Fathering “softer” #1 — “being” not “doing”

man carrying baby drawing their foreheads

Two mornings ago, my wife and I sent C — our youngest with autism — to a three-day church camp. He was kicking and screaming in protest as usual. It’s what he does every time there’s a change in routine. After a while, I too felt like kicking and screaming, as my wife and I tried valiantly to get him out of the house! Now, on hindsight, I can’t help but mutter silently, “Yep, that was just another day in the life of my ‘fathering’.”

[PS By Day 2 of camp, he was fine and raring to go!]

So what exactly is fathering for me now after almost 14 years as a parent?

My Fathering Journey So Far

man and kid walking on downhill
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I first knew I was going to be a dad way back in July 2008. At that point in time, my wife and I had been married for eight years and had spent the last six trying, without success, to conceive.

So needless to say, we were over the moon when we found out that our firstborn, J, would present himself to us in April 2009.

Two years later in 2011, we welcomed his brother C. Our world finally felt ‘complete’. It was also a world that felt for the first time unfamiliar, a feeling every new parent since time immemorial must surely have experienced.

The journey of raising children is fraught with challenges at every stage and milestone in their growth and development. And ours as parents right along with them! My wife and I have learned so much in these past 14 years. And, as every parent in the world will no doubt attest to, the learning never ceases.

All that simply means is we’ve failed more than succeeded in parenting effectively. (Assuming there’s such a thing as parenting “effectively”)

In particular, the journey of fathering is one filled with potholes and speed bumps. Not forgetting many fierce disciplinary moments to boot!

Fathering fiercer. Trying harder

crop unrecognizable ethnic father scolding kid at home
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Having been raised by the rattan, thanks to my hard-fisted dad, I’ve invariably internalized some of that ferocity in my years fathering my two sons.

So over the years, my sons have seen my mood swings that sometimes end with the palm of my hand on their behinds when they were still small and unable to defend themselves.

Not a proud thing to declare, but it is what it is.

Succumbing to typical Asian societal scripts on strict parenting more often than I should, I’ve been caught constantly drumming into them the need to always try harder, aim higher, move faster, and everything in between. The need to perform and show excellence in academics and every endeavor is a legacy passed down from one Asian generation to another.

But unlike my dad, I’ve also been present for my sons in ways that are ‘softer’.

I’ve been there through all their major milestones and loved them like a papa bear loves his cubs. I’ve hugged them, kissed them, and told them I loved them as often as I can. They’ve followed me on excursions, field trips, shopping sprees, movie nights, concerts and plays, and fun places to eat. I watched them graduate from kindy, sat with them when they were sad, and tucked them into bed for countless nights.

In fact, one of my favorite things IS watching them fall asleep. For, if nothing else, it means I can too!

Fathering “softer”

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One of the most intimate experiences I’ve had as a father is watching my kids fall asleep. From the time they were born to even now as they morph into teenagers.

There I am, sitting beside my kids’ beds, watching in awestruck wonder while their chests rise and fall as they slumber and dream. It’s a sight I never get tired of witnessing.

There’s something so serene and beautiful in the simple act of breathing in and out; of their usually active bodies in a state of absolute rest and surrender. As I watch them, I too feel myself unconsciously adjusting my breathing to match theirs. And slowly unclenching my body, unaware as it were that it had been tensed the whole day as I try valiantly to parent well.

My fascination with them asleep is one of those things I can’t explain, but which brings me no small measure of comfort, and a sense of belonging. There’s an inexplicable feeling they were meant to be there, and me right beside them.

Even now when he’s already 12, C still asks me to keep him company at bedtime every so often. To lie down beside him just before he falls asleep. He seems to enjoy me tucking my arm under his neck as he snuggles his face into my armpit.

In times like these, I feel myself finally able to slow down and begin to do what I call fathering softer. I’m able to be in the moment with C and just enjoy the closeness we share. A closeness that’s not always evident when the sun’s up, and when there are daily tasks to accomplish like homework, clearing up toys, going outdoors, and everything else life throws at him, his brother J, and me.

Fathering should be more “being” than “doing”

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As Father’s Day draws near again (every third Sunday of June), many dads will no doubt be inundated once more with love gifts, fancy meals and family-fun activities. Advertisers and communities will be out in full force to show appreciation for fathers because, well, why not?

For me though, the episode two days ago of C (and me) kicking and screaming speaks more to what I much rather have by way of “celebration” instead, two weeks from now on Father’s Day.

I prefer to have fewer moments of fathering harder (“Stop whining and get moving…we’re gonna be late for camp, Son!”), and more moments of fathering softer (“How much more time do you need to get ready for camp, Son?”).

Of quiet moments just sitting together with my boys.

To build more memories of bliss than blisters. More breathing alongside than breathing down necks. More serenity than stormy weather.

And more “being” (still) than “doing.”

Yes, I’ve got to “father softer” more. Hopefully, I’ll have more ideas how to in Part 2 of this new mini-series.

2 thoughts on “Fathering “softer” #1 — “being” not “doing”

  1. I too was raised by the rotan and belt (as did many of my generations, and the ones before mine), and I don’t know, but I feel like ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ can be true sometimes.

    But I’m not a father yet so I don’t know what I’ll do when it comes to discipline. Especially if a daughter comes into the picture.

    Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing all this!

    1. Rotans don’t just leave physical scars. They leave emotional ones that show up years later in the most unhappy of places. So yeah, do think twice before you pick one up.

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