As a father of three children, Alsen Chanamuto (42) is determined to be a very involved parent – so much so that he has made it his career and calling. A former school teacher and now Schools Engagement Manager at Centre for Fathering, Alsen shares his challenges and learnings on his fatherhood journey in today’s world.
Most parent support groups you see in schools are filled with mums. Alsen wants to help get more dads on board.
“Traditionally, there was a rigid division of labour between mums and dads. When I was a kid, my mum did most of the housework and child-raising. My dad would discipline us, check the report card and then that is about it. As an adult, I am trying to be the best parent I can be, and learning to understand that my parents needed help themselves.”
“You have got to pick your 'battles' too.”
As an interracial couple, differences in tradition are inevitable, but not unresolvable.
“My wife is Chinese and I am Indian, so you can imagine the clashing expectations imposed upon us. That is when we had to come together and say ‘OK, thank you for your input, but we have decided what is best for our family.’
My in-laws might advise us, but they ultimately leave it to us to make decisions. That said, you have got to pick your ‘battles’ too. If it makes our in-laws happy and does not affect us too much, let us do it.
“I realise it is normal for children to tell lies as a coping mechanism. So now I am learning how to make her feel comfortable enough to tell me the truth.”
Every child is unique, and sometimes uniquely challenging.
“My first child Gabrielle (9) was really easy to handle. But now that she is in primary school, she is starting to test boundaries. Once when she told a lie, I asked myself: ‘Did I do something wrong?’. Later, I realised it is normal for children to tell lies as a coping mechanism. So now I am learning how to make her feel comfortable enough to tell me the truth.
With my second child Jonah (6), it was quite different. In his sensitive emotional phase, he would cry and scream, and I could not coax him. But the moment mummy appears, he is suddenly okay! Again, I will be like: “What did I do wrong?”
And despite having had two children’s worth of experience, the third one really tested me. Once we brought Levi (2) on a sightseeing trip and he would start throwing tantrums and insist I carry him. This was uphill, and I had an injured leg, so I could not do it. This happened a few times, so I had to catch myself and learn how to deal with it.”
“I was bonding, playing and singing with my child. Getting to know them and even the different cues they give in their little cries… Those difficult times are now beautiful memories.”
Alsen welcomes the enhanced GPPL (Government-Paid Paternity Leave) scheme and hopes more fathers will use it to spend precious time with their wife and children.
“With our first child, my wife was struggling with breastfeeding, so I spent most of it supporting her through that challenging phase. Hormonal changes, breastfeeding issues, and babies crying all the time can be stressful. It is very helpful when dads are around, so mums can rest.
At the same time, I was bonding, playing and singing with my child. Getting to know them and even the different cues they give in their little cries. And diapers. Lots and lots of diapers. Those difficult times are now beautiful memories. Recently, I got to show my 9-year-old how cute she was when she was a baby in a video!
I think it is a wonderful move by the government to increase paternity leave to four weeks. Two weeks is not enough! I wanted to be with my babies for much longer.
“We realised we are in this together... Listening is key here.”
•••Differences in parental styles can come into sharp contrast with the arrival of a couple’s first child. Here is how Alsen and wife took things in their stride.
“At the start, we had disagreements about how we should discipline or teach. But we realise we are in this together. If we do not come to some kind of agreement, we will end up fighting all the time, and the children are going to emulate us. Listening is key here. To sincerely find out where they are coming from, how we can move forward. Actually, as a speech therapist, my wife has a lot to teach me, especially in how we communicate with our children. When we become a father, we might forget we are a husband first.”
“Sometimes you just need encouragement on the journey of fatherhood.”
Collecting guitars is Alsen’s version of self-care. Instead of giving up on his musical hobbies, he included his children.
“I will get my children for jam sessions where we will dance, drum and have impromptu karaoke sessions. I hope that helps them grow to love music as well.
Another important aspect is to have support. I am lucky to have great in-laws who have been wonderful with my children. I also have a group of friends who also have young children, and we can call upon each other for babysitting help, among other things.
I actually have a separate group of close friends who are young fathers. We hang out every quarter and have prata and jam in a band, but it is really to talk about the struggles we are going through. Sometimes it is about the children or spousal issues. Sometimes you just need encouragement on the journey of fatherhood.”
“If there is just one advice I can share, it is to enjoy the fatherhood journey – even if there are bumps along the way.”
Alsen finds that fatherhood has made him a more empathetic person. He thinks one should withhold judgement on parents struggling in public, as they may be going through difficulties we do not know of.
“Like many others, I put tremendous pressure on myself, wanting to be the best father I can be. There are many moments where I feel that things are not turning out how I envisioned it. And it is okay! There is no need to focus on the mistakes. We need to give ourselves time to learn and grow, to realise that we are more than enough.
If there is just one advice I can share, it is to enjoy the fatherhood journey – even if there are bumps along the way.”
Published in Jan 2024