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I haven’t been very good at celebrating milestones. Today is our 12th wedding anniversary.

Last year, after making reservations at a couple of restaurants, Faith and I decided to eat at our nearby hawker centre, much to the consternation of my sisters, who thought I should be putting in more effort.

The year before that, on our 10th anniversary, we skipped celebrating altogether because we were taking care of Joshie who was one week old at the time.

This year, I saw a promotion for lobster at $1 at The Boiler and thought I should do something nice for once. Not being able to keep secrets from Faith, I told her where we were going and what food to expect.

“Looking at the pictures on the website, there’s going to be crab, lobster, corn on the cob…”, I said to her as I checked out the menu online.

“Corn on the cob! Yum!”, came her response.

I don’t know if you guys have ever experienced it: the moment you know that you married the right person. This was one such moment for me.

12 year anniversary

Dearest Faith,

Our 23 years together have been marked by so many of these moments where I sit back and marvel at the beautiful person you are. The time you showed such grit when you shared a tandem bike with me and we made it up that steep hill; or when you understood and didn’t judge me for the frustrations I felt when my parenting skills didn’t cut it. You have filled our 12 years of marriage with so many of these amazing moments where I thank God profusely for joining our lives together as one.

As our children grow and slowly become more independent of us, I am thankful that I have you by my side as we walk this next stage of our family-life, taking a more active role in serving the young people in church whom God has blessed us with.

You remind me constantly of how good life is; and how Christ longs to come into fullness of this - this life together which fills our cup to overflowing - with His bride the Church.

May our lives and our service reflect the spiritual and heavenly reality. May He have the pre-eminence.

365 Days

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since Joshie’s arrival. The initial days of taking care of an infant demand an almost unconditional surrender of your most basic human rights, whether it be sleep, food or leisure.

Joshie at birth

Before Joshie, we were at a stage where Caleb was finally getting a little more independent. Date nights were possible, and having another baby meant starting everything anew. But it seemed that God was calling us to plan less and trust more. It wasn’t a natural inclination to obey, but it was a step of faith and divine providence that brought Joshie into our lives.

The last few weeks have been especially trying as the flu bug made its rounds within our family. Joshie in particular has gone down a number of times, his fever hitting the grand 40 degrees Celsius at one point. In the midst of this parched and barren stretch that has pushed us to the point of complete exhaustion, there have been little spots of reprieve amidst prayer.

We had committed to going for church camp earlier in June this year, and I was supposed to help out with the youth programme. But the weeks just before camp the whole family fell ill. We were at the paediatrician the day before flying over the Kuala Lumpur, unsure if it were wise for Joshie to spend a week away from home. But in the end, we packed up a whole bag full of medication (and a huge nebuliser) and had a week of good fellowship with many other parents.

Joshie’s health held up; Anne and Caleb were the very best helpers.

Things were looking up for a while, but Joshie fell ill again and even right now, is still running a temperature. The last few nights - I laugh a little when I say “few; it feels like months - have been spent monitoring, medicating and cleaning up vomit.

So with all the night duties, Faith and I were pretty exhausted as it approached his birthday. Thank God for Joshie’s super aunts who put together a party, baked a rainbow cake and even roped Anne in to help with decorating the cake.

Super Aunt!

Super Aunt!

Truly, truly, it takes a village to raise a child, and we have been very blessed to be so close to so many family members who love our children so much.

With grandparents

With grandparents

Cousins

We don’t know how long it’ll be until Joshie gets totally well, but we’ll take it one day at a time — God’s mercies are new every morning.

Joshie smiling at his birthday party

The three amigos

Happy birthday little one.

Late for Mothers' Day

I know that Mothers’ Day has passed, and I wish that work didn’t delay this post, but it did. I guess an expression of gratitude should never be withheld.

This goes out to the mothers in my life.

A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31:10-31

To my mother,

I don’t seem to remember much of my childhood, except that I was always in some sort of trouble. I remember being thoroughly disinterested in homework, and I can only imagine the grief it must have caused you. I remember the mornings you spent, labouriously ploughing through my homework with me, only to find my mind unfocused on the tasks at hand and always someplace else.

