Jonathan - feature

Not long after baby Isaac was born, Singapore went into Circuit Breaker mode. Working from home with a newborn to care for and a toddler to entertain tested Jonathan Cho’s resolve to be a present, involved father. All photos courtesy of the Cho family.

Even before he became a father, Jonathan Cho, 33, knew exactly what kind of dad he wanted to be.

He had watched his own father love, protect and provide for the family for decades. 

Said the lawyer of his godly role model who, at 62, is still hale, hearty and working: “My dad is wonderful. In every season of my life, he has been very intentional about asking me: ‘How’s camp? How’s school? How’s work?’ 

Cho’s father (centre), seen here with Cho (left) and his brother (right), was the man who showed him what it meant to be a father through all the little and big things he did to care for and love his family. 

Jonathan (left) with his father and his brother. Jonathan says his father’s intentional care “paved the way for me to know that the platform is open for me to approach him”.

“When he was home, he was present. I was brought up in a home where family time was protected. So, I was influenced by that, subconsciously or consciously.” 

Just like my dad

When Cho’s first child, Zoey, came along, he made excited plans.

“I’ve always imagined I would be the kind of dad who prioritised time with my kids over work – end work by six, however practical it was for a lawyer, bring them to the park for a run, go to beach.”

“I provide and protect because this is how I am provided for and protected by Him.”

Cho and his wife Dorea, 30, talked about how they would “teach our children the spiritual things, discipline them, help them understand who God is and how to love God and their neighbours”.

For the most part of those first two years as a new dad, Cho was able to immerse himself in fatherhood.

“By and large, we were able to achieve what we wanted. Although some days when I ask my daughter to pray, she wants to watch YouTube videos,” Cho laughed.

And then there were four

This year, they added to their little family of three. 

Baby Isaac was born in February, just as the COVID-19 pandemic gathered momentum worldwide. Within two months, Singapore would shut her borders, shutter businesses, and shelter down to stave off the coronavirus.

“How much am I sowing into her life?”

Cho found himself working from home with a toddler and a newborn, and no possibility of going out.

“There was really no boundary between work and home.

“I saw myself becoming the kind of father I didn’t want to be. The kind of father who prioritises work over family  – who is at home but not home, at home but on the phone, at home but on the laptop, at home but in the room by myself.” 

That was when the “dad guilt” set in.

His little girl, now two-and-a-half years old and delighting in Daddy’s presence at home would sneak into the room while he was working. Unbidden, the words “leave me alone” would come out. Then, the regret would follow.

“I realise she doesn’t understand why I am home. To her, Daddy is home means he’s here to play with me.” 

Even before Zoey was born, Cho knew he wanted to teach her how to cycle and swim just like his father taught him.

“One of the first few things I set out to do as a father was to teach my girl to cycle and swim,” said Jonathan. Just like his father taught him.

With a baby who has yet to settle into a routine of sleeping through the night, being present for a “very bright and chirpy” toddler who is raring to go at seven in the morning has not always been easy.

“How do I be a loving husband by being a good father?”

“A lot of our mornings we just want that extra 10 minutes. In that liminal space when you are half awake, you say a lot of things you don’t mean: ‘Can you just play by yourself?’

“Then, you wake up with a mix of guilt, frustration and anger. Why can’t I just be the dad that wakes up like ‘I’m ready, let’s go!’,” said Cho, who is also an elder at Bethesda Frankel Estate Church.

He even told his wife recently that he wished he “didn’t have to sleep so I can take care of the baby at night and be ready to run with the toddler in the morning. But I’m limited”.

So, there is that dad guilt once more – “How much am I sowing into her life?”

“I know my wife carries a lot of the weight of the parenting because she is on maternity leave. But I don’t want to dump the bulk of the parenting on her.

“Enmeshed in all this is: How do I be a loving husband by being a good father?”

The dad guilt has become a talking point in his marriage.

“I’ve definitely learnt to have more honest conversations with my wife about struggling about feeling some of the guilt.”

“Yes, me too!”

“As a young father, I feel that a lot of the articulation and expression of the challenges that fathers face is lacking,” said Cho.

“Most of the time, dads keep things to themselves and it’s a cycle. If nobody is talking about it, other dads must be feeling fine.”

The first step, Cho advocates, is to share openly so that, if nothing else, dads can say: “Yeah, yeah, that’s me, too!”.

“Mums do it a lot better. There is a lot of community. But people hardly come to a young father to ask: ‘How are you managing? How are you growing in your understanding of fatherhood?’.”

The addition of a new baby while working from home duringthe Circuit Breaker made dad guilt a real thing.

The addition of a new baby while working from home during the Circuit Breaker made dad guilt a real thing for Jonathan.

Young fathers, Cho adds, need to intentionally surround themselves with a community where they can acknowledge their struggles and find support in their limitations and failures.

“I’ve definitely learnt to have more honest conversations with my wife about struggling about feeling some of the guilt.” 

“The biblical picture of manhood often involves emotional, spiritual and mental resilience that comes from being honest” – another way to combat dad guilt, he said.

Cho is thankful that he belongs to a cell group where there are other young fathers like himself.

“One of the dads was saying that he panicked while spending extended time with his kids: ‘What if I don’t know what to do?”

“I went: ‘Yeah, I get that!’

Another shared about thinking about the kind of legacy he wanted to leave his children. Those conversations help.

“The simple fact that I can say something and have it echoed by someone else makes me feel: It’s not just me. I’m not the only one feeling like a failure.”

An unlimited love

What Cho has found comforting is the assurance that he need not wallow alone in the guilt. He also has his heavenly Father.

“The simple fact that I can say something and have it echoed by someone else makes me feel: It’s not just me.”

“I’m learning to bring my guilt before God and be honest and process it with Him.” 

He is also learning to turn every occasion for dad guilt into an opportunity to remember his heavenly Father’s unlimited love. In fact, his failings constantly remind him that only God is perfect – a deeply humbling yet oddly freeing experience.  

“The contemplation of how Jesus represented the Father’s heart, what perfect fatherhood looks like, it makes me realise this is how I am loved.

“I provide and protect because this is how I am provided for and protected by Him.”

“Dad guilt” but fathers chip in more during COVID-19, says survey of over 2,400 fathers

 

Paid in full: Why I practise criminal law

 

When God interrogated a lawyer

About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told. This led to a career in MediaCorp News scripting and producing news, current affairs programmes and documentaries. Christine is now a Senior Writer at Salt&Light. Her idea of a perfect day has to do with a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.