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Navigating Dad Guilt: Insights from Fathers

Updated: 3 days ago

father with son on his shoulders

Just like motherhood, fatherhood is a journey filled with joy, challenges, and moments of self-doubt. While we speak extensively about mom guilt, a feeling that we’re not living up to our expectations of what it means to be a good mother, we rarely talk about how fathers might experience dad guilt. So, to celebrate Father’s Day, we spoke with two fathers, Robin Wong and Ian Cheng, about their experiences with dad guilt and the lessons they've learned along the way.

About our Fathers 

Robin Wong 

Robin is a Business Strategist and NGO Advisor with a proven track record in corporate management, recognised for his expertise in driving corporate success through strategic planning and execution. With a successful track record in corporate management, Robin's deep understanding of business strategy has enabled him to guide numerous organisations towards sustainable growth and profitability.

Drawing on his extensive experience working with international corporations and government institutions, such as Bank of America, Motorola, Cisco, Hong Kong Housing Society, Morgan Stanley, and Hong Kong Hospital Authority, Robin has developed a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies and challenges of different industries and sectors.

Throughout his career, Robin has helped over three hundred executives across a diverse range of fields. His areas of expertise include leadership development, effective communication, career advancement, and, of course, business strategy. This comprehensive coaching background has enabled him to help individuals and teams unlock their full potential, driving them towards achieving their professional goals.

Ian Cheng

We asked them three questions about their parenting experiences and styles, and how they cope with dad guilt. Read on to learn more! 

The Face of Dad Guilt

Have you ever experienced feelings of "dad guilt" – moments where you felt like you weren't being the best father you could be? What were there? 

Both Robin and Ian openly shared their experiences with dad guilt. Robin reflected on his focus on fun activities with his daughters, realizing he may have neglected other important aspects of their development. Ian's experience was more intense, describing a range of emotions including "shame, guilt, frustration, anger, disappointment, loneliness, and humiliation." His internal dialogue was filled with self-doubt, questioning his adequacy as a father.

“As a dad, I always want to give the very best to my two daughters. We were very close throughout their teenage period doing a lot of sports together. I have probably been participating most of the fun activities with them rather than paying equal attention to their academic and spiritual wellbeing. In many respects, my wife has been excellent in attending to their other needs that I failed to provide adequately. On hind sight, I somehow should have paid more time and energy to them in a more balanced manner” - Robin Wong 

“Yes, I have experienced "dad guilt". After realizing that I was not being the "best" father I could be, I felt shame, guilt, frustration, anger, disappointment, loneliness, and humiliation. Internally, I questioned myself with thoughts like, "Why did you do this? You should know better." "Are you good enough?" "I think you have some issues you need to work on." "What is wrong with you?" - Ian Cheng 

Sacrifices and Compromises

What are some of the biggest sacrifices or compromises you've had to make as a father, and how did you come to terms with them?

Fatherhood often requires significant sacrifices and compromises. For Robin, an executive with a busy travel schedule, the biggest sacrifice was quality time with his children. Ian's compromises revolved around time, resources, and self-expression. He notes the importance of being mindful of his behavior and communication, recognizing the significant influence he has on his child's development.

“During the week, I am extremely busy being an executive and doing a lot of travelling. In many respects, the biggest sacrifice I made is the lack of quality time in spending with my children together. I should have spent more efforts  to know them better to understand their inner desires and aspiration. I have the feeling that they know me better as a person than I know them”. - Robin 

“The compromises I've made involved my time and resources, especially money. Furthermore, I've had to be very cautious about what and how I speak in front of my child. I realized that my child's world is partly influenced by these factors. How I behave and communicate is crucial for my child's development, particularly at this stage (she is almost seven years old).” - Ian

Lessons Learned

Looking back, are there any moments or decisions related to parenting that you wish you could change or do differently? If so, what lessons did you learn from those experiences?

Both fathers shared moments they wish they could change, offering valuable lessons for other parents. These included, allowing children to define their own success, managing expectations in competitive settings and emotional regulation during difficult times. 

“Looking back I think I should let them develop their personal growth and career according to their true passion and let them define their own terms of success. Secondly, I should not impose any direct or indirect pressure on them in attending my definition of success. Rather I should give them more freedom in choosing their future goals according to their own terms. What will make me happy does not necessarily apply the same to them.” - Robin Wong 

There are two moments I wish I could have handled differently.  The first is how I approached my child’s performance, particularly in a competitive setting. In the past, my daughter took part in balance bike races. I would get frustrated when I felt she wasn't trying hard enough, especially when coasting through the finish line. After the race, I would point out what she didn't do and sometimes even threaten to give away her bike to someone who deserved it more. After reflecting on this experience, I realised I had set high expectations for my child to excel in areas where we invested a lot of time and resources. What needs to change is my learning to accept disappointment despite the effort that was put in. The second moment was when I yelled at my child because a family member had become severely ill, causing significant disruption in our lives. I realised that during times of hardship, it's easy to blame or take out frustration on the most vulnerable person. It's better to acknowledge and express my disappointment, sorting out those emotions beforehand to minimise unwanted emotional reactions towards my child.” - Ian 

Moving Forward

The experiences shared by Robin and Ian underscore the complexity of fatherhood and the universal nature of dad guilt. However, their reflections also highlight the opportunity for growth and learning that comes with these challenges.

As fathers, it's crucial to:

  1. Being self-aware: Recognise your feelings of guilt and examine their sources.

  2. Embracing imperfection: Understand that no parent is perfect, and mistakes are opportunities for growth.

  3. Prioritising quality time: Make conscious efforts to be present and engaged with your children.

  4. Communicating openly: Share your feelings with your partner, children, or a support network.

  5. Practising self-compassion: Be kind to yourself as you navigate the challenges of fatherhood.

Remember, experiencing dad guilt doesn't make you a bad father – it's a sign that you care deeply about your role as a parent. By acknowledging these feelings and learning from them, you can continue to grow and strengthen your relationship with your children.

Fatherhood is a journey of continuous learning and growth.

As Robin and Ian's experiences show, it's never too late to reflect, learn, and make positive changes in your approach to parenting. If you need support in your parenting journey, Cascade offers parenting mentoring. If you're keen to learn more, contact us here.

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