Freelance emcee Laurence Wong was flush with jobs in December last year and January this year.

But after the coronavirus outbreak prompted Singapore to raise its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level to orange on February 7, work ground to a halt.

Stay at home dad Laurence Wong ST
Emcee Laurance Wong making cardboard armour with his son Jayden.

“I received 27 messages regarding cancelling or postponing shows and events I was due to emcee for, including two jobs in Sydney. Eventually those who asked for a postponement cancelled altogether,” says Mr Wong, 47. He reckons he has lost about 10 jobs, worth up to $2,000 a gig.

Changing Roles

At first, he worried about his wife bearing the burden of supporting the family. “As a husband, you still want to take the lead. But my wife said, ‘What is wrong with me holding the fort? We’ve always been a team.’

“I decided I was going to dedicate my time to my family. Once I knew that I could spend more time with my son, I became more calm,” says Mr Wong. He is married to a 35-year-old marketing manager and they have a son, seven-year-old Jayden.

As a husband, you still want to take the lead. But my wife said, ‘What is wrong with me holding the fort? We’ve always been a team.’

Laurance Wong, 47, Stay-at-home Dad

Since then, father and son have been going cycling, enjoying arts and crafts, cooking and doing household chores together.

“Before Jayden goes to bed, we always talk until he falls asleep. Before, I would ask him to go to sleep quickly because I needed to work at my computer. Now, we have more time before bedtime,” he says.

While he has embraced staying at home, he is familiar with the negativity and stigma that stay-at-home dads face, even when they are working from home.

Standing Up to Stigma

After he closed an events company and went freelance last year, people asked him: “Who’s wearing the pants at home now?” “I just replied that I was a parent who’s doing my best for my family,” he says.

He is also using this period of unemployment to upgrade himself, signing up for a digital marketing course and mentoring younger emcees.

He says: “When the rebound comes, will you be offering your clients the same as before or will you be offering them more? I’ve made a decision to see things positively.”

Stay at home dad Ben Tay ST
Stay-home day Ben Tay, 49, his wife Glenic Toh, 49, and their children (from left) Zachary, 12, Jeriah, 10 and Kymberly, 15 .ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Stay-at-home dads have always been a rare breed, but their numbers are on the rise here.

In recent years, the rise of the gig economy and a stronger telecommuting culture, coupled with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, have given some fathers the opportunity to work from home while caring for their children, says Mr Shem Yao, head of Touch Integrated Family Group (Parenting).

Greater Gender Equality

In addition, greater gender equality and more awareness of the importance of a father’s role in a child’s life have emboldened more men to become stay-at-home dads, Mr Yao says.

Some of them decided to reverse stereotypical gender norms by staying home before their wives did. One such parent is IT businessman Ben Tay, 49, who works from home.

He says: “I made a choice. I needed to know what was important for me and it was my children.”

I made a choice. I needed to know what was important for me and it was my children.

Ben Tay, 49, Work-from-home Dad

What is needed to eradicate the stigma that still surrounds being a stay-home dad is a stronger sense of shared parenting responsibility between couples here, says Mr Bryan Tan, chief executive officer for the Centre for Fathering.

“Such couples are able to discuss what is best for their children and come to a collective decision. Many families do not have such discussions.

“As parents, we need to know our own identity so that this identity will not be rocked,” he adds, be it by social pressure or circumstances.

Text: Venessa Lee, The Straits Times