There is no manual provided for fathering

Fathers play a unique and important role in families, and their involvement is critical for the overall well-being of children and their families. In fact, 97% of surveyed Singaporeans (MCYS, 2009) believe that fathers play a valuable part in their children’s lives. However, there is a gap to bridge between the perceived importance and the perceived actual involvement and performance as a parent. The role of fathers in children’s and families’ health, mental health, and development has been widely studied and recognised as significant. In this article, we will explore the benefits of an involved father, the challenges of fatherhood and lastly, some practical strategies that we can work on to enhance our involvement and performance as a father.

“It is one thing to know, another to love, one thing to understand, another to will.”

Francesco Petrarch, 14th Century Scholar and Poet

Benefits of an Involved Father

Physical Health

Fathers have an important role to play in their children’s physical health. Research informed that fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives are associated with a variety of positive physical health child outcomes, including reduced obesity rates and asthma exacerbation (Allport, 2018). They are more likely to encourage healthier habits such as having regular exercise, a balanced diet and good sleep habits. Furthermore, adolescents whose fathers are involved in their lives have been shown to be less likely to begin smoking regularly (Menning, 2006).

Mental Health

Various studies informed that when fathers were more involved (e.g., caring, playing, communicating) in infancy, children had decreased mental health symptomatology at 9 years of age (Boyce et al., 2006), and predicted less adolescent depressive symptoms (Cookston & Finlay, 2006). Furthermore, studies informed that the influence of maternal depressive symptoms on children’s problem behaviours varied by the level of the father’s positive involvement (Chang, Halpern & Kaufman, 2007). The fathers’ involvement may compensate for the negative influence of maternal depression (e.g., reduced responsiveness to a children’s socioemotional needs), thereby reducing the risk of children problem behaviours and development.

Social Development

Socially, pre-schoolers with involved fathers (e.g., engagement in roughhousing and playing) predicted decreased externalising and internalising behaviour problems and enhanced social competence (Jia, Kotila & Schoppe-Sullivan, 2012). For the adolescence, father involvement is associated with a decrease in the likelihood of adolescent risky behaviours (especially among boys) (Bronte-Tinkew, Moore & Carrano, 2006; Carlson & Trapani, 2006) and delinquency (Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid & Bremberg, 2008).

Challenges of Fatherhood

While we can appreciate the importance of fathering from a scientific understanding, there remain challenges that function as barriers to carry out actions that are aligned.

Lacking Skills and Role Models 

Newer fathers may lack skills and presence of role models in fathering. Yun (2013) observed that the earlier generation fathers in Singapore were mostly described as the “invisible” breadwinners, sharing “distant” relationships with their children. The generation of fathers that followed reported that they wished to build good relationships with their children, but lacked skills to do so. Consequently, newer fathers may be chartering in unknown territories as they lack the skills and presence of role models in fathering.

Multiple Roles, Stress and Depression

With the changing times, fathers are now seen to have a role expanded far beyond that of stereotypic disciplinarian, breadwinner, and masculine role model to that of care provider, companion, teacher, role model for parenting, and supportive spouse (Yogman et al., 2016). While there is joy in the new roles, many fathers do experience adverse experiences. Reviews of the literature in the postpartum period established a prevalence of depressed fathers that ranged from 2% to 25%, with an increase to 50% when mothers experienced postpartum depression (Yogman et al., 2016). While men and women may experience similar symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities, men may be more likely to exhibit anger, aggression, and irritability. Men may also be less likely to report feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Consequently, affecting their ability to father effectively. Research highlighted that depressed fathers are four times as likely to spank their infants than non-depressed fathers and depressed fathers are less likely to read to their children (Davis et al., 2011; Fletcher, Freeman, Garfield, Vimpani, 2011). The effects of paternal depression in the postpartum period was also associated with an increase in child conduct problems at ages 3 and 5 years (Ramchandani, Stein, Evans & O’Connor 2005), and significantly correlated with child and adolescent internalising symptoms (Kane & Garber, 2004).

Strategies for Fathering

Being Intentional

With the multiple roles that a father juggles with, it is important to be intentional to prioritise and to make plans on your schedule for your children. Such as ensuring that you have blocked out that Friday afternoon for the soccer match that your son is competing in, or the recital on the Wednesday evening that your daughter is performing in.

It is also important to be intentional to set aside regular periods of time for bonding with your children. Bonding may be through activities such as a walk, computer games, board games, or it may be chatting over tea. Focus on doing activities that your children enjoy.

The key word here is intentional, a deliberate, conscious effort to be involved and present. We can be more intentional by putting aside other matters (be it household or work, or our mobile phones), just to be with the children. 

