Chasing Dreams

Dear Xander,

By this point in reading you may have realized your dad kind of likes to write. The truth is, as with all hobbies, I never thought I could make a living out of it.

In Primary Three, I won a composition contest in school for writing about a dog I didn’t have. I won a small paperback novel with the A-Team on the cover which I never read, and I never thought about it again until I was in the tail end of secondary school. Back then, my mother wanted me to be a doctor. Back then, I just wanted a dog.

I also mentioned my secondary school journal that kick-started my foray into writing. Back then, I never took it as a sign that wordsmithing was a viable career path. Back then, I just wanted to play guitar and charm the pants off girls.

I got influenced by the legal industry when I was a fledgling young adult doing transcription work for the Supreme Court of Singapore. The work required correcting grammar whilst ensuring the meaning of witness testimonials and cross-examinations by lawyers and judges alike were kept intact. Back then, the job didn’t scream out at me that I was good at writing; back then I was just paid to be a grammar Nazi.

I did a Mass Communications diploma and did exceptionally well at my Written Communication module. The lecturer of the day awarded me my distinction and subsequently an academic book prize for top scorer on the module, on the basis that I had a good head on my shoulders, a good heart and a penchant for leadership. When I quizzed him as an aside as to why he would consider me for such an honour, he told me that by my words, I held the power to change the world. I suspected he barely read what I was writing. Back then, my achievement was suspect to me; back then, I turned into my own biggest critic and repressed my own ambition.

Since graduating with diploma in hand, I took on marketing work, business development work, logistics work, computer work, human resources work, renovation work (interestingly, all in the same job and company), and subsequently went back to legal administration work. Everything I did had an element of requiring good writing, but none substantial enough for me to consider doing it exclusively. Back then, I tried everything, gained a lot of experience and led a very fulfilling career. Back then, I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t know why.

It took a simple couple of sentences from your mother, repeated about 2-3 times over the course of the last 3 years (since you were born, actually) to make me get off my arse and find out exactly what was causing this rut that I had been in. She said to me, “I would rather you be well-fed and happy than hungry and angry. When you’re happy, Xan and I are happy; that is the simple truth.”

I traced back her words, and tried to find out what really made me happy. I was always happiest just being your dad, but in the situation your mother and I were in career-wise, being a full-time dad wasn’t going to pay the bills.

Then I thought, what if it did? What if I could find a way to be a dad, and get paid for doing it as well?

When we found out your mum was preggers with you, we bought a lot of books, magazines, scoured through websites that ran content from parenting experts and parents that gave good advice. It took me another year after you were born to realize that all this reading material we were devouring in an effort to find out how to raise you, was produced by people who get paid to write about how to raise you.

I tried it. In a bid to find my voice, I started to write again, first with my own personal blog. I wanted to see if I was good enough to get published, so I started writing freelance for some publications. I wanted to share my writing with you, so I started writing letters to you. Then I wanted to share my experience and research in raising you with others, so I came up with my own parenting blog for fathers. Finally, I looked for a way to get paid for it, and did the only thing guys like me know what to do when they want to get paid for something – I sent out resumes.

It took a good two years of trial and error, carrying the stress of changing jobs, running the risk of unemployment and further unhappiness while doing it, learning from mistakes and training to be patient, but come August, I will be a writer who can feed his family and still talk all day about you.

It’s a dream that took 21 years to compose, draft, edit, redraft, re-edit and finally publish. It’s a dream that took 10 years to chase and 2 years to bring into reality. Most importantly, it’s a dream that had to be chased, because for all the times I never tried something because I was too scared to fail, this dream has taught me that expecting, confronting and experiencing failure is essential to any meaningful endeavour, and MUST be expected, confronted and experience to succeed.

I’m telling you all this because I know at some point, you will be pondering your ambition, and in the process, you will be wondering about your dream. As far as your parents are able, we will help you through anything you want to do, but you have to be happy doing it. And if it means chasing a dream not thought possible – not even by your mother and I – show your conviction and commitment to your cause and no army in the world can stand between you and the life you want to lead.

Love,

Dad

Note: I do apologies for the slight lack of updates and photos recently; the past 3 weeks, I found out that changing jobs takes up quite a massive amount of time.

When Young and Old Collide

By now you’d have heard or even seen that video of the female youth engaged in a battle of words with a disgruntled auntie over an MRT priority seat.

