The struggles and joys of four single fathers in Singapore

Reggie Yeo, 51, (left) with his nine-year-old son, Ivan Yeo at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Photo: Reggie Yeo)

By Erin Kimbrell and Sharlene Maria Sankaran

Reggie Yeo, a 51-year-old single father, will be celebrating Father’s Day on Sunday (19 June) without the presence of someone who is close to his heart: his 13-year-old daughter, Hannah Yeo.

The sales executive’s daughter has been spending time with her mother in Taiwan in the past few weeks. Yeo, who has custody of his daughter and nine-year-old son, Ivan Yeo, is among the Singaporean single fathers for whom Father’s Day is a poignant time to reflect on the challenges of raising their children.

Yeo told Yahoo Singapore that it has been emotionally trying experience at times for him since he became a single father in 2010. On special occasions like Chinese New Year reunion dinners and Mother’s Day, his children would often feel the absence of his ex-wife.

“From a young age, they started to ask why they didn’t have a mother. So I have to guide them psychologically. It’s a struggle to make sure I guide them properly and that they are not affected by our own (marriage) failures,” said Yeo, who will be celebrating Father’s Day with his son and 77-year-old father.

Coping with the cost of living

The single fathers that Yahoo Singapore spoke to said that they find it challenging to balance between work and family.

As such, “Tom”, who has been a single father for about 13 years, hoped for greater awareness and support from the government. “I don’t think the government even acknowledges that single fathers exist in Singapore,” said the 51-year-old field service engineer.

In response to queries by Yahoo Singapore, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said that there are no records available on the number of single fathers in Singapore.

As the breadwinners, single fathers like 62-year-old “Daniel” often find it hard to cope with the rising costs of living and education. The taxi driver has been a single father for 15 years to his daughter, who is now 21 years old.

“In a normal family, there are two parents, you can either have dual income or one would be working while the other would to take care of the children. Once you take one away, problems will arise if they cannot find the support they need,” said “Daniel”.

For Koh Soon Kiang, a 46 year-old pilot who has two teenage sons, single parents have to learn how to manage their lifestyle expectations and curb their expenses.

“If you want to give a child everything, everything is expensive. I (simply) want my kids to grow up healthy and to have a lot of fun during their childhood years and understand the process of growing up,” Koh said.

Koh Soon Kiang, 46, (right) with his sons Dominique Koh, 17, (left) and Wesley Koh, 14 (centre). (Photo: Koh Soon Kiang)

Single fathers can turn to voluntary welfare organisations, such as Family Service Centres, HELP Family Service Centre, and The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) for counseling and other assistance programmes.

In an email to Yahoo Singapore, AWARE said it aims to promote “more supportive and equitable policies and more welcoming attitudes towards single parents”.

Providing emotional support

In the past, Koh and his ex-wife would assume separate roles of being the disciplinarian and mediator to their children. But the dynamics of parenting changed once Koh became a single father and he had to assume both roles.

“Many times, after I discipline or scold (my sons), I will calm myself down and talk to them nicely again to explain to them why I had to discipline them,” Koh said.

For “Tom”, his main challenges were to help his then seven-year-old daughter cope with the trauma of his ex-wife packing up and leaving their home, and her puberty in later years.

“Growing up, sometimes my daughter would need help with her ‘girl’ issues. I was blessed that my mom and sisters were around when I needed their help,” said “Tom”, whose daughter is now 20 years old.

Koh is similarly grateful for the support from his family since he became a single father seven years ago. His parents take care of his sons whenever he goes on flight duty.

Despite their struggles, the single fathers who were interviewed said that the joys of seeing their children grow up are immeasurable.

“Tom” said, “Seeing my daughter grow up to be a good person. Playing with her and making her laugh. Even being with her when she is sad. These are the joys of fatherhood.”

For Yeo, he cherished the little moments like meal times with his children. “When they say ‘I love you’, with their little hands holding on to a cup of mashed potatoes, you can feel that their love for you is pure,” he said.

Yahoo Singapore wishes all fathers a Happy Father’s Day