I remember you as a young woman, at a loss as to what to do with your firstborn. When I think back, I can still feel your frustration of trying to get through to your firstborn who seemed more interested in imaginary worlds and storybooks. I am glad that you gave me the space to find my own bearings and be my own person.

In more recent years we have had so much more to share, and I am so constantly in awe of how giving you are: how you’d bring elderly people you scarcely know to the hairdresser’s, or be so willing to help others with financial problems.

When I was about nine or ten, you scolded me for being too generous with my belongings. I can’t remember the exact situation, but I remember Daddy and you saying, “So you think you’re Santa Claus?” I didn’t dare answer back at that time, but I wanted so much to tell both of you that I was only following your example.

Even to this day I walk in the very large footsteps the two of you leave behind. It is my pride to inherit this legacy of generosity of spirit, and it is one of the most important lessons I hope to pass down to my own children.

To my wife, my partner in parenting the three little people in our lives: I still stand amazed at where God has brought us. You’ll always be the little girl I fell madly in love with; the teenager with whom I exchanged letters on life; the junior college student who read poetry assignments to me over the phone in the dead of night; the young woman who found her calling as a teacher of young children; and the one who gave up all others to spend her life with me back when I was broke and jobless.

I miss the days when I had you all to myself, but I know that this is season of our lives is a shared experience while our children find their wings. I am so thankful for having you in my life, and I often step back and marvel at how you have become a mother.

Indeed, “a wife of noble character who can find?” And here I am, blessed that I have so many beautiful women in my life.

The Value of Parenthood

This evening, Dads for Life posted a short video of something that happened on Channel NewsAsia this evening:

They were interviewing a man for his expert opinion on how Japan’s tax hike would affect Japanese consumers, when the man’s child (off camera) started making some noise and needed his attention. He tried to answer the question, and then said with a smile, “we’re going to have to stop”, and got off camera to tend to the kid.

The comments on the Facebook post were very interesting. Some viewed the man’s behaviour as a lack of professionalism; (“surely he must have known he would be going on the air!”) Others saw it as somebody finally putting family first, and that it was something to be lauded.

I’m just thankful we are able to have this conversation. It wasn’t too long ago when it would be inconceivable for a man to leave his work so unceremoniously for his kid when it didn’t seem like an emergency.


For the past three months, I have spent nights sleeping on the couch in the living room or the recliner in the baby’s room. Sleep has been constrained to short stretches between bottle feeds, washing and sterilising said bottles, and preparing the breast pump for Faith. At best, this cycle is stretched over four hours. On bad days, I lay my head down for 20 minute stretches at a time, before I decide the commute between the land of the living and the realm of sleep too tedious, and I give up.

Work hasn’t been a walk in the park either. When Caleb and Faith fell ill, I took sick leave and stayed home to tend to them. But deadlines are what they are, and being connected means work never really leaves you alone, despite the best intentions of colleagues. It was when I pushed Caleb aside while trying to tend to an urgent email that I realised we had some way to go as a society if we were ever going to make work part of life, rather than its totality.

Parenting is messy. It throws up unexpected surprises, makes unscheduled stops, zips past when we’re not noticing. It is the perfect embodiment of what life is.

Parenting is unapologetically hard. If you’ve ever tried putting a baby to bed you’d know that some days it is nigh impossible, no matter how hard you try. Then at your wit’s end, when you’ve screamed, shouted, thrown in the towel; when you’re halfway through your monologue, ranting against heaven, you discover the kiddo fast asleep. There is no formula: what worked today may not work tomorrow. There is only the now.

It is also unbelievably beautiful. In that moment when your child is asleep and your voice still hoarse from cursing the gods, there is an aura of peace one can only describe as godsent. When your child speaks his or her first words, you may not understand the babble, but the moment is filled with meaning.

Along with my wonderful folks at work and with the help of many creative people, we put together two short video clips that encapsulate these parenting moments.

For Mums,

and for Dads,

As I look at the visuals of my own parenting journey taken over the last 8 years, I am thankful for all that I have been blessed with, and reminded to be the man my wife and children can look up to.


I may not or may not go off camera during a live feed to tend to my child, but it would be nice if we regarded the needs of the child a little more, and the slight inconvenience to millions of viewers a little less; the value of being a parent, and not merely its cost.

