How modern dads are adapting to the changing role of fatherhood

Much more is expected of fathers these days, especially when it comes to raising children. Mark Sharp speaks to dads who are rising to the challenge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 9:43am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 3:24pm

Simply putting food on the table just doesn't cut it any more. Families expect much more of fathers today, especially now that there are more working mothers. Children demand more of their time and care, too. But regardless of whether they are the main breadwinner, modern dads increasingly view this as an opportunity to be better parents rather than simply a challenge in juggling work-life balance.

Yat Siu, CEO of digital solutions company Outblaze, has noticed a generational shift in thinking about the role of fathers.

"In my parents' generation it was more common for mothers to handle household tasks, like cooking or taking care of children," says Siu, who has three children and has a keen interest in education.

A father may just be an ordinary man, but he is always his children's first hero or role model
Yat Siu

"Today, I know more fathers who not only handle the cooking and the kids, but they actually enjoy doing so.

"My impression is that the previous generation considered parenting to be a loving duty, where as millennial parenting is more about the freedom to choose, free from old stereotypes. We are less guided by tradition on what to do and how to be 'better' parents."

There's no shortage of information on the internet to point them in the right direction, but this can be a quagmire.

"A lot of parents today reach their own conclusions based on the unprecedented access to information and social networks," Siu says.

This can enable them make better informed decisions for their children. Sadly, this is not always the case because, along with information, there is also a lot of misinformation and disinformation, he says.

"But one result I see is that people tend to be more emotionally open with their children, perhaps more willing to show vulnerabilities."

Sergio Belza, an executive director at Credit Agricole (Suisse) who has four young children, reckons many dads have risen to the challenge. They have taken on responsibilities typically undertaken by mothers and become emotionally close to their broods as gender roles in the workplace have changed.

"Mothers now work and travel, so fathers often tend to do the empathy role of the mums, so the attitude of children towards their father has changed. They tell more secrets to them and show more love. This is a great opportunity for dads to learn new ways of interacting with their kids."

Children place greater demands on their fathers these days, too, Belza finds.

"They have learned new things at school and they want to know more. They expect fathers to have the answers for everything but, of course, they learn over time that we don't have them."

Belza says it is important children know that new technology and the internet provide information that can help them find answers to their questions - and that they must acquire the tools to do it themselves.

Media promoting the appeal of becoming a "good father" has contributed to society's expectations, but dads also want to be appreciated and loved, says Wong Po-choi, a former chairman of family advocacy group Committee on Home-School Cooperation under the Education Bureau.

"Time and again there are surveys reminding fathers to be more involved with their children," says Wong, who is also a professor of information engineering at Chinese University.

"They know the 'what' but they don't know 'how'. They don't have time to read, learn and think. They just continue what they are doing, or copy what they see others are doing."

Research by The Fathering Project by the University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University found that dads often struggle to know how to be "good fathers". Studies suggest it is someone who is actively involved in his children's lives.

There is no set criteria, of course, but this generally involves a combination of engagement (through direct interaction), accessibility (being available) and responsibility (providing resources).

With two sons at university, Wong says the best approach a modern father can take is to listen without judgment, and share without pushing.

"Be empathetic - love the family and children for who they are, not who they are not."

Belza reckons honesty is the best policy. "Always try to help. Make them understand that even though you don't know everything by far, you will always do your best to help them learn more; that you will always be honest, transparent, reliable and on their side, unconditionally, no matter what."

Siu believes in leading by example - being the kind of dad you want your children to be, or be with. "A father may just be an ordinary man, but he is always his children's first hero or role model."

Despite the changing times and attitudes, will fathers be able to loosen their ties and kick off their work shoes to be pampered on Father's Day on Sunday? Possibly not. It seems the occasion has not reached the stature of Mother's Day.

Father's Day as we know it today is a fairly recent celebration. In 1966, former US president Lyndon Johnson officially declared the third Sunday of June to be Father's Day. His successor, Richard Nixon, made it a permanent national observance in 1972, and the world followed. Mother's Day, on the other hand, dates to 1914 in the US, when president Woodrow Wilson formally declared it to be the second Sunday in May. Mums have been celebrated for thousands of years, however, in the form of worship of Mother Earth.

Neither Wong nor Belza were aware that their special day was approaching.

"What's that?" Wong had to be asked three times about the occasion before the penny dropped. "Oh, Father's Day. I guess that's something we forget about."

Belza expects another busy weekend. "The children will tell me with their gifts. Appreciation for my role will be very welcome. The rest will be a normal day."

Siu generally enjoys spending the occasion in the great outdoors, hiking and doing something new with the family. "It's a great way to connect, share, talk and listen because it's just you, your children and nature," he says.