Being a father is not easy. Being a single father is even more difficult.
As fathers, as men, we are often expected to be the ‘head of the household’, the fearless leader guiding his family. It doesn’t occur to us to seek help. It is embarrassing, and even shameful to ask someone for help.
This article hopes to help those fathers in need, especially those single fathers out there.
In this article, we start with the myths we see that often stops men from getting help, before sharing the practical actions you can take if you come to a point where you’re in financial need.
Myth – I Am Asking For Help
When I used to work in a charity, I would remember the fathers I met who often brought many different problems. But one common thread would frequently tie these threads together. It was the first time they were speaking to someone about it.
I remember the first time I heard a man crying on the phone as he spoke to me. Talking to someone about his problems for the first time in his life, he started crying. That’s when it dawned on me about the natural inhibitions we face as men in sharing our problems with others.
Often, I’ve heard about how people, especially men, feel ‘paiseh’ for asking for help. I use the word ‘paiseh’ because there isn’t exactly an English translation for it. ‘Paiseh’ doesn’t neatly translate into saying you’re embarrassed of asking for help. After all, if you need help, and the help is there, it seems foolish not to ask for help. Nor does ‘paiseh’ translate into being ashamed of seeking help. Shame seems too strong a word. But being ‘paiseh’ is not about embarrassment or shame. After all, the help is there. People want to help you. Being ‘paiseh’ is about your self-esteem. It’s not about how others see you. It’s about how you see yourself.
When I hear men share about what stops them from getting help, I hear stories of how they feel that they have to be asked many discomforting questions by welfare organisations, such as how they spend their money, whether they are engaged in a job search, or whether they have tried X or Y. They report being upset about how others are suspicious of their motives or whether they’ve tried hard enough.
However, it may also be because it deeply affects how they see themselves: as self-sufficient, strong, men. Make no mistake, these organisations help people as a job. It is common for these helping professionals to face others needing help. Yet as the individual seeking help, it may be uncommon to find ourselves in such dire straits.
That’s why the first reframe we need is not to see ourselves as ‘asking for help’. But that you are ‘helping yourself’. Yes, you’re a strong, self-sufficient man. Certain situations may have happened that landed you in such circumstances. Rather than facing the mental hurdle of having to humble yourself to ‘ask for help’, why not see it as ‘helping yourself’? This can help you to overcome the mental hurdle of asking for help.
Myth – I Need To Be A Father And Mother To My Child
If you’re a single parent, you may have heard advice about how you need to also be the missing parent to your child.
Parcsen Loke, the Head of Programmes at Centre for Fathering (CFF), shares how this is a key myth that he tries to correct in parents.
Just be a parent.
You can never be the missing father or mother.
You can just be the parent your child needs you to be.
It’s important not to try being the parent you’re not. That includes being the missing parental figure that your child may yearn for. Your child needs you to be you. Your child may have already lost one parent. Don’t let him or her lose the other one.
Let’s now go onto the practical actions you can take as a father to get help.
Facing financial difficulties as a father can be difficult, especially when you are traditionally expected to be the family’s main breadwinner.
A lack of money can often plunge fathers into distress, especially when asking for money from friends or family can seem like the ultimate disgrace. But here are some practical actions you can take to help yourself.
Member Of Parliament (MP)
You would need money for your daily necessities. Whilst your MP may refer you to the Family Service Centre (FSC) or the Social Service Office (SSO) for cash assistance, they might be able to provide you some temporary groceries to tide you over this difficult time. For example, at Aljunied GRC, they organise weekly distributions at the rental flats, giving fresh groceries such as vegetables to residents.
With groceries, you can ensure that your children don’t go hungry, and have enough for school.
Often, an untapped resource is your child’s school. The school offers schemes such as the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) and the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF). The FAS helps to alleviate the costs of going to school by giving your child a set amount each day for recess. They also help to defray the costs of school textbooks. Besides that, the school can also help you by applying for the SPMF. This provides a monthly cash amount to you so that your child has pocket money to buy things he needs.