If you’d like to support this cause to make Singapore better, we started the Heybaby Facebook page where we will be facilitating the sharing of parenting stories and moments. If you’d like to contribute some stories of your own, there’s an online form over at Heybaby.sg.

Day nor the Hour

Faith and I sat in front of Dr Soon, our gynaecologist.

“How? You want to do it now?”

We sat there, totally stunned and unsure. The baby had grown quite a bit over the last few weeks, and his size had become a little bit of a concern. Our previous two had always come unannounced, so having a choice in when the baby would be born was a decision we had never made.

“Erm…tomorrow?”

A quick phone call was made, and things were set in motion. I sent out text messages to the necessary parties. It was odd telling my colleagues that we were having the baby tomorrow. Seemed almost prescient.

As we wind down for the night I look at Faith and tell her I’ll be cheering her on. As a husband, the birth of your children is one of those moments you stand so helplessly by.

“Wish I could do it for you”, I say, a little too quickly. “Erm…maybe not.” Even chivalry had its limits.

We both laughed.

It’s a new day tomorrow. The cold night air is tinged with excitement, but also fear and uncertainty. Grandma transferred from the hospital over to the hospice today. A poignant moment in our lives, standing at the start and end of life’s circle.

Draw to the Close of Day

Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings;
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings:
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea;
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour:
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless:
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness:
Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

In Moments Like These

There is so much that begs to be written.

A couple of months ago, Faith conceived our third. It is odd how we look at childbearing as a decision these days, when in fact it is the act of preventing childbearing that is deliberate. The decision to leave it in God’s good hands wasn’t an easy one. We were settling in a nice routine. The kids were growing up and it made no logical sense to have a third child.

When you decide to have your first, it is a monumental step you’re embarking on. As a couple you get ready for this next step in your relationship and take the plunge. It is after that where you think of how lonely a single child must feel, and you have another. So if you are, where I was, with two children — a boy and a girl no less — there is very little impetus to have a third child.

But God didn’t leave us alone. Working at a government agency that looks into the decline of childbirths, it was hard not to be introspective. There are a myriad of reasons why people choose not to have children, but for me it came down to pretty selfish reasons. It was a matter of control, and not wanting to give that up. To be frank they aren’t even good reasons. The best moments Faith and I have had in our lives so far have had to do with our children. Their presence in our lives gave us such unspeakable joy, yet here we were, trained to look upon the bringing up of a child as a chore and a burden. It’s almost telling, how universally we speak constantly about the “cost of raising a child”, but so little about what paying the cost brings. Children are seen as a time sink and a sunk cost.

The psalmist writes “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed in the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

It is amazing how short our memories are, and how quickly we cling to self-centeredness disguised as pragmatism. Faith and I were hesitant to even consider having another child. The costs seem so real and enduring, while the joys so fast and fleeting. Yet I know this: that on my deathbed, I will not begrudge my children the money I spent on them; I will regret the time I withheld. The smiles and laughter of my wife and my children will be the most precious things, the last things I reluctantly hold on to when the time comes for earthly existence to fade.

It took us a while, but we eventually surrendered our rights to “family planning”, at least for now. It wasn’t long before Faith conceived.

We were afraid of what it meant, but we rejoiced.


Almost exactly twenty years ago, Faith prepared to take her ‘O’ Levels. Needing help with her mathematics, she went to a tutor who took a personal interest in her, and things got creepy. I hung out with less than desirable company at that time, and the tutor happened to live in our neighbourhood. Nothing much happened, except that Faith and I grew closer and eventually became something of an item.

It has been a heck of a journey, and it wasn’t always smooth. There were times when the tectonic forces of growing up, finding our own identities as individuals, and staying together as a couple, seemed diametrically opposed and threatened to tear us apart. But I’m so very thankful to be her husband.

Even this afternoon as I looked upon her from afar, with Caleb sitting on her lap and both of them laughing, I realised how truly, truly blessed my life has been, to have been able to love so deeply without fear or apprehension. To rejoice in the wife and children of my youth.


A few hours ago, ultrasound scans of our third child revealed that there was no heartbeat to be heard. It was an oddly emotional moment. How do you grieve someone you never knew, or be nonchalant about the passing of someone you have spent so much time imagining life with? Part of you wants to cry, and part of you chides yourself for being silly because there never was anything to cry about. But there was. Is. Would have been.

