Image credit: KC Wong
Dad Talk is a fortnightly column where our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.
I remember a famous stand-up comedian once joked that parents love their children equally, but secretly have a favourite child. For example, when you hear your child tumbling down the stairs, followed by their wailing, you will probably rush to the scene shouting, “Who fell? Who is it?” If it turns out to be the less favoured child, you will brush it off with “It’s okay. It’s just a small bump on the head.”
Though both my kids are looked after by my parents, even the blind can tell that the old folks dote on the boy more. My daughter is a serious and fastidious character with a fiery streak. On the contrary, the boy has an infectious laughter, an easy-going temperament and knows how to manja to get his way. No wonder his grandparents fawn over him. He is also the more empathetic one. When he sees his mother in an unhappy mood, he will hug her or shape her lips into a smile with his hands.
The siblings are tight and share similar tastes in books, snacks, television shows and to a certain extent, hobbies. He always has a lot of things to talk to his sister about, with the conversation sometimes being one-sided. Predictably, it often ends unhappily when the sister snubs his attention, which leaves him either sulking or in tears.
While the elder child is self-motivated and focussed on her work, the younger one is often lost in his hobbies and reluctant to hit the books. He can read his comics or tinker with cardboard crafts for hours, but the moment he needs to do school work, he will take frequent toilet breaks or raid the refrigerator because he claims he is hungry.
He is aware his sister is academically brighter. My wife and I have always downplayed academic performance so as not to undermine his confidence. We constantly assure him that every child learns at a different pace and it is the effort he puts in that matters, not the results. As long as he tries his best, we are happy. Unfortunately, it is hard to be happy when he only puts in half the effort and expects maximum results. He is exceptionally prone to making careless mistakes, due in equal parts to negligence and complacency. My wife is particularly disapproving of this and he knows better.
Maybe it was anxiety or an eagerness to please, but he once forged my wife’s signature on his test paper because he was afraid she would find out about his careless mistakes. Later, he opted to avoid making mistakes altogether by tearing off pages from his assessment book. When the eagle-eyed mother questioned him, he put on his trademark routine; the furrowed eyebrows, puzzled look and rhetorical “Eh? What happened?”
My son has the dubious honour of being the recipient of my first and only caning session. His piano teacher is a motherly figure whose teenage son has a full display of LEGO Star Wars toys. One day, we noticed my son’s burgeoning personal collection of LEGO Star Wars toys. He told us they were rewards from the piano teacher for the good work he put in. Parents know when their child is bluffing. True enough, they were not gifts from the piano teacher, and regrettably, I have been bringing up a thief. We were livid! The piano teacher, who has a soft spot for him (see what I mean), made a futile attempt to temper our anger by sharing her experience bringing up her own son. “Boys are like that. They can’t control their impulses. You have to be very patient with them... I waited almost 16 years!”
However, I could not wait that long. My wife and I took him to her office on a weekend when no one was around, to mete out the punishment. Do not talk to me about studies that claim physical punishment has a detrimental effect on the well-being and psyche of children. I lost count of how many lashes I gave him on the palm before the cane broke in half. Throughout the session, he acknowledged his mistake, kept quiet and took it like a man, albeit with a bit of wincing.
After this incident, I spoke to my female friends who have younger brothers, in order to understand the dynamics of other families. To my surprise, a few of them told a familiar story: younger brothers who fared badly in school and lived seemingly rudderless lives, who blossomed into responsible, successful and happy husbands and fathers with the help of strong family support, much patience and abundant love. The common thread in their stories is that their parents never lost hope that their sons would one day make good.
These are early days, and the road ahead is still long. We know my son is a good kid, with a good heart, but hampered by a laissez-faire attitude and bad decision-making. He can make us laugh and cry with equal intensity. Hopefully, we can guide him with patience through both good times and bad, while offering words of comfort, such as these: “It’s okay, son! It’s just a small bump on the head.”
KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.