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Dad Talk is a fortnightly column where our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.
I make it a point to drive my children home from school on days they get to leave together. The ten-minute journey home offers me an opportunity to catch up with them while their memories of the day are still fresh.
After realising that asking general questions like “How's school?” yields a routine “Fine”, I have learned to ask more specific ones like “Is there anything in school that made you laugh today?” or “Did you speak up in class?”. When I want to provoke a reaction, I ask “Did any friends cry or fight?”. Honestly speaking, how many interesting things should I expect to happen inside a classroom of nine-year-olds and eleven-year-olds respectively?
In fact, there was a time when we did have meaningful conversations. Oh, how I miss the days when we took public transport, not just to and from school, but everywhere we went. I was suspended from driving for three months as I had accumulated too many demerit points, and it turned out to be a much-needed boost to our exchanges.
The usual ten-minute journeys stretched to twenty minutes. What was originally a thirty-minute drive from Clementi to the piano teacher’s house in Simei nearly doubled through a combination of bus, train and cycling. Some of you must be scoffing at the lengthy travelling time. However, the extra time on the road was well-spent, as far as I was concerned. We had to plan and manage our time really well which meant no more doing things at the last minute, or being tardy with meeting deadlines. They learned to eat faster (I don’t encourage wolfing down food but they are really slow eaters) and not dilly-dally. We realised we ran a lot more than when we travelled in a car, but there was also much fun in exploring nooks and alleys on foot.
While walking towards the bus stop, we would meet my kids’ friends and teachers. The conversation would flow non-stop as my kids shared snippets of information with them. We also collectively baulked at some students who jaywalked across the road, marvelled at the strength of some whose frames seemed smaller than the bags they were carrying and shook heads at parents who parked their cars indiscriminately, causing bottlenecks on roads leading to the school.
We talked about MRT station names and their origins as well as the major places of interest around the stations. For example, Pasir Panjang means “long sand” because there used to be a long, sandy beach along the coast which disappeared due to land reclamation. Bugis is named after the skilled seafarers from South Sulawesi in Indonesia who were heavily involved in maritime trade in the past, and were an important ethnic group which settled in Singapore.
We also met unusual characters while taking public transport. On folks who mumbled to themselves, we touched on mental health; on commuters who seemed exhausted and sleepy, I could talk about empathy by highlighting the hardships which many ordinary Singaporeans face daily. Whenever a less-abled passenger boarded, I was glad I could demonstrate to my children what graciousness means. Conversely, they got to observe inconsiderate passengers blocking the way by sitting on the floor of the MRT cabin, talking loudly on the phone or cutting the queue at platforms.
On the plus side, they could exercise filial piety by standing while I happily occupied the seat. I have seen many parents and grandparents fight tooth and nail to secure a seat for their precious not-so-young child or grandchild, but that is exactly the kind of thing that breeds entitlement among youths.
I do not blame them because no one is born to deliberately hog seats, block passageways or shove and elbow their way through crowds. Just as a parent should stick around to mentor a newbie-driver child, we should also guide our children on public transport etiquette. Yes, it is the parents who are responsible, not Bag-Down Benny, Give-Way Glenda or Stand-Up Stacey.
KC Wong is a photographer and father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.