Tetsuya Ando, founder of the nonprofit organization Fathering Japan, wants to do everything he can for dads in Japan to encourage present and future fathers to play a more active role in child-rearing.
Ando established the NPO — which now has over 400 members — in 2006 to support fathers by holding workshops and other activities. In between raising three children aged 6 to 16 with his wife, who works full-time, Ando serves as the group’s deputy representative.
Ando established a nationwide network of fathers with the NPO to plan projects and support dads from various backgrounds.
“Our members range from top managers of companies and salarymen who work for smaller businesses, to house husbands and single fathers, but they have something in common: They are all smiling,” Ando said.
“A lot of men, particularly older ones, feel they have a place only in their offices. When they join Fathering Japan, they feel that they are connected to their family and the community, and thus society,” said Ando. The NPO has nine branches throughout the country, including in the Kansai and Kyushu areas.
“What’s important is that the fathers improve themselves together with their children, by supporting and learning from each other, and their diverse backgrounds.”
From the standpoint that smiling children are brought up by smiling parents, Ando said he started the NPO with the aim of increasing “the number of smiling fathers in Japan.”
What Ando focuses on most is education, giving lectures at firms and universities more than 200 times a year and holding picture book workshops for fathers and children to support both married and single dads.
Other projects run by the NPO include donation drives for those who took losses in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and for single-father families through its French Toast Fund. It is also pressuring the government to support single dads facing financial and psychological difficulties.
Thanks to Fathering Japan and Ando’s efforts in the welfare ministry’s Ikumen Project Promotion Team, which promotes men’s participation in “ikuji,” or child rearing, a small wave of change has altered Japanese society, most recently in the form of two legal amendments.
The 2009 amendment to the law on child care leave, which gave mothers and fathers the right to take up to 12 months off work until the child turns 14 months old, gradually made it possible for more companies to nudge dads to take paternity leave, making it easier for families to achieve a better work-life balance. Before that, each parent was allowed to take time off before their child turned 12 months old.
Another amendment to the law in 2010 provided for a child-rearing allowance for single-father families, rather than just single-mother families. This shed light on the growing problem of poverty in single-parent households.
His passion for supporting fathers comes from his bitter memories of childhood.
“I didn’t like my own father, who was a negative example to me, so I wanted to become the complete opposite, and become a role model,” Ando said in a recent interview, adding that this strong yearning triggered him to set up the NPO.
Ando, 51, said he had no fond memories of his family when he was young because his late father bossed his mother around. Living in that kind of environment left a huge emotional scar, he said.
Another trigger for setting up the NPO was an incident in 2006 where a high school student torched his home, leaving his stepmother, younger brother and sister dead. The boy’s motive was traced to a deep-seated grudge toward his doctor father, who wanted him to follow in his footsteps but regularly abused him physically and psychologically.
“I was shocked by this incident. Fathers are there not to try to map out the child’s entire life. They are there to support children in whatever they choose to do with their lives,” he said.
He pointed out that it’s important for fathers to get help early, when their children are small. If you wait until they’re teenagers, they may have already developed problems, some of which may be linked to the fathers themselves.
“The men are not good at showing their feelings. They endure, and when the cup gets full, and the liquid pours out, it may lead to abuse. That is why this kind of support group is necessary,” he said.
In recent years, he has expanded its activities to support children. Ando founded Tiger Mask Fund in 2012 to raise funds for children who want to go to university, because the child welfare system only provides financial support until the age of 18.
Ando, born in Tokyo to a civil servant father and a housewife mother, was once a typical salaryman himself.
Today, he looks like a rock musician, his long hair, jeans, sunglasses and leather jacket setting him apart completely from the suit and tie ranks of Japan Inc.
“I feel much freer now. Of course I have a lot of responsibility, but I like what I’m doing, and am enjoying it,” he said with a smile.
After graduating from Meiji University, where he spent a lot of his time playing guitar in a rock band and working part-time-jobs, he got his first full-time job at a publishing company. After changing jobs eight times, mostly among bookstores and Internet companies, he ditched the salaryman life to start Fathering Japan.
He said his second child was born while he was a manager at Rakuten Inc., but that he was too busy to help his wife because he frequently had to work overtime. So he often came home late and left most of the child-rearing duties and housework to his wife.
“I was working at Roppongi Hills at the time. I would shout things at my wife, such as “I’m ‘Hiruzu-zoku’ (a member of the Hills clan),” a moniker for the elite IT and banking types who flaunt their wealth at the swanky shopping complex.
“I work at Rakuten, and I’m too busy to do any housework or help out with child-rearing,” he quoted himself as saying.
One day, he said his wife suddenly walked out.
“I didn’t realize that I was being a bad father until she was gone,” he said.
Fortunately, his wife was only gone for a day, but he said that was the moment when he realized he wanted to totally change his lifestyle.
Since then, he has done just about everything related to child-rearing — changing diapers, picking kids from the nursery, representing the parent-teacher association at schools and even writing books about it all.
“I would like to tell my child- rearing method to the fathers with confidence. It’s up to the fathers to believe in it or to adapt it to their lifestyles. I think that if many fathers try to take it on, and challenge the situation and start taking action, then society will change gradually. I believe that’s a good thing,” he said.
“I don’t want fathers to just lament the bad incidents that happen all over Japan, and don’t do anything to help change the situation at all. I just want to see a happy ending.”
Significant events in Ando’s life
1985 — Graduates from Meiji University.
1996 — Opens bookshop Ohraido Shoten in Tokyo.
1997 — Birth of first child.
2000 — Birth of second child.
2003 — Works on NTT Docomo e-book project.
2004 — Becomes store manager of Rakuten Books.
2006 — Establishes NPO Fathering Japan.
2008 — Birth of third child.
2011 — Becomes deputy representative of Fathering Japan.
2012 — Establishes Tiger Mask Fund.
“Generational Change” is a new series of interviews that will appear on the first Monday of each month, profiling people in various fields who are taking a leading role in bringing about change in society. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org .