Regardless of who was in the wrong, whether the whole idea of reserved seating in public transport has skewed our country’s sense of morals, or “how come Singaporeans can act liddat ah?”, the incident raised not a few eyebrows and surely caused plenty of discomfort for adjacent commuters in the ensuing few minutes of that ride.

An inevitable question will be raised among parents viewing the incident, squarely directed at the aggro young lady: what if she was your daughter? Or (dare I venture a more uncomfortable hypothesis) what if the auntie was your mum?

The same ensuing queries would apply to both ends of the spectrum: would she be viewed as a bully? Would you take pride in knowing she can stand on her own against an injustice? Or would you not know what to think?

This essentially being a parenting blog, let’s draw from the “daughter” scenario (because let’s face it, I’d draw a complete blank in dealing with the auntie as my mother). Parents Magazine recently published 8 tips on preventing your child from becoming a bully that does deal with how to treat others respectfully, both among peers and towards the elderly. It stems from a comparable incident in which a group of high school students bully a 68-year-old school bus monitor in the US, and provides much food for thought in helping to understand how such incidents can be properly dealt with – or even avoided – if any one of the tips provided had been incorporated into parental guidance. And frankly, I’m not just talking about the girl here. That auntie needs to learn restraint as well; it would save a lot of embarrassment on both ends.

More importantly, kids have to learn to respect the elderly for the years they put into making the place you live what it is today. As for the old folks, return the respect; the youth of today are inevitably our future, after all.

The Family Vacation

Note: I understand Nuffnang sent out an e-mail inviting bloggers to First World Genting in July. I’d just like to clarify that this isn’t a participating blog post. We went on this trip before Nuffnang sent out its notification, so this isn’t a tie-in/advertorial/sponsored post (mainly because I didn’t think very much of the place, unfortunately).

Dear Xander,

I’m writing this at 3am, at the lobby of the First World Hotel in Genting Highlands.

The 3-star hotel, together with its theme park, shopping mall and just about every amenity it holds in its autumn-temperature environ, is truly a step back in time – the whole place looks and feels like a not-very-maintained 70’s bourgeois retail complex 40 years past its prime yet still stubbornly hanging on to its vintage grandeur.

Your mother and I, as well as the rest of your mother’s family that are 20 years of age and above, are barely surviving with our sanity intact, having to make sure that the parts of our family that are aged 20 and below are having the time of their lives this school holidays.

You and your cousins have hopefully had the times of your lives this school holidays, though it is evident that through your sore lack of sleep amidst all the fun activities, screaming bouts with each other and crying fits to go home that things aren’t quite as rosy as we would hope.

Experienced parents of pre-schoolers will know and understand that family vacations are as great a gamble as the entertainment that the casinos in this grand dame of a resort offers; we walk into the whole thing hoping for the best, despite understanding the odds, and often don’t quite get the results we expect. Sometimes we win something, sometimes we just get more grief out of trying, but always leave with a little more experience in the pockets we burn in the process.

But the same experienced parents will also have accepted that from the day their first child is born, the word “vacation” will never be the same again. Your mother and I made the commitment that you are now the reason we do what we do and live how we live. We put our own time, endeavours, and lives into ensuring you learn, experience and live in the safest, most enriching and most enjoyable childhood that we can humanly provide. Parenthood for us is knowing, accepting and acting upon the reality that you are the future. You are our future.

Your dad is not a gambler of money; I have never put my finances on any form of high-risk investment game, not even 4D or Toto. But I do gamble with my parenting methods when it comes to being your father, because it teaches me much more about how being your dad works than I teach you how the world works. And unlike the consistency of odds in any casino game, the odds I get better at being your dad get better and better at every single turn.

I’ve walked through every inch of the casino here at First World Genting, and I never once saw a single smiling face. but just coming back to our hotel room and seeing your face makes me smile, as does every other moment spent with you. You’re the biggest gamble I’ve ever taken in my life, and the payout’s been bigger than any jackpot prize any machine in any casino anywhere. Better still, this payout will last your mother and I a lifetime; we just have to keep doing what we do best.

Love you.

Dad

To the Days of Being Wild: Happy Father's Day

My dad’s first day in Primary 6, he was chided for saying good morning instead of good afternoon (afternoon session; he was in morning session previously). He stood up to try and apologise, pulling his chair back to make space. The teacher thought he wanted to throw the chair at him, and demanded he sit back down.

