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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.
With 10 days to Christmas, I received news of my aunt’s sudden demise via a telephone call. It was as sad as it was sudden. One moment she was at home brandishing a cane at her four-year-old granddaughter in mock anger. The next moment, she had collapsed on the floor, never to regain consciousness. In that brief instance, my aunt’s siblings lost a dear sister, my uncle lost a virtuous wife, my cousins lost their loving mother and the little ones lost their beloved grandma.
In a eulogy delivered by her younger son, it was her gentle kindness, her hardworking nature and her optimism in spite of life’s challenges that he remembered. Seated at the funeral, I recalled an incident in my pre-teen years where I was a lucky recipient of her kindness.
She took me to a shopping mall one day to hang out. We walked past the toys section and I set my admiring eyes on one of the board games. I could not remember the name of the game, but it was probably the colourful packaging that caught my attention. She must have seen my face, which prompted her to open her purse and make the purchase. The details are hazy, but I remember it did not come cheap. Nonetheless, my aunt made a boy very happy that day.
Ironically, I never played the game because I didn’t understand its rules. In the end, the box sat quietly in my bedroom, gathering dust as well as the memory of a kind woman. I never told anyone about this tiny episode. I doubt my busy parents even noticed anything back then.
It was there at the funeral, listening to the eulogy, that my thoughts went back more than 30 years ago. I was sure I thanked her for the gift, but I did not tell her how much her little gesture touched me. Those unspoken words will stay buried forever.
In this age of information overload, a common gripe is that people tend to talk too much. I disagree. Although we might talk and share our lives openly, we do not talk enough within our family circle about the good things and kind gestures that touch our lives. They might be trivial things, but as demonstrated by my aunt, no act is too minor.
As I age and mellow, I learn to say “Thank you” more frequently and more sincerely. I thanked my daughter for her thoughtfulness when she insisted on taking public transport home during peak hours, so that I do not get stuck in traffic. I thanked her for not making a big fuss when I rejected her suggestion to dine in an expensive restaurant to eat at a hawker centre instead.
I thanked my son for being mindful when he dried himself after showering while standing on the floor mat, and not wetting the bathroom floor. I thanked him for offering the last tasty piece of fried chicken wing to everyone at the table first before serving himself.
Similarly, we thank the cleaners who make sure we have clean tables to dine on, the Bangladeshi workers who stand in the sun or rain to conduct traffic, passengers who hold doors for us, or pedestrians who stop for us while we take photos in the middle of the path.
Parents are role models to the next generation. Children are constantly observing and learning from us. They are also discerning enough to tell a genuine act from a fake one, so we should always strive to do the right thing. Cut out the negative talk and gossip in front of your kids. A rude driver cut into your lane? Do not curse in front of the kids. He might be a rookie, or in a hurry to fetch his own child from somewhere. Your domestic helper messes up? Do not call her stupid. She might be feeling particularly homesick, or unfamiliar with the new gadgets in your kitchen. Another parent being overly kiasu? Do not say anything. “If you have nothing good to say, then don’t open your mouth” is one piece of advice I always give my children. Of course, that excludes intellectual discourse and constructive criticism.
Sure, there will be trying times with the kids, but I believe kindness and love can solve all problems. As parents, we feel let down and bitter when our children are ungrateful. That sense of disappointment probably arises from constantly asking them to be grateful to us. Instead, thank them for making your life so rich and for bringing you so much happiness.
So, if you were to collapse suddenly, will your children’s memory of you be of growling snarls and pointy fingers? Or of someone who taught them to say “Thank you”?
KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.