Singapore as a Cycle of Life: A National Day Special

Dear Xander,

At the time I write this letter, you have made it known to your mother and I that you have a love-hate relationship with Singapore. At the time I write this letter, though, you associate the word “Singapore” with the National Day Parade. That justifies an explanation to you about what National Day really means. And to simplify the explanation, I’m going to use the human life cycle as an analogy for highlights in Singapore’s history from independence to present day, because the things that happened every decade that this country sees through reminds me of the milestones I see you going through.

1965: Birth

20120731-172411.jpgThe birth of every child begins with crying. It is a moment where harsh reality hits your fragile, naked body, an activation of all senses to the sudden reality of your surroundings, a sudden onslaught of pain from the air, the light, the sounds around you. But as much as a newborn baby’s very first moment is a reaction to the confusion, it is also a call of survival, a cry that informs everyone around you that you are in fact alive, and you’re planning to stay that way.

1965-1975: Infancy

This was the decade when a tiny, vulnerable country learned about the world, and how to deal with it. Just as a baby develops its immune system through nourishment and love, Singapore looked within to build its defences.

It was only natural that we would try to cover our bases and build a foundation. I believe this was the time a popular analogy was created; that if all the people from any one of our neighbours were to come over and each person so much as spit on us, our island would drown.

And so the baby grew.

1975-1985: Toddlerhood
While the physical body grows in strength and immunity, your mother and I know to keep you safe and strong, to teach you about avoiding danger and to confront it, to ensure you know how to deal with people, and to take care of yourself.

Our country developed the same sensibilities, went through the same lessons and learned above all, how to take care of itself. We started understanding what to do, developed our 5 pillars of Total Defence, and made doubly sure we could convince people to invest in us, just like how you always ask us for $1 coins to operate kiddy rides.

But some things we still couldn’t understand, and didn’t know how to handle. So we let raw instinct take over. It didn’t turn out so well.
1995-2005: Childhood

We started playing harder. We tried to be artistic, develop a sense of humour, tried to open up a little with opinions. But our “parents” didn’t really like it.

We shut up, for a while, until we couldn’t really stand the silence any more.

2005-Today: Teenage Angst

We learnt how to use the computer, read up on the Internet, knew more, and spoke out more. It isn’t the prettiest of sights, seeing kids grow up this fast, and to be frank, a little hard to accept sometimes. But we were growing wings, and our parents are finding it increasingly hard to stop us from saying what we wanted, doing what we wanted, and essentially, growing up into adults.

Indeed, the 2006 Elections saw a renaissance of social and political consciousness, possibly spurred on by what had happened to one intrepid blogger who thought it appropriate to speak against authority. Sometimes we would have a great sense of humour, sometimes we wouldn’t. But we were always cynical, and always questioning authority – and questioning ourselves.

I don’t need an image to show you the teenage angst, this search for our own identity, the beginnings of understanding who we really are, and coming to grips with knowing our parents aren’t always right. You’re looking at it right now, in your computer screen. It’s the Internet – your Facebook account, government gazetted socio-political websites that don’t really care that they’re government gazetted, bloggers that care, bloggers that don’t, and even bloggers that don’t know what’s going on in the first place.

Just look around.

We’re living in the teenage years of Singapore, and I have to tell you, it’s as interesting and stimulating as the teenage years that I remember.

Happy National Day, son.

Love,

Dad

Failure 101 – Lesson 1: Allow Your Child to Take Risks

This is a continuation of the 4-post “Failure 101” series inspired by the Flying Dutchman’s challenge posed during the launch of Dads@Communities by the Dads for Life movement. Blogfathers! is not affiliated with MCYS, Dads for Life or the Dads@Communities initiative; we’re just publishing this because we thought the Flying Dutchman made a very good point and we want to see if we can follow up with a skeletal outline of what dads can do to teach failure. So all observations and opinions expressed within this series are very much the author’s own unless otherwise stated.?And please, if you can add to this with your own thoughts and experiences, do share them with us in the comments.

You can read the first piece here:

Also, this article deals with risk-taking, something Blogfathers! can’t offer you insurance for, so conduct your lesson with much care, and at your own risk. I can only say I’ve tried it with my own boy, and we both learned a lot from the experience.

