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Daddy dearest

Raising children can be doubly hard when you are a single dad, a senior dad and a step-dad
The Straits Times - June 15, 2014
By: Bryna Singh
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Daddy dearest Mr Quentin Foon on marrying single mum of two Agnes Lim (both above). With them are his stepchildren, Faith and Lexx. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Being dad is tough, as many of today's hands-on fathers have found out.

Things get even more challenging when one is a stepdad, a single dad or a new dad in his 40s or 50s.

These fathers tell SundayLife! that they have to handle tricky matters such as being accepted by their stepchildren, playing the role of both mother and father, and dealing with a wide age gap.

Family experts say stepfathers need to exercise patience when attempting to overcome acceptance issues by their stepchildren.

Mrs Sarojini Padmanathan, Families for Life council member, says stepfathers should not expect acceptance to occur immediately. "They have to be sensitive and give time for stepchildren and themselves to come to terms with their new relationships," she says, adding that stepfathers should be open- minded, tolerant and give unconditional love to their stepchildren.

"They should always be themselves."

Sales manager Quentin Foon, 36, did just that with his stepchildren Faith and Lexx, who were aged eight and six when he was introduced to them. He played computer games with them, cared about their studies and got to know them as individuals.

He says: "When they did not want to do as I said, I accepted it and told them calmly that it meant I could also reject their requests. Reasoning with them like this usually worked in getting them to listen to me."

Mr Arthur Ling, deputy director of Fei Yue Community Services and a member of the Family Life Education Expert panel, says stepfathers could also face the challenge of disciplining their stepchildren.

"There may be a lack of authority as the stepfather is not the biological father," he says.

Founder-director of theatre company Act 3 Theatrics Rama Chandran, 58, experienced that to a certain extent with his 17-year-old stepson Joshua, from his actress wife Amy Cheng's first marriage.

While he has a good relationship with Joshua and the teenager's biological father, he realised that Joshua was "growing up with multiple influences and voices in his life", which were sometimes proving confusing for the child.

Chandran says: "There were different expectations and different ways of upbringing being exercised. I had to be mindful of his feelings."

For single fathers, Mrs Sarojini says the biggest burden is that once-shared responsibilities are now entirely thrust upon the father figure. "Adapting to the roles of mother and father is not easy," she says.

Single dad and church ministry staff Kelvin Mok, 34, agrees that playing dual roles has been challenging. His daughter Janice, now six, was only four when his wife died of lung cancer about 11/2 years ago.

"It was tough handling and trying to figure out the reasons each time Janice fussed or cried," he says.

"Then there was learning how to tie her hair, figuring out what activities to do with her on weekends and packing essential items when we went out. These were all the things my wife used to do," says Mr Mok, adding that he would forget items such as wet tissues or a change of clothing and would have to drive home to get them.

There are other practical challenges too, says Mr Mok, such as going to the washroom. While Janice is toilet-trained, it gets tricky when he needs to use the washroom.

"I usually try to use the cubicle for the handicapped because it's more spacious. I ask her to stand in a corner, pass her my mobile phone and ask her to play a game, and not peep at me," he says.

For first-time dads in their 40s or 50s, the family experts say they need to pay attention to their health.

Mr Ling says: "Such fathers may be more prone to illnesses while their children are still studying."

That is exactly one of property agent Luo Yi Xiang's fears. The 44-year-old became a first-time dad when he was 41.

He says he stopped smoking and drinking when his child was born. "I feel the need to lengthen my life. Giving up vices is not a sacrifice - I want to do it," he says, adding that he does not want to be "sickly" while his child is still in school.

He says he feels his age when he takes his child to childcare classes. "I look at the other parents, some of whom are much younger than I am, and I feel so old."

Mr Ling says the age gap could be an even bigger challenge when the child is a teenager and the father is in his 60s or 70s, and thus appears older as compared to the parents of other teenagers.

"Some teens may be sensitive to comments from peers that his father looks like his grandfather," he says.

He adds, however, that becoming a father in later years has its advantages in terms of financial and emotional stability.

Adds Mrs Sarojini: "An older man is more mature and would be able to guide his children better."

Father's Day this year, which happens today, is framed by the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family (IYF). The IYF, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994, is celebrated once in 10 years and encourages families to be big-hearted.

So it is fitting that family experts urge fathers to affirm and renew their commitment to their wives and children. In turn, children should show their appreciation for daddy's efforts.

Mr Ling says: "There are many things a father should bring to the family. I think the top three important things are unconditional love, emotional stability and responsibility."

 

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