Having Healthy Relationship with the Children’s Mother

When parents have a healthy relationship, parents are better able to communicate effectively, make joint decisions, guide consistently and work together as a team to meet the needs of the children. 

Furthermore, children learn by example. By being a positive role model through demonstrating kindness, respect, and responsibility, these can help children develop healthy relationships of their own in the future.

Taking Care of Your Mental Well-Being

If you have noticed that your mental well-being has not been well taken care of, e.g., increased irritability, lowered mood, increased anxiety, etc., do consider the following steps:

  1. Identify the source of stress: The first step is to identify the source of stress. Is it related to work, relationships, or some other aspect of life? Once you have identified the source of stress, you can start to take steps to address it.
  1. Practice relaxation techniques: There are many relaxation techniques that can help reduce stress, including deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Try different techniques to see which ones work best for you.
  1. Exercise: Regular exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve your mood. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, even if it is just a brisk walk.
  1. Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can exacerbate feelings of stress and irritability. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and establish a regular sleep routine to help improve the quality of your sleep.
  1. Connect with others: Social support is important for mental health. Reach out to friends or family members for support.
  1. Seek professional help: If your emotional states are interfering with your daily life, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health professional. They can help you develop coping strategies and provide additional support. Mental health professionals can also guide you in the process of fathering.

Not Always Easy, But it is Worth it.

Fathering is a crucial role, it requires effort and practice. It is not always easy, but it is worth it. By being an (intentionally) involved father, you can help your children to thrive in their development.

 “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.”

George Herbert, 17th Century Poet

Adrian Toh, TOC Clinical Psychologist

To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us


Allport, B. S., Johnson, S., Aqil, A., Labrique, A. B., Nelson, T., Angela, K. C., … & Marcell, A. V. (2018). Promoting father involvement for child and family health. Academic pediatrics, 18(7), 746-753.

Boyce, W. T., Essex, M. J., Alkon, A., Goldsmith, H. H., Kraemer, H. C., & Kupfer, D. J. (2006). Early father involvement moderates biobehavioral susceptibility to mental health problems in middle childhood. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(12), 1510-1520.

Bronte-Tinkew, J., Moore, K. A., & Carrano, J. (2006). The father-child relationship, parenting styles, and adolescent risk behaviors in intact families. Journal of family issues, 27(6), 850-881.

Carlson, C., & Trapani, J. N. (2006). Single parenting and step parenting. Children’s needs III: Development, prevention, and intervention, 783-797.

Chang, J. J., Halpern, C. T., & Kaufman, J. S. (2007). Maternal depressive symptoms, father’s involvement, and the trajectories of child problem behaviors in a US national sample. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 161(7), 697-703.

Cookston, J. T., & Finlay, A. K. (2006). Father Involvement and Adolescent Adjustment: Longitudinal Findings from Add Health. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research & Practice about Men as Fathers, 4(2).

Davis, R. N., Davis, M. M., Freed, G. L., & Clark, S. J. (2011). Fathers’ depression related to positive and negative parenting behaviors with 1-year-old children. Pediatrics, 127(4), 612-618.

Fletcher, R. J., Feeman, E., Garfield, C., & Vimpani, G. (2011). The effects of early paternal depression on children’s development. Medical Journal of Australia, 195(11-12), 685-689.

Jia, R., Kotila, L. E., & Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J. (2012). Transactional relations between father involvement and preschoolers’ socioemotional adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(6), 848.

Kane, P., & Garber, J. (2004). The relations among depression in fathers, children’s psychopathology, and father–child conflict: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 24(3), 339-360.

Menning, C. L. (2006). Nonresident fathers’ involvement and adolescents’ smoking. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47(1), 32-46.

Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (2009). Fatherhood Public Perception Survey 2009: Key Findings. Singapore: Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

Ramchandani, P., Stein, A., Evans, J., & O’Connor, T. G. (2005). Paternal depression in the postnatal period and child development: a prospective population study. The lancet, 365(9478), 2201-2205.

Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta paediatrica, 97(2), 153-158.

Shone, L. P., Dick, A. W., Klein, J. D., Zwanziger, J., & Szilagyi, P. G. (2005). Reduction in racial and ethnic disparities after enrollment in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Pediatrics, 115(6), e697-e705.

Yogman, M., Garfield, C. F., Bauer, N. S., Gambon, T. B., Lavin, A., Lemmon, K. M., … & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2016). Fathers’ roles in the care and development of their children: The role of pediatricians. Pediatrics, 138(1).

Yun, H. A. (2012). Children and their fathers in Singapore: A generational perspective. In International handbook of Chinese families (pp. 323-341). New York, NY: Springer New York.