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A father's business is at home too

Just because working dads don't give voice to their struggles doesn't mean they don't exist, or that their problems are less significant

FUNNY how Father's Day isn't celebrated with as much fanfare as Mother's Day. It is more stoic and low-key … kind of like how many Dads are.

With a growing vocal segment pushing for women to "lean in" at work, working fathers are increasingly - and quietly - picking up the slack.

But while they help out more at home and become more hands-on dads, traditional mindsets have been slow to change; some employers still believe men should put their careers first.

The truth is that nowadays, men are not just expected to bring home the dough, they now have to bake it too.

The 'Renaissance Man'

Talk about working dads' "struggles" and you are likely to face incredulity - especially when you raise the issue with working mums. When the topic came up this week over lunch, my female friends immediately launched into a tirade.

"What! Aren't men already living in a more entitled world?"

"They are paid more, promoted preferentially and not stereotyped as needing to provide a lot of care and time for family! What else do they want??"

This shouldn't be a competition on who has it worse. But it seems that working dads receive little sympathy and support when it comes to juggling work-life issues, mainly because they are not expected to have any.

In a 2013 survey by JWT Asia Pacific on the changing roles of Asian men, 91 per cent of them said they had to make the same tough decisions as women do in balancing career and family.

Richard Hoon, chief executive of recruitment firm I Search Worldwide and chairman for the Centre for Fathering, said expectations of working fathers are now higher than in the generations before, when a father's job was just to put food on the table for the family.

"But now, there's the aspirational aspect of fatherhood that comes with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. There's now a lot more pressure on fathers to invest in their children."

He said the Renaissance Man, one who is talented in multiple areas, represents a more holistic view of success.

"The definition of a man is no longer just his title or what it says on his business card; it includes the family."

These other aspects to the man can create unrealistic expectations, said Alan Leong, creative director for JWT Asia Pacific.

"Some dads want to be the perfect boss, the perfect employee, the perfect husband and the perfect dad," he said.

Such demands placed on the modern working dad - whether innate or from an external source - to excel in both his career and at home can create stress, especially since they often have to navigate this journey on their own.

Mr Leong said that before he became a father, he used to spend many hours at work.

"I would come in early, and then leave at 10pm. My wife complained that I worked till so late all the time."

With the birth of his daughter three years ago, his mindset on time management changed.

He confessed to having been "all over the place" at the start, but he has since disciplined himself into staying focused on his top priorities for the day.

As a manager, he has learnt to train, delegate and empower the members of his team, so that they do their respective jobs well.

"It's about understanding each talent and trusting them instead of being a micromanager. This way, work quality is not compromised."

His biggest tip for new dads? Get rid of that smartphone during family time.

"The time I have with my daughter is short, so I am mindful of the time I spend with her. It's important to me to be 100 per cent present," he said.

Mr Hoon, echoing this sentiment, said that being a dad has forced him to be efficient with his time.

"Your kids won't remember everything you tell them, but they will remember every moment you spend with them."

He advises working dads to put aside their hobbies or social activities, especially when their children are younger.

"The time will come when your kids get older and you have all the time in the world to play your golf."

Workplaces can help

Mr Hoon left the corporate world 21 years ago to set up his own business as he wanted more control over his time.

"Back then, it was 'no day, no night'. You worked in the day, and at night, you socialised in order to climb up the corporate ladder. Those were the rules of the game."

Things may be better in workplaces now, but the working father today still struggles with whether to spend extra hours in the office or to go home to be with his children.

Dads who are managers have the power to manage clients' expectations and deadlines, said Mr Leong from JWT; being a supportive boss by managing the workload and not heaping unreasonable demands will help, he added

Workplace flexibility also matters.

Mr Hoon said: "If your kids have a concert performance, companies should be able to say 'Go for it, just get the job done'. Give them autonomy to fulfil their tasks and let them decide how and where they work."

He urged leaders of the corporate world to be supportive and empathetic to their employees, who may have less control of their time, in the hope that children "won't grow up thinking that the only measure of success in life is economic".

Finally, it is important for colleagues and wives to understand that working fathers have their struggles too, and respond in empathy instead of judgment.

On this note, to all dads out there - retired, struggling, home-makers, single parents and bosses - Happy Father's Day.

Your efforts don't go unnoticed. Keep fighting the good fight.