Fathers should not dictate the path of their children, instead be alongside them in their life explorations (Suhash Villuri - Unsplash)

By Dr Nahrizul Adib Kadri

I became a father exactly 20 years ago. The journey of fatherhood has been a profound and humbling experience, marked by a mix of trials and errors, moments of joy, and total confusions. And like many other fathers, I learned to go through this journey not using any manual or guidebook, but through living it, day by day. One soiled diaper at a time, they say. The arrival of my first child was, if I remember it correctly, a very transformative moment. I was filled with awe and trepidation (mostly, I must admit), feeling the weight of responsibility and love that only a parent can understand.

Over the initial 2 years, I foolishly thought I had finally grasped the essence of fatherhood. But then, my second child arrived, and with a completely different personality and set of needs, I found myself starting from scratch once again. By the time my third child came along, 9 years after the first one, I had come to accept that each child is unique, and the journey into fatherhood begins anew.

It was a totally humbling realisation that no matter how many times we go through it, parenting is always an evolving process. For the better or worse, I must say. And now as I approach my 50th birthday, reflecting on these two decades of fatherhood has led me to a deeper understanding of my role. That it is not my job to second guess what kind of person my children will become, or to mould them into a certain image of success, whatever that might mean. Instead, my role is to simply support them in seizing the world as their own, to reassure them that we, their fathers*, will always be here for them.

We should instil in them the tenacity to pursue their dreams, and to treat others with kindness and respect. They should then choose one vocation and stick to it, to dedicate themselves to becoming better at their chosen path, trusting that they will reach their goals in due time. It is this exact combination of perseverance, compassion, and belief that will guide them through the challenges of life.

This is of course captured by the Japanese concept of ikigai, which roughly means “a reason for being.” Finding one’s ikigai is about discovering what you are passionate about, what you are good at, and what the world needs from you. It is not a process that happens overnight; it can take years of exploration and dedication. However, once found, ikigai becomes a guiding light, providing direction and purpose in life. And having a father on one’s side while traversing this journey is an obvious advantage.

I want my children to embrace this journey of discovery, understanding that success is not just about achieving a set goal, but also about growing and learning along the way. It’s about waking up each day with a sense of purpose and a drive to contribute something meaningful to the world, whatever it may be. Whether it takes a few years or a few decades to find their ikigai, the important thing is to remain committed to their journey.

This perspective was shaped no less by my own father, my Abah. Although he was a schoolteacher, with the seven of us, he was more of a man of action than words. I remember being hit with his belt after I broke a lamp while playing badminton in the house. But I also remember him getting his degree as an adult student, traveling back and forth weekly between KL and Pontian, Johor in his mid-30s in the 1980s, chasing his childhood dream of having a university degree—the first and only one in his family. I don’t know what else to call it, if not perseverance, compassion, and belief.

On this Father’s Day, I want to extend my congratulations to all fathers who are going through this incredible journey. Let us continue to be there for our children, not to dictate their paths, but to walk alongside them as they find their way. Reminding them that the world is theirs to explore, and we will always be their loyal cheerleaders. Just like when Snape was asked by Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’:
“After all this time?” He answered: Always.

Mothers too, of course. But this is a Father’s Day article, you see.


The author is an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Universiti Malaya, and a father to three boys.