They Are Always Smarter Than You Think

From the moment they learn to flip on their bellies (and earlier), our children are learning to make sense of the world, and their brains are more highly developed for problem-solving than we would assume them to be. Even through the experience of learning to walk (or crawl even), when they fall and bump themselves on the head they will learn how to take their next step more effectively because it hurts if they don’t. It’s not only an integral part of motor skills training, but it is also their very first, short, simple lesson in facing failure, and very possibly your first lesson in trusting your child’s judgment (albeit guardedly); you just need to convince yourself to allow your child to fall.

I wrote about what Wilfrid C. Hoecke (who spoke at the recent Dads for Life Conference) said which I will repeat here (FD, take heart, because Dads for Life’s sort of had it covered):

“… mothers will continually communicate guardedness and safety while watching over their child during playtime words like ‘Be careful’, ‘Don?t do that’, and ‘You?ll get hurt’ are very common phrases you?ll hear from mothers. Fathers naturally do the exact opposite; while playing with their child/children, they seek to push limits and achieve greater heights in play, using encouragement such as ‘Climb higher’, ‘Don?t be scared’ and ‘You can do it!’

“… while mums protect their children from the dangers of the world, dads will prepare them for the real world, and we are naturally wired to do so…?

So guys, we were built to teach risk-taking to our kids, so give your toddler as many opportunities to take the leap (with your supervision, of course).

You Can Start When They’re Young – Really Young

Lessons in risk-taking can start as early as toddlerhood, but are easily misunderstood by today’s parents as “dangerous” acts, because a lot of the time they’re initiated by the kid himself during play. Take for example, jumping off of things like a flight of stairs. There are really only 2 possible outcomes: landing properly (success) and not landing properly, possibly scraping his or her knee in the process (failure). It’s a very simple risk experiment that dads can easily get involved with.

So find a flight of stairs, preferably with a huge landing area at the bottom, like the stage area at the National Library HQ. If you’re worried, start with the bottom one or two steps and work your way up. Lend a helping hand for starters, but make sure most of the effort in conquering the jump comes from your child, and when both you and your child gain more confidence in the activity, let go and just watch. You should totally expect spills – as should your kid – but don’t let it stop your child. The fun in the activity will supercede any pain your child might experience most times. And going by what Hoecke says, you’ll know what to do.

Older kids (or kids that seem to have been born with the innate ability jump well) can also learn risk-taking by socialising, particularly through encouraging them to talk or play with other kids they don’t know. Again, there will be 2 possible outcomes (at least for the first few minutes: the other kids are friendly enough, your kid is welcomed, and they get along smashingly. On the other hand,? it could well turn out to be an exercise in overcoming fear of rejection – the failure to engage in someone or a group of people favourably. This exercise in socialising your child also potentially brings with it a different lesson for dear old dad – learning to helping your child deal with problems.

Next: Lesson 2 – Helping Your Child to Learn Through Failure

Failure 101 – Lesson 0: The Fallacy of Success

This is the first of our 4-post “Failure 101” series inspired by the Flying Dutchman’s challenge posed during the launch of Dads@Communities by the Dads for Life movement. Blogfathers! is not affiliated with MCYS, Dads for Life or the Dads@Communities initiative; we’re just publishing this because we thought the Flying Dutchman made a very good point and we want to see if we can follow up with a raw outline of what dads can do to teach failure. So all observations and opinions expressed within this series are very much the author’s own unless otherwise stated. And please, if you can add to this with your own thoughts and experiences, do share them with us in the comments.

During the Dads@Community launch event last weekend, Mark van Cuylenberg (the Flying Dutchman to Singapore radio listeners) posted a challenge on stage to the Dads for Life movement and the community group attendees. He said:

“One of the things that needs to be done with our children… and I think this needs to come from fathers – I don’t know how Dads for Life is going to do it, I’ve wracked my brain, I can’t figure out the system behind it – it’s a belief I have and I try to instill it on my children. You really, really cannot be successful if you don’t know how to handle failure. And I don’t think many children in Singapore know how to handle failure. And I feel – and I’m not being an MCP – but I feel that message coming from a father will be a lot more powerful than coming from a mother, because dad is the man (who is) usually seen as going out there and working, and doing this, doing that, and that message coming from dad, I think, will be very helpful. I still don’t have the system for how we’ll do it. I just keep driving it into my kids: “Failure is fine. Failure is nothing but a stepping stone to success.”

Well, Blogfathers! feels inclined to take up the Flying Dutchman’s suggestion. But he also made another good point.

How, man?

In just about any activity that we engage in, there will be an element of risking failure, and teaching failure is actually a huge subject that crosses the categories that we have in this website… but someone has to start somewhere, as we’ll try to do in this weekly series of lessons we’ll call “Failure 101”. And if Blogfathers! fails in trying (and I’m really hoping you’ll let me know where I went wrong in the comments), at least I’ll be learning something out of this.

