Father’s Day musings – Striking a balance between work, ministry and fathering

Paul Khoo, 45, is a familiar figure in Christian fathering circles. He is one of many key volunteers with Elijah7000, a movement that takes inspiration from Malachi 4:5-6 and seeks to “turn the hearts of all fathers towards their children”. As the co-founder of a media company, Raison Media, his work has also led him to work closely with organisations to create campaigns to build godly families. These include the Dads for Life national movement, and The Bible Society of Singapore’s global DECLARE event which aims to guide families back to the Word of God.

“Part of my goal was to reclaim the media space for God so that the platform can be used to disciple future generations,” explained Paul, a former Raffles Junior College teacher, who started his company in 2009.

In addition, he is an active member in the worship ministry of Paya Lebar Methodist Church (PLMC). As a father of three children, Mikayla, 16, Matthew, 14, and Mark, 11, how does he see his role as a father? How does he juggle work, church ministry responsibilities and fathering?

Being present as a father

When Raison Media was started, his first two children were under the age of five. His third child was born when Raison Media was just in its second year of operation. It was no easy feat to care for young children while growing the business, but Paul managed to keep things together through his faith in God that influenced how he prioritised his various responsibilities.

“Unlike most other children who were able to sleep through the night, mine consistently could not and part of my job was to tend to night feeds. Cumulatively, I think I did night feeds for more than a decade,” laughed Paul.

“There is need for a lot of patience when one is a parent. When things get tough with the kids, it is always good that we remind ourselves that we have to first look out for the causes of the difficulties,” Paul told Methodist Message.

Paul surmises that the Asian fathering model is sometimes at odds with the Biblical model, with its emphasis on being the financial provider for the family, often at the expense of being the spiritual head of the family.

Mindful of this, Paul said, “During the early years, I would make it a point to prioritise my family and the kids over my work. I would carve out set times to interact with them and made sure I was available. For instance, I would engage them in conversations before bedtime and that would serve as a round-up of the day. It functioned as an emotional reset for them and me.”

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has blurred the lines between work and home, has had an impact on how to set aside time for the family. “Hybrid or work-from-home arrangements make it more crucial for us to organise our working hours to be outcome-oriented rather than being task-oriented,” said Paul. Paul also does not hesitate to keep his schedule fluid by shifting his work hours to the evenings after the kids go to bed just to ensure quality family time.

Challenges facing modern fathering

Parenting in the 21st century certainly comes with its set of perils, and in the cacophony of voices that try to influence parenting styles, Paul identifies one critical area that he feels all parents have to contend with—that of excessive media influence that children are exposed to.

“The sheer amount of media influence that our children are exposed to potentially creates a slew of very difficult conversations that parents may not be ready to engage in,” explained Paul. But Paul contends that parents cannot shy away from having those difficult conversations as eventually children will figure it out for themselves, and it may not be with the benefit of wise counsel from parents.

The management of the level of usage of devices in the family tends to be the bugbear between parents and their children. His children regulate their usage via methods such as a logbook (for Mark) or the checking in and out of the devices at specific timings (for Mikayla and Matthew), which he admits is a different practice for many families.

Adopting different parenting styles with gender and age

Paul has also discovered that parenting girls and boys has required different responses from him. With the boys, he has found that their sense of worth is uplifted with simple affirmation. With his daughter, Paul said, “It’s more about ‘How do I help her discover who she is?’”

He is also mindful that as a father, his words can have more impact than he intends. “I don’t realise that the words I say can go beyond the truth value of a statement. I need to be more conscious and gentler in how I say things, how I address issues,” Paul said.

Now that two of his older children are teens, he is conscious that contact time with them (scheduled or otherwise) has to be used to help them “release steam”, as one would do with a pressure cooker. “The more opportunities you have to address these things, the easier it will be to address the anxieties without the surprise of a blow-up,” Paul said.

It is the conscious identifying of where their hearts are oriented—which he discovers when they pray—and practicing affirmation. Does that include academic achievements, as most Singaporean parents are inclined to do? “I do affirm it, but I focus on personal and spiritual growth.”

As the kids grow and become more independent, does Paul see his role as father diminishing?

“The fathering role doesn’t end, it just changes. When the children are young, you parent as a leader. But when they’re older, you parent as a peer, walking alongside them, like a coach.”

Jason Woo is the Communications Executive at MCS Comms.