It was only last night Faith and I read Isaiah 55,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

All we can say is that this journey, though cut short in our eyes, was exactly the journey God had planned for us, that we might learn to differentiate the unimportant from the important, and learn to relinquish control and return unto God what is rightfully His.


There is so much that begs to be written, so many thoughts to be laid straight.

Little Time

Zero gravityIn the midst of all the hustle and bustle of things that cry out for our attention, there is no greater reminder of how quickly time slips through our fingers than that of our children. They graduate from phase to phase, so fast that by the time we parents learn to deal with the challenges of a tantrum-throwing toddler, we find them asking questions on interpersonal problems at school.

So such it is with Anne and Caleb, our two little stowaway adventurers who’ve become fellow journeymen and constant companions of our lives. It seems only yesterday Anne was born; how silently 6 years have passed! Shy Caleb has turned to rambunctious Caleb to well-mannered Caleb, and even as I write this, he’s already morphing into some new phase of cognitive development, complete with new challenges and joys.

Age is really beginning to catch up with us. For the first time in my life, sheer force of will is no longer enough to overcome the lead in my legs as I insist on chasing down kids less than half my age on the neighbourhood basketball court. I stretch to go in one direction, but there’s this perceptible lag between what my mind wants and what my body performs. I stubbornly refuse to accept the fact I’m past the age some professional basketball players retire, but the symptoms are undeniably visible.

We’re also starting to come face to face with our mortality, and even more immediately, that of our parents.

Blessed 70th, dad.

Dad just celebrated his 70th, a momentous milestone by any measure, but I must admit in my heart that there is a growing worry. The assumptions of life and health of our family and ourselves — assumptions that we so carelessly took for granted in our youth no longer stand up to the stark reality that everything earthly eventually atrophies.

As friends and colleagues around me deal with their parents’ declining health, I brace myself for the same eventuality.

It dawns on me that time is short for us all, and we ought to spend it wisely. For all the words that I should have said and not said, all the things I should have done and not done, there is no time for regret, only swift decision.

To love, to share, and to serve.

Spool

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was a long time ago when Dad went out of a job and stayed home. I can’t remember how long the period was, but like for any job seeker, it must have been hard. During that time he took on the role of homemaker and lunch took on a decidedly Teochew slant. Not that I minded, of course. I could live on salted eggs and porridge for a pretty long time.

It was also the best times I had with Daddy. I remember how he’d take me out after school and we’d go to Marina Bay with nothing but a spool of string wound around a soda can. We’d rummage through rubbish bins looking for a couple of usable sticks, plastic bags and old newspapers. Once the materials were gathered it took Dad only a few minutes before we had a working kite.

And we would escape gravity for an afternoon.

Daddy flying a kite

You’d be surprised at how much I learned. We’d walk past shops selling expensive kites, quietly laughing that our handmade concoction saved us quite a bit of cash. I learned that like the flying of a kite, most things in life revolve around knowing when to exert a little pull and when to let go. You’ll be surprised - letting go of the string is how you right a wayward kite.

It’s counter-intuitive, yet not.

When Mum retired a couple of months ago we were a little worried that she’d be unable to slow the frenetic pace of life she had been so used to. Then Dad took her kite-flying. Now my kids Anne and Caleb tag along. I’m so glad that they can share this wonderful side to my father. Were it not for his short unemployment, I would not have had that chance.

Anne and her grandfather flying a kite

Pause and Give Thanks

Things happen so quickly around here it takes an act of will to put on the brakes, if only to figure out where we are.

Faith and the 2 kids have been battling a wretched cough for a while now. Just the other night, Faith was in a coughing fit. Anne went out of the bedroom and came back with a glass of hot water and handed it to her mother with a small smile. I panicked a little at the thought of the little girl lifting a heavy jug of hot water from a counter a little too high for her and pouring it into a glass. So I hastily told her not to do that by herself again.

Crestfallen, she walked to the corner and wept. Our hearts shattered in a million pieces. Compassion is such a fragile thing and is easily destroyed by cold hard pragmatism. Faith and I held the crying girl until her tears turned to laughter at one of the many jokes I had to spontaneously think up to turn the tide around. I dried her damp cheeks and marveled at the girl God had put into my life.

