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James Chen left his full-time job to be a stay-home dad. Now working as a freelancer, he has the time to be more present to his sons. "I definitely don’t feel that it is a ‘loss’." Photo courtesy of James Chen.

James Chen did not know what he was missing out on at home until Covid-19 swept across the globe. When the pandemic forced the world to hunker down, James joined thousands in Singapore to work from home.

It was then that the father of two realised that while at the office, he had lost out on the “small moments each day” that would have given him “the opportunity to teach and guide” his young sons, aged three and five.

“For children, it is not only the ‘quality’ time but ‘quantity’ that matters.” 

“For children, it is not only the ‘quality’ time but ‘quantity’ that matters,” he said. “I wanted to do more than simply provide for their physical needs.”

So, he left his job to become a stay-home dad.

James is not alone. Last year, there were 14,000 men who cited family responsibilities as their main reason for being outside of the workforce.

Neither working nor actively looking to be employed, they make up 3.7% of male residents aged 15 and above who are outside of the labour force — double the 1.8% (6,700 men) a decade ago, according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Labour Force in Singapore reports 2011 and 2021.

But breaking conventions can be a lonesome affair. 

James’ extended family objected to his decision. “But with the full support of my wife, I was able to go ahead with my plans of being a stay-home dad.”

He added: “I am now able to adopt measured approaches when it comes to disciplining my children. I definitely don’t feel that it is a ‘loss’.” 

Dads need support

Meanwhile, fathers — whether in full-time jobs or otherwise — are increasingly building communities around themselves to help them on their parenting journey. A group gathering to discuss their day or challenges in the family is no longer unfamiliar.

A 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore (FOTF) survey of more than 260 fathers found that:

  • More than 7 in 10 dads have a dad-friend to confide in when it comes to parenting struggles
  • More than 8 in 10 strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “Having a dad-friend is important for dads to grow in their parenting journey.”
  • Over three-quarters found it very comfortable or somewhat comfortable to talk to other dads about the issues they faced as fathers

This debunked the myth that men do not like talking about personal issues.  

Beyond breadwinning

Part of the desire for community might stem from the aspiration of younger fathers to go beyond simply providing for their families’ physical needs to being present to nourish their children emotionally and mentally.

Said father of three, Brian Cheung, 41: “Being in a community helps to anchor and show me what real-life parenting can look like.

“Being in a community helps to anchor and show me what real-life parenting can look like.”

“From sharing about our parenthood struggles to joking about how we keep our children alive, all of them played a very important part in shaping my view on parenthood.”  

Meanwhile, 6 in 10 fathers rated themselves ‘7’ and above in how well they felt they were playing their fathering role.

However, nearly 4 in 10 rated themselves ‘6’ and below.

This suggests that there is a segment of fathers who are not coping so well with their parenting responsibilities in this endemic phase of Covid-19.  

‘Call of Daddy’

To help all fathers, FOTF is affirming the “Call of Daddy” this Father’s Day, reminding them that they can be better fathers when they parent with intention and are supported by the strength and encouragement of a community.

The local charity has launched a digital resource, Mission: Affirm – Not-so-Secret Call Signs, for fathers as well as their children. The material aims to help dads build stronger connections through speaking words of affirmation, to nurture a sense of identity and security in their children as well as themselves.

“Knowing we are not alone in our struggles can help dads regain a sense of perspective and joy.”

Digital content will also be available at Call of Daddy from now until June 20, 2022. This includes practical and playful dad hacks, alongside authentic dad stories with an emphasis on how community has aided the parenting journey.

Said Chong Ee Jay, FOTF’s Lead of Programmes: “When more experienced fathers take time to connect with and support younger dads, it also helps us make sense and meaning of the phase of life we are in.

“Knowing we are not alone in our struggles can help dads regain a sense of perspective and joy as they manage the demands of work, life and parenthood.” 


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.

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