Chinese dads must catch up with the times
A SERIES of recent incidents has put the focus on the role of fathers in their children's lives.
Hong Kong actress and singer Cecilia Cheung has accused her former husband, Nicholas Tse, also a Hong Kong-based actor, of spending very little time with their two sons.
Action star Jackie Chan, known for his social responsibility, was unaware that his son had been doing drugs for eight years until he was detained.
In China, however, the failure to fulfil responsibilities is not limited to celebrity fathers. As an expert on children's upbringing, I know that 90 per cent of the parents who make it to parents' meetings are mothers. Nine of the 10 callers to the hotline of my magazine on child and adolescent studies are mothers.
A little girl's description of her father exposes Chinese fathers' ignorance about their children's growth: "I always thought that girls are given birth by their mothers and boys by their fathers until my aunt had a boy yesterday. If all children are brought into this world by mothers, then what do we need fathers for?
"My dad goes to work early in the morning and comes home late at night. Once he is home, he sits on the couch and watches TV. He never brings me gifts like my mother does after a business trip. I feel like a year has passed if my mother goes away for even one day. Yet I don't feel anything at all when my father is away for months."
According to Chinese tradition, the man earns the bread and the woman attends to household chores, including bringing up children. Men think career success is much more important than household matters, which include taking care of children.
In an ideal family - in which members share familial and social responsibilities - the husband should have a loving relationship with the woman of the house, look after the economic, physical and psychological needs of the children, as well as discipline them.
In short, he should be an example of how a male member of society should behave.
Men pick up fathering skills from their fathers. Unfortunately, when this generation of fathers was growing up, their fathers were struggling for survival and, hence, did not have time to develop close relations with their children.
For instance, Jackie Chan was sent to live in a gongfu school at the age of seven. He grew up in a fiercely competitive world and received little love from his family. As a youngster, he had no idea that a father's responsibility towards his son went beyond providing him shelter in a good house or sending him to a famous school.
In today's world, one of the most important responsibilities of fathers is to fulfil the emotional needs of their children. In fact, fathers' overemphasis on earning as much money as possible is detrimental to children's growth.
According to a survey in Shanghai, the more a father earns, the more negatively his children are likely to be influenced.
Fathers and mothers are supposed to play complementary roles in bringing up children.
The mother is a source of love, characterised by tenderness and tolerance. Symbolising strength and courage, the father is the first person who teaches his son how to be a good man and his daughter the facts about the world of men.
So, if the father does not fulfil his duties, his children's psychological growth could suffer.
Since Chinese society today is different - that is, a lot more affluent - than what it was three decades ago, men cannot cite excuses for not fulfilling their paternal responsibilities, especially because the image of a father who is only good at making money is already outdated.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The writer is director of the family research centre at the China Youth & Children Research Centre.