In the background, Caleb was still jumping up and down on the bed, going “bang bang”, pointing at everyone else with the broken toy airplane wing that passed off for a gun.

Faith and I looked at each other. No words were needed.

Only hearts of gratitude.

Anne and the Polar Bear

Feeding Time

In the Moment

These 2 Indian ladies occupy the same bench every evening, their 2 white dogs on leashes as they observe the day-to-day routine of the neighbourhood repeat itself with little variations in each iteration. The contrast of fluffy white fur against their dark skin, their presence has become part of the coming home experience for the many families who walk this path daily.

Anne and Caleb often run up to say hi, if only to gaze curiously at the dogs for a bit, before bolting off towards the lift lobby, jumping over imaginary lava floes made up of lines of different coloured tiles on the uniform concrete floor.

The passage of time becomes apparent: when we first began walking this path, there was only Anne, and we carried her. There is now two, chatty as ever, and we beam with pride whenever they show the appropriate level of respect and cheerfulness when greeting the 2 seated aunties; it is this race-agnostic unity that I love about Singapore and want desperately to protect. The 2 little tykes also used to need help leaping over their imaginary obstacles. These days they jump over them without nary a thought. It won’t entertain them for much longer, I think to myself.

I put my arms around Faith. Life is good, I tell her. We breathe it in deep, so utterly satisfied, yet half-afraid at the inevitable: that all this too shall pass.

We have today’s blessings to be thankful for.

Malt

Raymond's DadRaymond’s Dad passed away last week. I had only met the man once, at Raymond’s wedding. Raymond very proudly told all his guests how his dad built the ice-cream cart they used to serve ice-cream by hand, and also the small trolley a little dog would sit on, carrying the wedding bands up the aisle. I remember all this so clearly because Raymond’s dad reminded me of my dad.

In this new-fangled world filled with technology to connect people, we are inundated with text messages, emails, tweets, RSS feeds we need to read, Instapaper and links on Delicious, every one vying for our attention. In return, we are producing an equal amount of curated garbage via our phones, laptops and iPads.

And somewhere in this mad, mad world, you have these people who seem totally unaffected. The most beautiful part about them is that they speak loudest with their hands, and their actions cut through all the din, all the smoke, ringing like a bell that speaks directly to our heart.

In my parents house, Dad sits at the dinner table, continually peeling all manner of shellfish. It is no secret that my mother has the luxury of not knowing what the shell of a crab looks like - Dad tirelessly makes sure that all family members seated within arm’s reach of him receive food and fruit that is meticulously prepared for hassle-free consumption.

Dad is the sort of person whom, after lamenting about how much pocket money you demand, quietly slips his last $50 bill into your wallet or purse while you’re asleep. And you only discover it the next day at school.

So when Raymond’s father passed on, it hurt to know that one day Dad would as well, and I wanted to write to tell the world that we have amazing fathers.

Because they are the least likely people in the world to write about it themselves.

Dad's Birthday

But for a little while

For Faith, Anne and Caleb.

I miss you already.

Chinese New Year Rundown

To our sisters Audrey and Louelle who couldn’t join us for the Chinese New Year festivities. Thought I’d give you guys a summary of stuff we did this year.

Continue reading Chinese New Year Rundown »

In and On Itself

Anne smiling

“Are we in Singapore or on Singapore?” Anne asked last night while in bed.

“In Singapore, I guess.”

“If we’re in Singapore, why is it we’re on earth?”

Whoa. My 4-year old just set me up for a tough question. I struggled with that one, not because I didn’t know the answer, but I didn’t know how to explain it in a way a 4-year old would understand.

You know, maybe I didn’t have to dumb it down. After all, she was the one who asked right?

So here goes.

When we say we’re in Singapore, we refer to its national boundaries which we remain physically within. We do sometimes say we are on the island of Singapore, which would refer to the actual piece of land we stand on.

Likewise, when we refer to Earth, we do not mean an invisible boundary (not until we start parceling out plots of space for condominiums anyway), but the planet itself. Therefore we are on the planet and not in it.

Unless we’re spelunking.

You think Anne’ll understand spelunking?