My dad never sat back down. He let go of the chair, bent down to pick up his bag, left the class and never went to school again.

He later went on to work in the Immgrations Checkpoint Authority (ICA) and got into their immigration special forces, hunting down illegal immigrants in the 50s-70s. He retired from ICA, mainly because they ran out of ideas on how to promote him based on his P6 education.

He has, I am sure, many more stories of youthful rebellion (you can read about another one in his ICA days here). Indeed, you would rarely hear of today’s boys (or men, come to think of it) going to such levels just to make a point, no matter how gung-ho they may be. I can only hope I am able to inspire my own children in the same way someday.

To the days of being wild and the days gone by, here’s to my dad. Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

We Were All Kids Once

Dear Xander,

As you may have experienced by now, your dad isn’t perfect. I mean, sure, I have some level of authority on certain issues. Like how you need to eat over your bowl so if bits of your food drop out of your spoon/fork/mouth, the bowl will catch it and you can try again. Or if you’re going to bounce a ball in the living room, don’t hit the TV, or your mum, or for heaven’s sake, don’t aim for between my legs.

You know, that kinda thing.

But your dad was a kid once, too. And kids sometimes learn things the hard way, or they learn how to get away with learning things (which in itself is a very handy skill for working smart). Your dad’s done his fair share of both:

  • When I was in Primary 5, I was called up to stage by my discipline master during an assembly hall talk for talking too loudly and making a nuisance. After I got on stage, he took out a metre-long wooden ruler intending to carry out an impromptu public caning on me as punishment. I realised what was happening, and proceeded to run all over the stage with him chasing me for a good 2 minutes until he gave up and shouted at me to sit back down with my class. I no longer know nor recognise any of my primary schoolmates, but from the number of encounters I have with some of them, they sure do remember me.
  • By the time I was in my 3rd year of secondary school education, I had a chain of crushes for a grand total of 23 times, with a plethora of girls I never had the guts to say hi to.
  • I once tried skateboarding down a 30-metre road on a 25-degree slope on my way to school. I didn’t make it to school that day.
  • When I was doing my A-levels, I would always reach school between 9.30am-11am; school starts at 7am. I’d avoid the discipline master by jumping across a large canal that flanked the right side of the school, and then scale a 3-metre high wire fence to get in. One time, I got noticed by a class on the 3rd floor as I was climbing the fence, and didn’t know I was being watched until I dismounted – I was suddenly given a round of applause by the entire class watching me from their classroom window – together with their teacher.
  • When I was still living with my parents, I once had to hide my girlfriend in my wardrobe after she spent the night in my room because I didn’t want your grandparents to find out I was dating a girl. Your grandparents found out anyway.
  • In my secondary school graduating year, our English teacher made us keep a journal of our daily experiences which she would mark at the end of every week. I made more than a few entries describing my English teacher in many colorful terms of endearment, as “uptight”, “sorry excuse for a human being” and a “spawn of Satan”. One week my English teacher called me up to her office and said she read everything – and loved it. She made it her mission to groom me in speaking, writing and thinking in English.

Sometimes we might forget you’re just a kid – you are just growing up so fast – and kids can do things that are stupid, brash, and unthinkable. Sometimes we forget that we were once kids, too. I can’t quite speak for your mum (you and I both know she’s always right, right?), but I know I’ve done stupid, brash and unthinkable things before.

But you know what? It’s okay to be stupid. It’s okay to be brash. It’s okay to do the unthinkable. It’s taken your father 34 years to realise that this is a learning process we’ve all experienced, are still going through now, and if we’re fortunate, never grow out of. Because if we survive, we can learn from our mistakes, become more courageous with every leap of faith, and when we set out to do the unthinkable, more often than not we can end up achieving the impossible.

Enjoy your childhood,

Dad

Protecting your Children Through The Death of Privacy

We’re all social media pundits: we happily announce share our children’s activities and photos on Facebook, tweet to let people know when our favourite sports team has won (or lost) a match, tag our locations (whether on our own volition or by default) on Foursquare… the list goes on.

I do it too. It was only when writing an article for a magazine that I realised this is a major, major problem in the state of personal privacy today. while getting a quote out of a dad I was interviewing, I had to also find out the father’s and his children’s birthdates, so their ages could be accurately published when the article goes to print. My contact time with the interviewee was sporadic and limited, so I went and got hold of the required information through the Internet.

