A letter to my children

Image credit: iStock

In Dad Talk, our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.

The recent deaths of students Kathy Ong and Joshua Tan in separate road accidents, and the demise of commercial diver Jake Seet once again bring into focus the fragility of life. Now in my forties, I have experienced my fair share of loss, having witnessed relatives, friends and peers pass away from illness and the odd car accident. A dear schoolmate never woke up from his sleep one fateful night. Another’s heart just stopped beating.

I try my best not to take life for granted; a day lived is a day worth celebrating. I love sharing gorgeous sunrises with my wife on our morning walks. On lucky days, I marvel at a rainbow with my kids. However, good luck can favour us and desert us just as abruptly. My kids have been yearning to play with snow for the first time, but “there is always next year”. For a long time, my wife and I have only joked about romancing in Paris but I never got around to purchasing the air tickets. Our 10th wedding anniversary has come and gone. Well, there is always the 20th anniversary. After all, “we’ll always have Paris”, but will we always have each other?

Not wanting to live with regrets, or rather not wanting to die with regrets, I am using this column to express what I have failed to tell my kids thus far. Even if my last words to them are “Have you finished your homework?”, I can be at peace knowing that I have left behind a part of me for them.

 

Dear Yu Wen,

As my firstborn, you have a special place in my heart. You were born on the first day of the Lunar New Year. I still remember your mummy, aunt, grandparents and I went to the Chinatown night bazaar the night before to soak in the atmosphere, only to narrowly escape the human tsunami at an extremely congested junction. On hindsight, it was a foolhardy decision, but we always joke that that episode “pushed” you out of mummy’s tummy. At 3.9kg, you were quite a heavy newborn. Never did I expect this wrinkly bundle to grow into a beautiful and loveable pre-teen.

You have a sense of curiosity and a constant twinkle in your eyes. Every teacher – and I mean EVERY teacher – who taught you never failed to remind me how blessed I am to have you as my daughter, pointing out your intelligence, focus and industrious nature. I could only acknowledge their praises in muted embarrassment.

Your mild manners, compassion and calm disposition stand you in good stead to tackle adversity with grace. You make friends easily, with many of your friendships developing deeper and meaningful bonds. No wonder so many boys in your school have crushes on you. This is a potential headache which I will have to manage in the future.

Your future will be bright, if you take with you into adulthood the enthusiasm you have for your assignments, as well as the grit with which you meet project deadlines. Seeing you soldier on for hours at a stretch shames and astounds me in equal measure. While I wonder where your drive comes from, I am just happy you are a much improved version of me.

On the flip side, I wish you could be more laidback like your old man. Obsessing over the slightest details or tiny imperfections – arguably a trait found in over-achievers – is unlikely to bring you happiness. When you were two, you kept whining about your socks not being properly aligned with your toes (whatever that meant); now that you are 12, you fuss over the shape of your hair bun or maintain that your shoes have to be absolutely spotless. I worry about your mental health. Try to admire the overall beauty of a garden, instead of fixating on the single non-blooming flower bud.

It heartens me that you and your younger brother love each other deeply. Not having an inheritance to fight over helps, no doubt. More importantly, you guys share a passion for reading and a similar sense of humour, and a knack for finishing each other’s sentences. Treasure this bond for the rest of your lives.

 

To Yu Hao:

It may be stressful living in the shadow of an older sister who constantly receives approval from the elders, but you are the one who steals their hearts. Your cheerful smile and hearty laughter lights up the room. You have the cheekiness and playfulness of a typical ten-year-old with a devil-may-care attitude. It is this recklessness and lack of awareness that stretches my patience at worst and results in hilarious consequences at best. Remember when you brought home another boy’s identical school bag? His was so much lighter than yours, and to think that you did it twice over two weeks! Remember when you naively tore out the pages of the assessment book to avoid more work, or the time you cut and pasted mummy’s signature on a test paper? I was amused, but your mother was justifiably furious.

What I love most about you is your empathy for others, especially the elderly and less fortunate. Our regular food deliveries to the elderly or handicapped who live alone have opened your eyes to a different strata of society, and you are better for it. It amazes me how you muster the courage, without prompting from me, to knock on their doors on your own and then shout “Dinner is here!”, in some of the most intimidating public housing estates. You also donate generously to charity out of your pocket money.

Even though you are a more frequent target of my wrath, I am very proud to have you as my son. You are every bit as intelligent as your sister. If you put your heart and soul into something you are passionate about, there is no limit to what you can achieve. Meanwhile, I can only hope and pray that you will eventually snap out of your dreamland.

Finally, this is my advice to both of you: find a partner who loves and accepts you. I believe this is the key ingredient to a lasting and happy union.

 

KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 12 and a son aged 10.

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