SINGAPORE — Last year, a colleague asked me a question I struggled to answer.
“When was the last time you dated your wife?” he said. My colleague was quizzing me on my “dating habits” when I first joined the Centre for Fathering in August 2016. I sheepishly responded: “I don’t know.”
As I retreated to the safety of my desk, I started recalling the many times that my wife, Adriana, mentioned the need for us to go on a “date night”. I must have tuned her out in the midst of juggling work and parenting responsibilities. The truth was, we had not had a date night since we became parents.
My recollection of the times we spent as a couple went back to the moment we welcomed our firstborn, Michael, into this world. Since that day, my attention had been directed towards learning to be a good father, and managing the changes to my own life.
Although I tried to support Adriana, I found myself focusing more on providing for our material needs — and holding back on the emotional support as I dealt with my own emotions as a new father.
When Joshua, our second child, came along four years later, my world definitely was taken over by the needs of our children, and we both had our hands full. I realised that I had been neglecting my wife, in the interest of our children, for six years.
This topic comes back to me now, since the team at the Centre for Fathering had been encouraging fathers to honour and “date” their wives in commemoration of Mother’s Day.
As a couple, Adriana and I are intending to make “date nights” a regular weekly feature. We hope to increase the romance in our marriage and deepen our relationship as a couple, so as to positively model “Marriage Preparation 101” for our children.
KIDS TAKE OVER
Although it was embarrassing to confess to some colleagues that I had forgotten how to “date” my wife, I was blessed with fathering “coaches” to lead me through the process of understanding why this had happened.
I was guided to review how I started to draw away from my wife in the midst of raising our children, and trying to be the best parents that we could be.
When we had our firstborn, I was caught up with my own career. Then, Adriana got the opportunity to work overseas. I had supported her wholeheartedly – but it really was so I could focus on my own work objectives then. She moved to Hong Kong with our new son, and I started making fortnightly trips to see them.
The initial “freedom” that I enjoyed in being able to give myself totally to work — and to have “me-time” — lasted about 48 hours. Returning to an empty house and trying to strike up a conversation with my sofa was not how I wanted to live.
The hassle of making frequent weekend trips to Hong Kong, usually from Fridays to Sundays, also led to me feeling depressed, even though I really wanted to see my family. I was frustrated with the arrangement, and felt helpless in the situation.
When Michael was three, Adriana’s work led her back to Singapore. We then went through a period of adjustment, and had to learn to live together as a family again. But that caused another rift — we had never adjusted to living together as a family upon Michael’s birth. Instead, we had to do so when he was three — old enough to sense tension between us.
In those moments, I could sometimes see the fear and insecurity in his eyes. It never quite left me.
And Adriana and I never resumed “dating” each other again.
The late American basketball player John Wooden said: “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”.
Coming to this realisation, I began to take my wife out on lunch dates (schedules permitting) earlier this year. I have also made an effort not to shy away from social functions with her as a couple, which I used to do by busying myself with caring for the children at home.
I am starting to enjoy our “couple time” together, even though baby Deborah is out with us sometimes. And our children seem to be benefiting from our closer relationship as a couple. They no longer exhibit that fear and anxiety that I once saw in Michael whenever Adriana and I disagreed.
Dating means being without the kids when we can. And I realised that “dating” my wife has provided us with more opportunities to interact with our own parents, when we call on them to help to mind the children. Colleagues have also volunteered to care for our children on selected evenings, so Adriana and I can spend time catching up with each other.
Somehow, I also get the sense that sometimes, the boys prefer for us to be out. That way, they can spend the rest of the evening in any manner they desire, in the company of very accommodating and fun-loving caregivers. In a way, Adriana and I taking “time out” to be together has expanded their world to include others in our community.
BECOMING A COUPLE AGAIN
Thanks to the Centre for Fathering coaches, I now know that the loving and honouring my wife means our kids would have a stable, secure environment.
This is a message entrenched in the Beginning Parenting Programme that we run for KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. We encourage parents to go on dates at least once a week, to be reminded of “couplehood”, and to allow their children to see the priority they give to each other.
Dating each other does not mean life is a bed of roses, or that you will never disagree.
Adriana and I know that our children must see us settling our differences amicably. And knowing each other better and how the other reacts means that disagreements can be resolved with minimal damage to our overall relationship.
To my children, they must see their dad loving and honouring their mother unconditionally, and that means never putting mummy down in front of them, or being unkind to her, which I used to be guilty of — especially after bad days at work.
After a series of regular dates, we have managed to reconnect so that we feel strong as a couple, and present a genuinely united and consistent front for the children.
As I started to re-focus on my marriage, I began to appreciate Adriana all over again, not just as the self-sacrificing mother of my three children, but also as that gorgeous and dynamic woman whom I had prayed really hard to marry years ago.
To commemorate Mother’s Day this year and in addition to honoring the mothers of our children, the Centre for Fathering is piloting a movement among some father groups in schools. We are bringing home the message that it is important to go on dates with their partners in life.
The movement would serve to get parents to relive their dating days, and demonstrate to their children how to maintain romance in a marriage. So, fathers, set a date — I highly recommend it.
Bryan Tan is the CEO of Dads for Life and the Centre for Fathering. Formerly a senior officer with the Singapore Armed Forces, he made a mid-career switch to the social service sector to serve fathers and the “fatherless” in our nation. He is happily married to Adriana, and they have three children, Michael, Joshua and Deborah — six months to seven years old.