Success is Overrated

As an Asian society, “prosperity”, “success”, and “happiness” are deeply ingrained in our celebratory well-wishes and core values. What we don’t openly talk about – if at all – are failures. We may discuss how others may have failed in hushed whispers, but our own consciousness forbids that we mention our own failure in casual conversation. There is a stigma of shame and fear that surrounds failure, to a point where it has become an established, unspoken taboo.

But why? Mistakes and failures are more effective learning experiences than a classroom lecture will ever accomplish. If anything, we should include it in our resumes right under the Achievements section, if we have achievements to show. But the truth is, we’ve all grown up in a meritocratic education system – and subsequently an economy-driven adult life – that thrives on lauding success and shaming failure.

Failure Is an Option – and a Better One

Time Magazine published a business-focused article that suggests learning from the less successful will yield greater returns in skills development. The article notes that highly successful people are not necessarily good role models, as they may have less wisdom to offer than they portray themselves to have, because “luck and risk play a dominant role in extraordinary outcomes”, and using these success stories as examples “can even lead entire industries astray”. Researchers instead advise “to learn from individuals ‘with high, but not exceptional, performance’ ? those whose success can be attributed to solid skill and not to a rare lightning strike”. And such “solid skill” comes from having to deal with the challenges faced enroute to the desired path, and finding out first-hand what doesn’t work – by failing.

The takeaway from the article for dads is that in order to teach failure, we first have to not only accept for ourselves that failure is a learning process, but place it at an importance level on par with, if not higher than, our perception of success, because failure is a rite of passage, and mistakes must be planned for and dealt with properly in order to do things right.

Next: Lesson 1 – Allow Your Child Take Risks

Image via Foluwasade’s Blog

They Scream: When Kids Go Bad in Public

A friend recounted how he publicly reprimanded a parent in a restaurant for allowing her 2-year-old child to scream, cry, and create general mayhem about the dining area as only a 2-year-old can. “Please control your child!” he chided, after numerous attempts at making known his displeasure to the offending family.

I shuddered a little as he shared this, partly because I agreed, and partly because I didn’t.

I used to get annoyed when I encountered such situations, too. “Tsk,” I would go, ensuring I was audible enough to be heard. I would also remind myself that if I ever had a kid, I would make sure I have control over whatever situation my child would spring on me in public. But now that I have a 3-year-old kid, I look back and realise I was talking serious cock. At the toddler stage, a child has barely learnt to walk, much less understand or accept being taught the rules of engagement in a public venue. But before you argue, “The child is not to blame, it’s the parent that’s the problem!”, think about it; wouldn’t the same learning curve apply to a newly-inducted parent having the same trouble grappling with how to control his or her child on the fly?

It’s Tough Having Kids

You need to bear in mind – particularly when a very young child Is involved – that families going on outings in public spaces is a notoriously difficult, nerve-wracking first step – at any level – in planning, preparation, and on-the-job parental training. Think too much, and we might end up thinking ourselves into not going out at all. Get the logistics wrong, and we’re in for a messy, unsatisfying misadventure. And if our parenting chops aren’t yet up to par for public scrutiny… well, we might land up being confronted by my dear friend here.

But go out there we must. There’s only so much we can do at home, and there is so much for our child to see and experience out there. At some point, the test must be taken; parents have to know whether they’re ready to venture into the great beyond, and if not, how better to prepare themselves for the next attempt.

The Audience is Watching

Said friend also noted that the mother gave him the classic retort, “Do you have children of your own?”

I acknowledge that it’s a below-the-belt remark (it ranks just below “Why you so busybody?” and “You so clever, you do lah!” and just above “@#&%$#!!!”), and I will even go so far to say the question serves absolutely no constructive purpose other than to aggravate the situation, regardless of how it’s answered. So what if said friend is childless? It doesn’t change the fact that a disturbance was caused, and with the parent’s child, no less. And what if the person who sternly rebuked the parent has 19 kids and counting? What would the parent have to reply with then?

The “parent vs non-parent” comparison is conceptualised into parents’ minds the moment parenthood smacks them in the face (from a dad’s point of view, that can be anytime between the wife saying she’s pregnant to sometime after the delivery of the child when you’ve finally caught a few hours’ sleep and it’s dawned on you that you’re a friggin’ dad). Parenthood is a drastic life-changer; we know once we’ve been smacked that everything we once thought we knew pre-children pretty much gets thrown out the window, and as the person directly responsible for the creation of another life, there is absolutely no turning back.

