Irwan Rinaldi: A fathering father
Irwan Rinaldi may not have had an ideal childhood or biological children of his own, but he may be the greatest dad a child could hope for.
Irwan is the brains behind Sahabat Ayah, a support group that assists men to be good dads.
The 46-year-old founded the independent organization back in 2009 after years of dealing with the subject of parenting in Indonesia.
He concluded that the source of the parenting problem in the country was the absence of
fathers in the family. Dads are too occupied with their jobs, neglecting their kids at home. This has had a deep impact on the lives of children, he said.
According to Irwan, fathers are an important factor in building character and personalities.
“Our kids are becoming weak. They don’t have strong characters. They cannot say no. This is all because their fathers don’t teach them,” the former kindergarten teacher said in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post.
Realizing the significance of a father’s role in the family, Irwan and his friends at Sahabat Ayah offer help to career fathers in need of guidance how to return to the arms of their children.
Irwan has been working at this for years, dealing with people from different economic backgrounds to disseminate “fathering” messages.
The expert, who believes the problem is an epidemic among all social classes, speaks to both rich and poor dads across the country and reminds them of the importance of their presence to their offspring.
Irwan has been tirelessly working from region to region in this country to make sure that he gets the message across to every father because he believes a father figure is crucial to the country’s future because the next generation lies in their hands.
“Problems in this country are not only about politics, economy, society and culture, but also character, the issue of defining the self,” Irwan said, adding that the problems in the country stem from the absence of a father figure.
A friend said Irwan is a good entertainer, and has a good sense of humor. “Kids enjoy being around him,” Irwan’s friend Yully Purwanti Nugroho said.
Unfortunately, life had something different in store for him. Despite his work in the fathering movement, Irwan does not have children of his own.
Instead, he and his wife have raised 15 foster children during their 20 years of marriage. “Being childless encouraged me to devote myself as a father to others,” he said.
His devotion has also been felt by the neighborhood, as most of the kids near his house like to hang out with him, his friend Bendri Jaisyurrahman told the Post.
Another irony from Irwan’s life is that he spent most of his childhood fatherless.
Hailing from a remote village in West Sumatra, Irwan was raised in a poor family, and his father was out of town most of the time for work.
But it was his own father that inspired Irwan to become a good father.
Even though Irwan’s father was a busy man, he still made time to hang out with his children.
Due to economic hardships, young Irwan had to leave his family to find work and could not continue his education.
He eventually enrolled in the University of Indonesia but it was a difficult life and he became a busker in the capital.
“I had to stay with an art community in Bulungan because I didn’t have a place to sleep,” he reminisced.
But he did develop an interest in writing poetry and literature from that time of difficulty. Apart from his daily work with fathering, Irwan also writes prose and poetry. His latest book, Ayah Ada Ayah Tiada (Dad Exists but Not Here), has been published as part of Sahabat Ayah’s marketing to reach out to more fathers.
It is fair to say that everything in Irwan’s life, including his penchant for writing, is related to fathering. Irwan confessed that his life’s path had led him to fathering, including when he decided to enroll at the Driyakarya Institute of Philosophy in Jakarta.
Irwan realized he was meant for the fathering mission when he volunteered to help children in war-torn regions of Ambon, Bosnia and Kosovo.
“In war zones, when I held in my laps severely wounded children, with head and hands almost disintegrated, I felt like I had been called,” Irwan recalled.
It was also his passion that led him to start an unusual career for a man as a kindergarten teacher after graduating from college.
His involvement in fathering got more serious when he met parenting expert Elly Rusman Musa.
They worked together on a study of fathers in the country, and their findings encouraged Irwan to start campaigning for fathering and to establish Sahabat Ayah after realizing how important father figures are.
Apart from his dedication and experience, Irwan refuses to be called a “super dad”. Instead, Irwan is one of those dads who is not only doing it for the kids but for the country as well.