In 2006, Ken started a group with some single fathers called Prosperous Men’s Club, under the umbrella of Caritas. The group aims to provide a support system for single fathers and promote men’s welfare in society. It holds weekly meetings at the Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre in Kwun Tong.
Although the club is a step forward, Ken says it is limited in what it can do to help single dads. The group can help the men to relieve some of the pressure but it cannot offer them concrete solutions to practical problems. Nor has it managed to draw much public attention to the plight of single fathers. “Our voice is too weak. Many people still have no idea about these men’s counselling and support services, but luckily there are indeed more service groups for men than before,” says Ken.
Lai Wai-lun, supervisor of Caritas Personal Growth Centre for Men, the first local organisation providing social services tailored to men, points out the importance of peer support and says the effectiveness of such group sharing should not be underestimated. He explains that in small groups, men can channel their sadness through tears because they feel more comfortable sharing their experiences with other men.
Lai adds that providing support for fathers is vital to ensure the wellbeing of children as well. He says any changes in the family environment and emotional problems of a father may have a negative impact on children. Sometimes, the psychological state of children is more difficult to handle than that of fathers.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer at the Faculty of Law at University of Hong Kong, has had experience of being a single father grappling with the psychological wellbeing of a bereaved child.
Cheung’s wife died in 2007 after battling cancer. Their daughter is now 18 and their son is 16. Cheung enjoys good relations with both his children, but he once found it hard to comfort his son.
“When I first asked him whether he missed mum or not, he would say ‘no’,” Cheung says. “He often appeared to be fine and accepting, but he was actually not.” Cheung’s son did not know how to express his grief, which eventually manifested itself in unexplained health problems such as skin rashes and stomach pain. At one point, the pain was so severe, the boy refused to go to school for two weeks.
As a leading academic and a church-goer, Cheung received extensive support from professionals, such as psychologists and counsellors, and from his church. Yet none of these sources of support could help solve his son’s fundamental problems. “Professional help was of no use to him. What he needed was vast support from family,” says Cheung. “I could only convey a message to him saying that no matter what happened, I would not abandon him and would keep accompanying him.”
Cheung may be atypical in his open attitude towards outside help. “That’s me! I am very willing to accept the help from others,” he says, but he readily concedes that, unlike his wife, he cannot intuitively feel what his son really needs. “The most important thing is not to be afraid of seeking help, because it is normal. You have to accept your limitations.”