21 August 2020, by Joel Chng

Daddy…Where Are You?

Singapore’s 13th general election (GE) was held last month.

For me, the 2015 GE and recently concluded 2020 GE have both been significant in my fatherhood journey. Not the elections per se, but the events that happened during these elections.

In 2015, I drove Petrina to the polling station just before the polls closed at 8 pm. “Cutting it close, guys!” you might be thinking. Well, my 38-week-pregnant wife had been experiencing contractions all day but insisted on casting her vote after I got home from work. When that was done, we drove to Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and checked-in to the delivery suite, where we found out that Petrina was only 1cm dilated. “Low pain threshold,” she groaned. We spent the next few hours watching the election results (with many epidural top-ups!), and Ezra was born on 12 September 2015.

2020. This time, things were different. I was now working in a local news agency, where GE meant “all hands on deck!” The lead-up to GE was intense, with three weeks of non-stop work from the day Parliament was dissolved (think 15-hour days and no weekend breaks). Thus, Ezra barely got to see me.

On ‘normal’ days, I send Ezra to school in the mornings. During the GE period, there were days where I was out of the house before Ezra woke up. On school nights, Ezra goes to bed at around 6 pm, so he would be fast asleep by the time I got home.

Ezra struggled to understand why I had to work on consecutive weekends. To him, weekends meant outings with daddy. On the first Sunday that I had to work, Ezra woke up and found himself alone in the bedroom – he walked to the kitchen and said sadly, “Mummy, Daddy left me [alone] inside.” I usually sleep in on Sundays, so waking up to see the next bed empty caught Ezra by surprise. That day, Ezra kept asking, “When will daddy come home? I want him to play with me.”

Then at 5 pm, Ezra took out one of our family polaroids and kept staring at it, deep in thought. Suddenly, he started sobbing, “Mummy, I miss daddy,” and “You know I did not see daddy at all today?” Shocked, Petrina quickly texted to ask if I had time to send Ezra a video recording. I did, and when Ezra saw me on-screen, he burst into tears and was inconsolable.

Having spent considerable time away from home, the video of Ezra crying made me tear up, too. I was touched that my son missed me so much, and realise how close our bond is. Admittedly, it was something that I took for granted.

All this while, I assumed that fathers today have the same bond with their children and sometimes I even feel overwhelmed that Ezra wants to do everything with me! If Ezra had his way, I would be the one putting him to bed every night. When we shared this with family and friends, they were surprised – many said that children are usually closer to their mothers (who are usually around more). Some stay-at-home mothers added that they have to create opportunities for their children to spend time with their fathers, to foster closer bonds.

For me, there is no secret formula. It is my goal to build a conversational relationship with Ezra and from the start, I decided that I wanted to be a hands-on father. I will always joke with Ezra and try to spend one-on-one time with him. I hope that even when Ezra grows up, he will be comfortable approaching me for talks and feel that we can chat about anything.

For Ezra to think the world of me – that is extremely humbling. Even though Ezra often requests to play “pirates” or “police” and I sometimes feel like I am running out of novel ways to play, I realised that at the end of the day, all Ezra wants is to spend time with me – it does not matter what game we play. This has really put things in perspective for me. As a father, this is precious currency. I treasure this father-and-son bond and I want to continue cultivating it while Ezra is still young, by not taking him for granted and to always choose to be present for him.

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