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Tue, Apr 20, 2010
The Straits Times
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Husbands don't do enough to help with the kids
by Andy Chen

This is the column my wife has been wanting me to write.

“Self-deprecating” doesn’t quite describe how she wants me to sound when talking about my flaws as a father (kancheong, over-protective, always quick to blame someone else, etc). Try “self-flagellating”.

When my family heard I was to start writing this column, my mother laughed and my wife said great. They are not such different reactions, as it might appear.

My mother misunderstood it to be a column where I would give parenting advice, hence the disbelieving laughter (she’s my mother, so to give her the benefit of doubt, I won’t say mocking laughter).

Knowing it was a personal column, my wife had hoped it would force me to reflect on my shortcomings (obsessive-compulsive, impatient, naggy, etc).

Eviscerating yourself in public is not easy to do. But when you, an adult close to 40 years old, react in a way all too similar to your two-year-old daughter, it’s time to ’fess up to your faults (lazy, selfish, hot-tempered).

It’s much cuter, not to mention logical, to notice how your young children are turning out to be more and more like you – not the other way round.

This was what happened: I was taking a day off from work on a weekday and was looking forward to my favourite mee pok at a nearby coffee shop after my elder daughter Faith left for nursery school.

Then a whole bunch of things I had not expected happened, culminating in the sudden need to take my younger daughter Sarah to see the doctor for her rashes.

The clinic had one slot, in half an hour’s time, after which it would close for the day, Faith would return home, and my mee pok breakfast hour would have passed.

Very sensibly, my wife said: “Eat some bread.” With the flavour of the mee pok already in my mouth, I shouted: “Don’t want!” and pouted my way out of the house, insisting that I would be back in time to take Sarah to the clinic.

With a heavy heart, I realised a short while later that I sounded exactly like Faith.

In my (admittedly very weak) defence, I can say only that, hey, at least I am not Tiger Woods. I did not sleep with many women allegedly while my wife was pregnant and shortly after the birth of Sarah.

American writer Michael Chabon wrote an essay pondering the “low standard to which fathers are held” and speculated that for a mother to be judged good by strangers in public, she would likely have to “perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Bic pen on her eldest child while simultaneously nursing her infant and buying two weeks’ worth of healthy but appealing breakfast snacks”.

A father need only take his child out to the stores by himself and return safely to be called good. And, whatever mothers think the lowest standard for fathers is, it often ends up lower – much lower. It is tragic and funny and, even more tragically, true.

I could use evolutionary biology to explain my ineptitude in child-raising. It is supposedly in my male genes to be a hunter-gatherer. But in all honesty, I am good only at hunting missing pieces of Lego and gathering toys into their proper places.

My heart warms when my wife tells me how her friends’ husbands are not doing their fair share. There is the one who seemed dead to the world in deep sleep when their infant was crying for milk in the middle of the night, only to mumble to his wife to close the door when she went out to prepare the bottle.

Then there are the stories I hear about the Superdad (anyone who wakes up voluntarily at 4am for a feed and can change a diaper without using up half a box of baby wipes and calling the wife to help anyway). These men I hate.

If more fathers behaved like mothers, married women would probably be inclined to give birth to six kids each. Every mum, by my estimation, can look after at least three kids on her own and might even be willing to do so.

But Singapore’s fertility rate is at an all-time low of 1.23 because many fathers’ total contribution to child-raising is probably a negative figure. Like my wife says, it is worse than doing nothing. Sorry, Mrs Chen. It’s time I stand up – and be a woman.

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