Xavier Woon is a father of two boys and two girls. He holds a Masters in Counselling and is a speaker on parenting skills. In his leisure time, he enjoys swimming and jogging with his family.
When I was growing up, my father would often initiate conversations with me at dinnertime. These ‘conversations’ were more of a monologue about school work and grades: He spoke; I listened.
If I did well, I would be rewarded with beaming smiles, as he encouraged me to perform even better. Otherwise, I would be slapped with extra hours of homework and tuition.
As I matured over the years, what started as a one-way dinner-table conversation gradually developed into meaningful, two-way communication between father and son. Ideas were exchanged; different points of view debated. The mutual interaction on a daily basis helped us get to know each other better and build a stronger relationship.
Forms of communication during my father’s time, contrast starkly with those in the 21st century. Nowadays, virtual chats are gradually replacing the need to talk face-to-face. A father once shared with me that his son asked him for a new pair of shoes – via an e-mail sent from a computer in the bedroom next to his!
Messages these days are also abbreviated and few people bother about proper spelling or correct grammar. For example, a father sending an sms reminding his son about school the next day is likely to write, “DNBL8 2moro GN” meaning “Do not be late tomorrow, good night.”
Even if father and son were to sit together at the dinner table, they would often be distracted by various “communication” devices. What irony!
It is unfortunate that many families unwittingly choose to indulge themselves with entertainment from impersonal television sets and devices, rather than in interesting heart-warming conversations with family members.
As I compared the manner of communication during my father’s time and today’s more technologically advanced era, two basic yet crucial aspects of old-school face-to-face conversations struck me.
Firstly, it is how tone of voice sets the context in which intent is expressed. A father typically lowers his voice to underscore authority and the seriousness of the message to be conveyed. Personally, my father’s tone of voice and facial expression were all I needed to understand his convictions on a certain matter.
Secondly, emotional expressions convey true feelings that cannot be replaced by emoticons. A father frowns to show anger, raises eyebrows to look surprised, or smiles approvingly of good behaviour.
Taken together, the tonal and facial expressions are essential tools in strengthening and boosting heart-to-heart communication and understanding between father and son. This cannot be done through truncated text messages or emoticons selected from menu options transmitted through the trigger-happy click of a smart phone.
When I became a father myself, regrettably, I too was guilty of “remote parenting” on many occasions. It was not difficult to become accustomed to using technology as a stand-in to baby-sit both my sons.
Games could easily be downloaded for them to play for hours, leaving me peace to do my work. Educational software, too, could be installed to aid their reading and mathematical problem-solving skills. The computer had transformed into a domestic nanny!
When they grew older and had to undertake more extensive project work, easy access to on-line resources like Wikipedia facilitated research. The boys could also watch Youtube videos on practically any type of Science experiments. These resources helped them complete their assignments more easily and quickly. Alas, the computer had also become the home tutor!
Without doubt, technology has evolved and brought with it much benefits and conveniences. Its impact on family life, however, can be menacing.
I lost precious opportunities to bond with my sons. As they relied heavily on media for entertainment and knowledge, my role as a father diminished in proportion.
I realised I was fast becoming irrelevant in their lives.
I was also deeply concerned that they had become more easily influenced by the information they received on-line, opting to believe virtual-world messages that were constantly masked with music, animations and half-truths or worse, falsehood. The risk that my children would trust whatever they saw and read in cyberspace at face value was very real.
Hit hard by this realisation, I consciously began to be more involved with my sons. I chatted with them more about their school work, hobbies and sought their views on religion and outlook on life.
I also endeavoured to involve them in a wider range of outdoor activities, other than shopping and having family meals together; and I chauffeured them around for more conversation time.
My sons, born in the 90s, are digital natives whilst I have to learn, with much effort, how to navigate the intricacies of new hardware and software. In this fast-changing landscape, it has been painful for me to discover that as a father, I have to constantly compete with technology, for their time and attention.
But in order to have a common platform to share in their excitement and escapades, I sometimes have to deliberately get on board the same ship as them. This also positions me for the other times, when the going gets rough and rocky, where as life coach, I can assist in steering them safely back to shore.
The onslaught of technological evolution is fine really, as long as the father is the captain of the explorative quest, providing the steadfast support and leadership that is needed for the ship to sail in the right direction.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
Categories: Dads' Stories