The Necessary Transition
For the average male Singaporean, enlistment into manhood is marked by conscription into the army, where he will, for the first time, sport a neatly shaven head, marching stoically, dressed in immaculately pressed camouflage fatigues.
A dad sending his son to start off on a 2-year stint of National Service (NS), may quietly wonder…
Has he been well-prepared for it, both physically and mentally? Will his values system, temperament, personality traits and habits stand him in good stead in the 730 days ahead? Will his NS experience eventually transform him into a mature man and responsible citizen?
We take a look at the bigger picture of NS and the framework of the workings of each family unit, to see how fathers can better prepare and support their sons to transcend boyhood, in service of our community and country.
Cultivate the Right Attitude
An individualistic youngster who feels that there is no purpose or value in NS would view enlistment in the prime of his youth as a “waste of time”.
As there is no avoiding enlistment into national service, it would be wise for the family and the individual to spend time and effort to better prepare for it.
Beyond the preparation of the body’s fitness – which is built from healthy living, dietary habits and regular exercise – a child’s tenacity, mindset and attitude in life will go a much longer way to ensuring a rewarding stint in NS.
One area where dads can start is by helping our sons to understand the bigger picture: that NS is more than just about defence – it is also about staking a claim in their community and seizing the opportunity to contribute to that community. We also want to see to it that they gain a mature perpective and sense of gratitude for the life that they enjoy in civvies, or in their everyday, civilian context.
Childhood and Family Context
To help our sons prepare, dads can cultivate sound values and good habits from an early age. For example, a dad can impress upon a young child the importance of being accountable for one’s own actions, and having respect for others. Instill the need for self-discipline and encourage independence.
A young person who has no respect for the truth or for his elders, who keeps time poorly or shirks responsibility, is likely to face difficulties in adjusting to life in National Service and beyond.
In the larger social and community context, the inculcation of other societal values such as loyalty, self-sacrifice, teamwork and fraternity ties are essential.
Dads can encourage participation in sporting activities and competition, at every level. Team sports provide training grounds for instilling a sense of loyalty to one’s team, for instance. Maintaining commitment as they experience success and failure as a team, athletes forge close brotherhood alliances and a sense of camaraderie.
A child’s participation in team sports helps to turn the focus away from individualism, emphasizing instead on the need for co-operation and teamwork to succeed in a community context. This in turn will help to lay the foundation for the core belief of “nation before self”.
Once your son enters NS, provide support in tandem with the family. Make sure everyone understands the sacrifice being made by your son, being thankful and ready to listen and lend a hand when he needs it.
The Fruits of NS
Being a dad, or even as a male relative with prior experience in the army, you can share your personal experience with the new soldier in your family. Give him useful tips, as well as influence him to adopt a more objective, positive outlook on NS from the outset.
The recruit could use your input and perspective to set clear personal goals, such as acquiring a stronger physique, key leadership and survival skills, and striving for excellence in every aspect of growth and development.
With the right support and encouragement from family members, if the young solider is able to envision what he hopes to achieve upon completion of the 2-year NS stint and sets his mind to take advantage of that period, his time in the army would then become a vital stepping-stone towards maturity.
He will emerge stronger and become a more responsible and enabled adult. He would also have acquired confidence, an ability to understand others, new skills, leadership, some life-long friendships and most of all, a ‘can-do’ spirit.
The earlier a dad starts to help his son inculcate good habits and strengthen positive traits, the easier and more enjoyable a time the young man will have in the army, and the better for the family – to have “served together as one”.
Find inspiring stories about NS from the book, ’40 Years of National Service’, available at your nearest Public Library.
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.
First published on 04-04-2012.