Isaac Tan laughed when he recounted how everything changed the first time his 18-month-old daughter, Julia, cried. He had to drop everything and attend to her.
Nothing could have ever prepared the Creative Director of SGAG for that special moment. There was no time to warm up. It was drop and go.
But he also reminisced, “That moment of holding Julia, my firstborn, in the hospital room, was nothing short of magical.”
But those magical moments of first-time parenthood came sprinkled with a myriad of challenges. How did this young father cope?
‘I’m first a husband’
Isaac acknowledged that the most difficult thing initially was the fatigue of being a new father. Having to tend to Julia through the night, support his wife, and handle the other household chores was not easy. But that’s where he gained an insight, “I’m not just a father…I’m also a husband.”
Isaac recounted that he had made his marriage vows to his wife, and not to his child. That helped him to realise that one of the most important things in transiting to fatherhood was also to focus on his spouse as wife, and not simply as a mother to Julia.
This focus on their marital relationship helped them to build a strong base to navigate the challenges of parenting, particularly in aligning their parenting practices as each had different experiences growing up.
He thus made it a point to talk about their day before going to bed. “As we navigated parenthood together, we took time through communicating to align what we favoured more, in terms of a way of parenting, or what we didn’t like about a certain method or logic. We were also open to making adjustments along the way.”
One of the most important things in transiting to fatherhood was also to focus on his spouse as wife, and not simply as a mother to Julia.
There’s no one-size-fits-all
Isaac recalls how his father took a different approach with Isaac and his brothers. His father spent one-on-one time with each of them, taking time to build trust and understand them as unique individuals.
This experience has helped him realise that his next child could be quite different from Julia, and that he needs to learn how to be a father to each child.
Learn from others
While Isaac has picked up invaluable lessons on fathering from his own growing-up experience, he also sees the importance of having a community of support around him.
However, amongst his peers, he was one of the first to get married and have a child. This meant that his peers couldn’t necessarily understand his situation.
So he talked to older couples who had “gone a few steps ahead of us.” He shared vulnerably with them about his struggles and listened to their advice.
This experience of gleaning from the wisdom of others has inspired him to take the initiative to reach out to other soon-to-be parents around him – starting from his colleagues at SGAG.
He feels that these parents may not necessarily know what they don’t know, and thus may not even know what to ask.
Questions such as “What do I bring when my wife is delivering the baby?” may not even come to mind. Thus, actively reaching out and sharing his insights has helped Isaac find joy in his role as a father.
He mused, “Having someone looking out for (new parents) can help them feel less alone in their journey.”
Having someone looking out for (new parents) can help them feel less alone in their journey.
Plan your time well
Leading a team of creatives at SGAG on top of managing fatherhood duties has meant that Isaac needs to use routines and scheduling to his advantage.
He shared candidly, “I want to take the guesswork out of things because you are just tired all the time.”
He plans his day with Google Calendar, knowing his obligations at each moment of the day. That has also helped him to schedule time for self-care.
“Scheduling is my number one pro-tip,” he added, “Early on in my journey of being a dad, everything was uncertain. I found that when you could make something certain, you would be a lot more certain about everything else.”
Fatherhood may feel like a great responsibility, but it doesn’t need to be a lonely journey. Isaac advised, “We can cut ourselves some slack, every now and then. We’re all still learning, we’re all still a work-in-progress. Also, remember that it’s no shame to ask the rest.”
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