Image credit: iStock
In Dad Talk, our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.
One of my favourite parts of each evening is when my two children bid goodnight to all the members of the family. They emerge from their bedroom and faithfully chime: “Good night gugu (aunt), good night daddy!” Then they open my parents’ bedroom door: “Good night gong gong, good night popo!” before retiring to their own room where my wife is waiting. “Good night mummy!”
In case the fact eludes you, there are seven of us living under one roof, in a unit slightly bigger than a HDB five-room flat. First-time visitors or new acquaintances will gasp at our living condition.
“Two toilets only, enough?”
“Not much privacy, hor?”
Frankly speaking, I never thought about the answers to these questions. Our living arrangements have always been compact ever since we bought our first flat. First, my younger sister moved in with my wife and I. Then my mother also moved out of her house in JB to join us after my daughter was born, followed by my father after he sold his business and the house. The arrangement was born partly out of pragmatism as my side of the family are Malaysians, and they do not own any property in Singapore.
In the beginning, there were adjustment issues pertaining to our differences in habits and lifestyle. However the most vexing problem was the disagreements my parents and I had over the upbringing of our children. As a new parent, I might have been too rigid in deciding what was best for my kids. Slowly, my attitude softened to one of believing everything that happens will somehow gravitate towards a best possible outcome, a.k.a. pray and hope for the best.
With my wife and I, the kids have to tread within a well-defined border. For example, junk food is forbidden and dirty dishes need to be washed immediately after meals. With the grandparents, the border becomes blurry. We have discovered them slipping junk food to the children and dishes being left in the kitchen sink because “gong gong said he will wash for us”. The younger me might have confronted my parents. Now I just shoot my kids a rueful look, shake my head and see them flee gleefully out of my sight.
Every child deserves pampering from his or her grandparents. To grandpa, the grandson’s pass in any test deserves a scoop of ice-cream. If he fails, the poor boy needs a double scoop to soothe his disappointment.
My son likes to snuggle up to his grandfather on the sofa, and never fails to offer his grandparents. When it comes to mealtimes, my parents will cook my daughter’s favourite dishes in addition to the ones already on the menu. If I had not insisted on the kids taking the bus home themselves, my father would have happily fetched them personally from school every day. So he settles for the next best thing – waiting for them at the bus stop and walking them home.
It is heartwarming to see these two generations enjoying one another’s company. Interacting with their grandparents has made my kids more empathetic and compassionate towards the elderly. My son especially has a soft spot for frail-looking tissue paper sellers. When my wife commented on about the creepy crawlies at our Malaysia homestay, which is owned by a nice middle-aged Malay couple, the boy was also quick to leap to their defence: “Mummy, you are so mean and ungrateful! They cook such nice dinners for us and you still complain?”
Closer to home, one recent episode remains fresh in my memory. Due to a miscommunication, my parents had cooked our share of dinner even though I had told them I was taking the kids out. To avoid disappointing his grandparents, the boy actually suggested we eat two meals – one outside, and one at home! My wife and I exchanged glances, with me genuinely touched by his thoughtfulness.
It is indeed a privilege to have three generations of family members living together. It takes a village to raise a child. Even though we are not quite a village, the kids learn from both my wife and I and their grandparents. Everyone contributes to their holistic development and is generous with their love, and as a result, my kids grow up to be well-rounded persons in future.
KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.