10 June 2022, by Gideon Loh
My dad worked as a hawker and a Chinese musician in his younger years. In him, you would find an atypical blend of authenticity and finesse. He handled life and parenting in the same way.
Regrettably, I do not know much about how my grandparents and my dad ended up in Singapore. I think this is mainly because I had never shown much interest in my dad’s life story and to add to this, he was a rather quiet father in my growing years. He came from a family of eight where he was the youngest son. After marrying my mum, he was working three jobs to provide for our family. He would sell carrot cakes at the now-demolished Jalan Membina market in the morning, head out to play music for Teochew wayang in the afternoon and then sell fishball noodles at one of the flatted factories in the Henderson area till the wee mornings. During my childhood years, he would send me to school almost every day, on his trusty Yamaha motorbike from Jurong to Keppel. Fast forward to today, my dad is now retired and is blessed with eight grandchildren, and perhaps more in the future!
I do not remember much of the heart-to-heart conversations I’ve had with my father. However, I do fondly recall two special experiences. First was when he taught me how to play Chinese chess, right in the living room of our tiny 1-room HDB flat. I learnt how each chess piece worked and the rules of the game. But more importantly, these moments allowed me to see how my father thinks and how he strategises in the game. These moments were like small windows through which I could see who my father was as a person and understand him a little more. The thing is, I was not crazy about Chinese chess, but I treasured these moments because they were rare times I could have with him… Like a trip we took to Genting Highlands, the times spent queueing at the first A&W restaurant at Redhill town centre and the times we celebrated our birthdays at MacRitchie reservoir. In and of themselves, these activities never meant more than the time I could spend with my father.
The other experience happened one Christmas. It was an unusual and memorable occasion because we had a Christmas tree at home! Small as it was, it brought much joy and excitement to my young heart. It could have been the tree or the colourful string of blinking lights, or perhaps it was the wrapped presents placed neatly under the tree. I could distinctly remember opening my gift wrapped in one of those reflective polyester film wrappings. This Christmas present given to me by my dad was one of the coolest ‘ transformers’ looking pencil cases I’ve ever owned. Those many buttons on the casing ignited sparks of creativity in me during boring school lessons!
But however special these things were, I suspected what made the experience most memorable, it was one of those times I was made to feel loved. I did not know about the meaning of Christmas then, but I did see ‘giving’ in action. My dad and mum gave of themselves to make me and my sister feel special. It didn’t matter to them that it took time to set up the tree and prepare the presents. It did not even matter that they might have looked weird doing so. What they did there, and pretty much in their life, has significantly shaped the way I give to others, beginning with my wife and children. Here are some principles and examples:
- Never give gifts which do not cost you time and effort – this means giving them something that allows you to show them how much you know them. Plan a Nerf party for your children and their friends instead of just getting them Nerf toys. Spend time knowing your wife, be genuinely keen to know more about her over a meal instead of just buying her a fancy dinner. Thing is, knowing them and letting yourself be known by them takes time and effort, sacrifices even, and that, is one of the most precious gifts you can give you loved ones.
- Sometimes give gifts for no reasons at all! – One of the reasons we give gifts is to tell our loved ones they are special to us. In my opinion, there is no better way to do that than to give them gifts when they least expect it! Bring them out for a picnic, do their favorite thing, book a staycation, make a special lunch for your wife and kids, just because. We all feel special when we are frequently in someone else’s thoughts.
- Always show and tell them they are deeply loved! – Have you always wanted to make the world a better place? Well, I have discovered that we…actually…CAN! We start by telling and showing our family that they are deeply loved, regardless of their ‘performance’. They do not need to become a ‘somebody’ for us to love them more. They do not need to earn enough merits or score enough points for them to stay loved by you. I often imagine what the world would be like should we begin to love our family that way. Do you know what would happen if we begin to stand by our children and wife to tell them, ‘I believe in you’ despite them falling short of the world’s expectations? Don’t get me wrong, unmerited love does not mean inordinate love. Love can exist with rules, discipline, and pursuit of excellence. It is a kind of love that commits to spur people on to greater heights when no one else believes in them.
And that, is what I strive to do, most imperfectly obviously, for my wife and… 3 children now! Yes! Ladies and gentlemen, meet Micaiah, our little baby girl, the latest addition to our family! We are so inspired by her. She is as strong in her resilience as she is with her vocal cords! Taking care of 3 children has been tiring and humbling. There are challenges which we cannot solve and needs we sometimes fail to meet. But like many endeavors in life, we find much joy and hope as we give of our best. We find it true that it is more blessed for one to give than to receive. We are already thrilled to be given the opportunity to make memories with each of our children. Watching them grow in every area of their lives as they become a blessing to the people around them is nothing short of inspiring.
A recent family photo, when we are not ‘fighting crimes’! 😊
Lastly, to my own father, thank you, for the father you are to me. Thank you for all your sacrifices, especially those which I do not even know about. Thank you for the many things you have taught me through your life, some through words but most in actions. Happy Father’s Day!