All Stubbed Up

The whole family is down with the flu, and the ubiquity of the H1N1 news in the media does add that tinge of fear, I must admit. We’ve seen the family doctor but no tests were taken to determine if it is flying pig syndrome we’re suffering from.

Faith somehow managed to will herself out of falling sick. I’ve always known her to be a superwoman and all that, but this really takes the cake. Caleb and I have the perpetual runny nose and Anne has a cough that would rival the Marlboro Man’s. None of us has really come down with a fever, so that is something to thank God for.

Probably the result of the flu medicine, but the possibility of losing one of the kiddos to the bug isn’t lost on me. I just spent the last half hour applying vapor-rub to Anne’s chest as she repeated attempted to cough her lungs out. I lay there in the dark, soothing the girl to sleep as my brain recalibrated its place in the universe. Life and death — the very basics of existence we’ve struggled with through all of humankind — is something we still have no control over. For all the intellectual debate, all the scientific rants, all the technological achievements we’ve made, we are (in biblical terms) unable to make a single hair on our head black or white.

There comes a time to surrender the intellect, and it isn’t borne out of a defeatist attitude. It feels right to cede that the really important things in life are in the hands of God. You could say that it is the feeling that comes with using a crutch; but honestly, it feels more like the realisation that it is the air currents that bears the wings to soar, and endless flapping is a poor substitute.

Go Daddy, Get Your Piece of the Internet

“I love you, daddy,” my daughter whispers as I tuck her into bed. My relationship with my children is very different from the one I share with my own father. Maybe it’s because we’re more westernised; we are more vocal about our feelings, less efficient in many ways as we try to explain the logic of our decisions to three-year-olds. Different from the do-as-I-say parenting technique I lived under.

It would be the furthest thing from the truth if I said that my father doesn’t love his children just because he never told us so. Now that the shadow of the firm disciplinarian is a memory distant enough, I have come to know my father as a model of a loving husband I can only hope to emulate.

When I was young my future was framed by my two parents - my mother, who was the paradigm of perfection I could never ever live up to, and my father who positioned himself as the cautionary tale of not doing my homework. He was a man who worked with his hands, often tinkering with broken machines he’d pick up where others discarded them.

He was, and still is, my Crocodile Dundee. He has the most amazing gift of picking fruits. Where people would prod and poke at fruits in the aisle before buying them, here was a man who knew exactly what to do. He had individual techniques depending on what fruit you were looking to buy. I’ve tried to acquire the secret mantra, but it is impossible to document what dad does so instinctively. During one of our durian-buying trips, I realised that the fruit-sellers kept an entire basket of their best fruit for my father. Somewhere he had earned their trust as a bona-fide fruitman. One of them. He has always been one with the common man.

He always has a knife handy, like Crocodile Dundee as well.

My mother jokes about how she ought to be mortally afraid of her husband being armed to the teeth all the time, but we all know that she is most blessed among women. Fruits, in my mother’s world, come ready to eat, without the hindrance of skin or seed. Crabs are without their hard shells and prawns are always peeled. This is how my father loves his wife.

Clearly, I have a lot to live up to as his son. But his example is the greatest gift a father can pass to his children, and I am often so thankful for all that he has done for us through real action, and not words.

I do not know how I shall ever repay this debt, and words are all that I have. In my own hybrid western-asian way I speak these words publicly to the world yet not directly to him in the knowledge that someone will print out this very blog post and have him read it. That he may know that I love him very, very dearly.

And that if I had all the choice in the world, I wouldn’t have been able to pick out a better father for myself.

Why We Need the Children

In an era where we’re all about choice it seems inconceivable why anyone would surrender their individual freedoms to have children. After all, children are viewed as a shackle; a ball and chain that ties you down for at least 2 decades if not more. This view isn’t erroneous, as many parents will attest to the fact.

Frankly, the commitment level of having a child ranges somewhere between “the hardest thing I’ve ever done” to “the hardest humanly possible thing”. Faith and I are blessed enough to have parents who are more than willing to take care of our two younguns. Even then, a good night’s sleep has become an alien concept and a faraway memory.

Anne kissing CalebBut the rewards! Being so intimately intertwined with another life is an indescribable experience. And this small person will reveal the crust of cynicism and jadedness you’ve accumulated over the years of dealing with adults. This child of yours has no agenda, yet in the most gentle and stark of ways shows you how things really ought to be. Spending a day with my kids resets the priorities of life. They remind me of the simple and inexpensive pleasures like a good conversation or the sound of laughter.