It was way too easy.

What worried me was that this is the same kind of information that banks use to verify customers over the phone, and depending on the security answers one provides online, much much more.

Here’s something to make you think: your friends will no doubt wish you happy birthday online when Facebook reminds them of the day. Doesn’t matter if you keep your birthday hidden; your well-intentioned friends will have effectively ratted on you. And if you just have your birthyear published on your Timeline, everyone will have your age down to the exact day.

And maybe Facebook may not have transcended into dual generational usage yet, but undoubtedly the trend has begun: if your children’s mum uses Facebook and she’s added as family; wouldn’t everyone then have your child’s mother’s maiden name for reference?

Geotagging posts are common on Twitter, Facebook, even your digital camera has in-built GPS to tag the location you took your photo for inclusion into its EXIF data, and accurate to 50 feet in a normal mobile phone setup. while this might take a bit more snooping for high-rise apartment dwellers, it can be quite easy to locate the address of landed property owners.

It takes a little effort to dig into such personal information, but again, it takes just a little. Banks may need to rethink their security and verification methods in time to come, but right now, you might want to rethink your family’s. This post is really for today’s dads, because it’s definitely going to directly impact your children’s security and online identity when they start getting their own bank accounts.

[Image via My eFacebook]

Don't Be Shy, Seriously

Some of you may have heard about this on my Facebook page. I reproduced my post here, with a second part of the incident that I haven’t shared.

Dear Xander,

Daddy’s going to tell you a story.

A blind lady is standing at a crowded bus stop in Clarke Quay. I walk up and ask if anyone is assisting her. She says no. So we introduce ourselves and talk a little while waiting for her bus.

Turns out she’s been standing at the same spot every weekday at 6pm for the last 3 months, waiting for a bus she cannot see, and most of the time, too shy to ask for help.

I tell her, “I’ll try to be here at this bus stop at 6pm every day, to help you get into your bus.”

This should be a lesson in compassion, but it isn’t. As far as your dad is concerned, the act is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s not done out of kindness. If anything, it’s a practical thing to offer for a person in need, from a person who can.

This is a lesson in being thick-skinned.

Today’s world doesn’t support shyness any more. We’re all so comfortable putting our entire lives on Facebook, Twitter and blogs – right down to what you’re eating and where you’re eating it – why not dispense with the shyness and just ask if someone needs help when you see they might need it, or ask for help when you really need it?

There is a second part to this story, with a different moral attached to it.

As the bus came and I guided her aboard, she tapped her EZ-Link card and proceeded to the one-person seat right behind the driver (I assume this is her preferred seat, as it is closest to the driver, who can inform her and guide her down when the bus has reached her destination).

Occupying the seat was a rather unkempt old man with a fair amount of bags and belongings. By the time I had tapped my EZ-Link card, the blind lady asked the old man if he could vacate the seat for her. Oddly, the old man looked flustered, and shuffled in his seat nervously, as though he wasn’t quite prepared to move. I was surprised, and as we waited for the old man to get his bearings, he motioned to the other one-person seat opposite his, and motioned for the young woman seated there to vacate her seat instead, to which the young woman immediately obliged.

I didn’t think much of it; he was after all an old man, and by the amount of things he was carrying around it, it seemed more practical to find another passenger who had less trouble moving. As the blind lady got seated and the bus moved off, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see the old man looking at me apologetically.

It took a couple of seconds to realise, the old man had tapped me with the arm he had; his other arm was missing, and by the looks of the bandaged remnant, recently amputated. I quickly smiled and reassured him that everything was okay, then proceeded to kick myself mentally for being blind to the fact that there was more than 1 disabled person on the bus.

There are always people out there who will need help, more people than you’d expect, and more help than you think. While this might sound a little daunting, remember this: you were born in good health, all limbs attached, a good head on your shoulders and a good heart in your soul (your mother and I am constantly trying to make sure of that). When someone needs help, you help. Don’t wait to be asked, because too often people don’t ask. Don’t look the other way, when you know it’s within your ability and power. Don’t assume someone else will do it, because for all you know, everyone else is assuming the same thing, and then no one will do it.

So help when help is needed, and ask for help when you need it. Don’t be shy – it’s a horrible justification to shun a time of need.

And take it one step further – be conscious of who and what is around you, and help when you can, not when you’re asked to. Because sometimes people can’t see that you’re there to help.

Love,

Dad