhood initiatives on a larger scale.
Says a spokesman: 'To reach all fathers, we will need to work together. A small stone may not create a big ripple. However, if we can gather enough stones, tie them together, and throw them into the centre of the pond, we'd be able to create a large enough ripple effect that reaches the end of the pond.'
To reach as many dads as possible, the network will work with large employers such as NTUC and the Singapore Armed Forces to share good parenting ideas, says Mr Seow.
While FAN is a fathers' movement, its ultimate aim is to help facilitate a stable, loving family.
International studies say strong marriages are important for healthy parenting. This is clearly the case with the Seow family. Wife Jacqueline, 47, is the glue that holds the family together, Mr Seow says.
A lawyer by training, she works from home as an investment manager, while taking care of the children and ensuring that the household runs smoothly.
'If she's a housewife, she's a turbo- charged housewife,' he says, adding fondly that she could easily be mistaken for sibling No. 5 in his family because of her youthful good looks.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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