Just moments ago Anne cried. She had spent a good portion of last night cobbling together a present for her brother Caleb using scraps of paper carefully cut with her pair of scissors and held together by scotch tape. It had fallen on the ground and broke apart before her brother could do the official unwrapping. Looking at her crumpled countenance, I could empathise with her pain at watching her hard work fall to pieces, and am reminded to similarly apply myself to my craft, regardless of whether management will eventually break it.

There are so many lessons we learn in parenting, and I would venture to say that they teach us more than we teach them. My only hope is to hold on to these valuable lessons they impart to me, that I may one day impart it back to them.

Asleep

Anne turned 4 yesterday. Caleb turned 1 today.

Life has a way of passing you by. There’s the daily grind where minutes turn into hours, and yet in retrospect, it would seem that everything flew by. Our children have passed huge milestones in their lives.

We pushed Caleb’s celebrations to this Saturday, which turned out to be a good thing ‘cause the boy has been fighting the flu the past few days. It’s amazing how quickly babies turn from needy little bundles of endless wanting to individuals with their own little idiosyncrasies and flair.

Caleb walked his first steps about a week ago.

He’s shown an affinity for putting objects together, unscrewing the tops of bottles and initiating endless rounds of peekaboo on his own (usually behind a chair or under a table).

It’s a humbling experience, this parenting gig. You find yourself awestruck so much of the time as a whole person is formed before you. The big secret of it all is that the children emerge beautifully in spite of our parenting. Every parent who’s honest will confess that despite our best efforts, we suck at this. Every child is different, every child pushes us to the limits and we often do not have all, or any of the answers. Yet somehow, by the grace of God, our children love us.

More than we ever deserve. And our only response is to love them back.

Blessed birthday, my little boy. Thanks for the little hugs. I need them more than I realise.

Believe the Best

Dearest Anne and Caleb,

The year was 2003 and Aunty Min and I were students in Tucson, Arizona. In the evening, I drove to the mountains to photograph the sunset, as I often did, while Aunty Min caught back-to-back episodes of “Friends”.

The skies were a flat grey - terrible conditions for a sunset - and it was threatening to rain. Were it not for the narrow mountain roads that made it hard for me to turn back, I wouldn’t have driven all the way to Gates Pass.

Every evening, the carpark at Gates Pass would be 3/4 filled, with families hiking up the trails and couples snuggling up the side of the mountain waiting for sunset. I was the only one there this evening, and it didn’t look as it I was going to see any sunset at all due to the very thick cloud cover. I took a short hike up to the vantage point, looked around a bit and headed back to the car.

“Wasted trip”, I thought to myself.

As I started the engine, the skies glowed a most unreal blue. I grabbed my camera, ran out and took photos from the parking lot.

Gates Pass at Dusk

Like Shawn Colvin’s song goes, “I never saw blue like that before”.

Continue reading Believe the Best »

Battleworn

There are times when you find yourself at your strength’s end. Tonight, it’s a general weariness from struggling with intermittent internet access at work, a body that’s recovering from a short round at the gym yesterday and a bowl of fishball noodles that on retrospect, had some rather stale prawns. Bleaugh.

Caleb requires more attention than ever as he’s learned how to crawl. He’s already trying to stand up and do a “look dad, no hands”. It scares us a little as his head has met the cold hard floor a number of times already. Anne’s not taking too well to her little brother hogging her mum and dad. She gets overly affectionate towards Caleb, often forgetting that her strength and her weight could injure him.

And so tonight I came home, tiredness written over my face. I tell Faith how yucky I feel.

“Feeling tired?” she asks. “Yeah, me too.”

We’re both kinda burned out I guess.

Break

Faith did a great job sleep-training the kiddos while I was away. Caleb now pretty much sleeps through the night, but the amazing thing is now Anne goes to sleep without needing us in the room. She actually tells us to leave while she settles herself to bed. We don’t know what goes on in the bedroom, but the scene in the morning is normally one of hilarity.