Usually, this is the fastest route to getting help. Due to the emphasis our governments place on a child’s education, the help that is offered to your children is executed very quickly. In comparison the average processing time at Social Service Office is about 4 to 6 weeks, during which you and your child may need some interim assistance that the school may be able to offer.
You don’t have to worry about it affecting your child’s study. Some parents have shared that they are afraid that seeking financial assistance might mean that their child is treated differently in school. That’s not the case. If anything, the teachers are more likely to pay more attention to your child, after knowing the circumstances.
Don’t be afraid of getting help from the school. They can and want to help.
Family Service Centre
Think of the FSC as a local GP for social services, rather than health. You can walk in to see them about any struggle you face. FSCs can often offer holistic support across your varying needs, from physical, to social and emotional needs.
For example, some FSCs may refer you to other resources within the community that can provide free tutoring for your child. Other FSCs may offer some groceries they may have on hand.
All you need to do is go to the MSF FSC Locator, key in your postal code, and find out where the nearest FSC is to you. That way, you can get quick and accessible help, in a holistic way.
Social Service Office (SSO)
From working with clients, this is an area where many fathers report facing difficulty. The number of documents asked for, from forms to bank statements to salary slips, can sometimes seem more trouble than its worth. The long waiting time for the eventual decision regarding the amount of financial assistance can also cause great anxiety for fathers already going through significant stress.
Despite this, the SSO still provide valuable assistance. Amongst other support, they can provide referrals to WSG job coaches that can assist you with getting a job, food assistance vouchers, and direct you to other helpful resources in the community.
Fathering can be difficult. As men, we may find it more difficult to open up to our children, or to relate emotionally with our children. This is where community groups such as the Centre for Fathering and Focus on the Family can help. These groups do offer counselling support for the times when you feel that you need to speak to someone about your struggles as a father. But more importantly, they also organise events where you can bond with your children.
Centre for Fathering
For example, at Centre for Fathering, they organise workshops such as the ICAN workshop that teach you the basics of understanding your child. Parcsen recommends that fathers come for such a workshop so that they can learn how to approach common issues, such as:
- How to get my child to do what I want (don’t laugh, this is a common struggle!)
- How do I discipline my child
- How to handle screen time for my children
These workshops are split according to the life-stage of your child. This means that you get targeted interventions that work for each age group, and not well-meaning advice that may not be suitable for your child. After all, reading a storybook to your teen may result in more rolled eyes than a stronger relationship. After these workshops, fathers can join a chat group with other fathers to sustain the learning and be part of a community.
Even after the workshop, Parcsen admits that putting it into practice may be difficult. After all, theory differs greatly from practice. That’s where the 1 to 1 coaching can help. The rates begin at $70 per session, and $200 for 3.
They also organise a 1-day programme called [email protected], which provides a platform for fathers to bond with their child through adventure learning activities such as rock climbing and high ropes.
Rock climbing with your child to build a better relationships (courtesy of Centre for Fathering)
Whilst such activities are ad-hoc, they provide an opportunity to meet other fathers (struggling) in their journey too. This can give you the opportunity to connect, be through WhatsApp groups or email, and feel less lonely on your journey.
There’s No Shame In A Father’s Love
Wherever you are today in your fathering journey, struggling or succeeding, you are doing your best. That’s enough.
Fathering is difficult. It’s not made easier by the many stereotypes around men needing to be strong, to bring in the income, and to lead the family. Amidst all these, it can feel like a lonely struggle as point man, at the front of the pack, leading your family through the struggles.
But you’re not alone. Reach out. There’s help. You aren’t just asking for help. You’re helping yourself. And you’re helping the ones you love.
There’s no shame in loving your family so much, that you would do something, anything for them.
Editor’s note: Many of the resources mentioned are available for all single parents. Single mothers may also tap on these resources for help.
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