On a normal morning, we’ll find Anne sleeping in the midst of what looks like a disaster zone. Pillows strewn around and the rolled up mattresses toppled over. These nights I kiss her goodnight then topple the mattresses so she doesn’t have to get out of bed to do it. Just yesterday night we went in to see her fast asleep wearing a pillow-case like a crown. It reminded me of the time when she was a baby in the pram, and the youths at church put a makeshift hat on her that made her look like the Pope.

After a day at work, my normal home routine consists of getting everyone fed, bathing Anne and reading her bedtime stories before tucking her to bed. Faith makes sure fat boy there loads up on lactose before heading off to his night-long (hopefully) voyage into slumberland. It’s only after everyone’s tucked in when we sit beside each other, like comrades after a hard day’s work. The company is great, and tonight we had vanilla ice cream.

The awkward moment of the night came when Anne popped out of the bedroom to pass Faith her blanket and caught sight of our little tub of sin.

“What’s that?”, she asks, knowing exactly what she saw.

Faith and I felt like we did a million moons ago, teenagers sitting in front of the television while her parents popped in every now and then to make sure we weren’t engaged in some forbidden activities like holding hands.

We ‘fess up, offer her a spoonful of ice-cream. She skips back to bed. I tuck her in again and kiss her goodnight.

She doesn’t speak; mouthful of ice-cream, and savouring every last melting drop.

Why We Have Children

This is something I’ve been thinking about writing for a really long time, partly because we have quite a number in our circle of friends who are wondering whether or not to have children, and partly because our government keeps harping on the subject but is doing a really poor job of selling the idea, the latter being my personal opinion.

Wow, that was a really long sentence.

When I attended the government dialogue session for young couples back in May, there was this candid exchange between the MP who was on the panel and a mother of two.

“What would make you have your third child?” asked the MP, “$10,000? No? How about $12,000?”, referring to the Baby Bonus scheme. Sitting there, it felt like I was watching someone bidding in an auction for a piece of meat.

That’s part of the problem with us isn’t it? That we often view having a family as an economic decision. Not merely monetary, but economic. That having a child will incur the opportunity cost of a high-flying career or late night parties. And you’d be right. If you’re a parent worth his or her salt, you’ll be conflicted with these choices.

With Faith and I, having children wasn’t an economic choice, probably because neither of us had the mental tenacity to strenuously debate this life-altering decision.

We had children simply because it felt like a natural next step. It literally felt like the act of putting your right foot ahead of your left foot in the act of walking. I think we gave very little thought to the consequences of our choice, and looking back I doubt any amount of extrapolation would have prepared us for its magnitude.

Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127). We can truly testify to that statement. My heart is filled with joy just thinking about how Anne wore her pants on her own a few hours ago. Back to front, no less. Maybe the joys of parenting seem so trivial to the onlooker, but that’s what parenting is. It amplifies life. It stretches the gamut of emotional experience, tests your physical endurance and in the process transforms your mind so indelibly. Where once you frowned upon parents who brought their children out to dinner, now you can’t help but gush over how cute those kids are.

Does parenting make you stupid? Possibly. Unsophisticated? Definitely. Parenting strips away the unnecessary baggage that has been accumulating over years of social engineering. Your children will not respect your enormous job title or your educational qualifications. They do not care for your keen business acumen or your dazzling intellect, but a smile from you would suffice to light up their faces and a kind word would go a long way.

It is then you realise that they are educating you in the truly important things in life. And that at some very tangible level, you needed them more than they need you.

Forever Bind Them

“Engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering.” - The punchline of a joke too often used by priests, ministers, aspiring emcees at weddings.

Our lives as parents seem like a long chain of chores, and any free time between planned chores is quickly consumed by the immediate needs of the present. This weekend has been especially hectic with Anne succumbing to a minor flu and Caleb learning that being carried is preferable to lying in his cot.

I toil endlessly, strengthened every now and then by moments where our children are angels and the universe is in harmony, in order to deal with the illogical and unreasonable demands of same-said children. But what buoys my spirits the most is seeing Faith by my side. We exchange silent “I love you”s like members of a boy band lip-syncing to a pre-recorded track.

The premise is simple - there is solidarity in mutual suffering.

But it also goes against the very human trait to be averse to suffering.

We currently face the decision of whether to hire a domestic helper.

Continue reading Forever Bind Them »

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