What parents who actively subscribe to this don’t realise, though, is that the world goes on; there’re still truckloads of people out there who don’t have children, don’t yet have children, or don’t plan to have children precisely because of situations like this. More importantly, the social construct of public venues, together with their unspoken rules and unwritten (and sometimes written) regulations will persist. Challenging another to step into your shoes as a parent doesn’t induce empathy; instead, you effectively deny the reality around you that you and your child need to live and survive in.

Why Blame? Just Deal With the Situation

Incidents like this can easily be avoided with a very simple four-letter word: care. Let’s be specific though, because we might say if the parent cared enough for the fact that her child would one day have to come out and face the public one day (and soon), she may know well enough to provide the proper education in behaviour and discipline. But as I said, when placed in a high-stress situation (like emergency parenting, so to speak), this might all be talking cock, because you can’t indulge in a lifelong learning process with a toddler in times of urgency. As parents, there will be the moments where our abilities are stretched, our mettle tested and our options seemingly exhausted.

To: The Parent

Susan Koh from A Juggling Mom having dinner with her daughter

There are textbook solutions to bank in on though (if parenting ever becomes an academic module); pick out family-friendly places where the staff will happily help you entertain your child or provide weapons of mass distraction to keep your kid occupied. Or bring your own weapons of mass distraction for your child – colouring books, toys, load up cartoons on the iPad/iPhone (as a last resort, for the techno-skeptic parent). Or, short of ending the night early, take the kid out of the situation if need be; pacify or discipline him out of public view.

Most importantly though, watch your attitude. Not for the sake of the public, but for your child’s well-being, because your child’s emotions and behaviour directly reflect and/or respond to your own. Get angry, and your child will get angrier; elect not to bother, and your child will find ways to make her presence even more felt. But if you pay attention to what your child really wants (more seasoned parents have a wants-list memorised ranging from hunger to fatigue to a cuddle to a toy, but most likely it’s your attention in the first place), and everyone will stay calm and enjoy their dinner.

If you, the parent, take away nothing else from this post, take away this: you’re as much a student of the world as you are the teacher of your child. Take a step back and stay aware of your surroundings; the people around you have a knack for letting you know something’s wrong.

To: Everyone Else

And to the people around the parent with the rowdy kid, don’t get annoyed; in all likelihood your Irritation, tsks, shushes, and stern rebukes aren’t going to solve your problem (yes, it’s your peace getting disturbed, therefore it’s your problem too). Besides, what many deem to be a public annoyance might just be a cry for help – from child or parent alike. Instead, put aside any judgment you may harbour – and care. Ask if you can do anything at all to help, maybe coo at the kid, give him a sweet or jingle some keys, make funny faces or prance around like an idiot if need be, whatever you think might work to just make the child change his mood. You’ll end up changing more than a little kid’s mood.

During times when I faced dealing with my overly enthusiastic/fatigued/hungry/demanding son, I know I would have appreciated a forthcoming, helping hand (sometimes I get that helping hand, too). Half the time, the child would immediately fall silent, having suddenly been confronted by a stranger being, well, strange (the same reaction might apply to the parent as well). The other half of the time, your caring might actually work to calm the kid down and avert certain public disaster.

Granted I may not be speaking for all parents here, but kindness begets kindness. Even if they are inclined to refuse, as long as you approach with kindness of heart, they will reciprocate with a kind refusal.

It takes a village to raise a child; in Singapore, we’re all a part of the village. Take a step forward and offer what you can to ease the situation, and you (and the kid’s parents) might even learn a lesson or two.

Because, looking at the state of the world today, we all need to have a little more caring in our lives.

The Problem With Dads is the Problem That Dads Face

Sometimes, men can be such a contradiction.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the launch of a Dads for Life initiative called Dads@Community, which wanted to engage community groups such as CDCs and religious organisations to provide a more participative culture among the local dad community.

The event itself placed particular focus on community representatives that were currently running programmes to engage dads, and what struck me were the emphases these representatives put on the challenges they faced when trying to get dads involved.

Image via Family Life Champion
Is there an awkwardness amongst men toward parenting? Randy Sng, vice-chairman of Family Life Champion, presented an interest group of enthusiastic family cooks (all men, by the way) based in Braddell Heights who’ve been getting together to learn the ways of the kitchen since 2008. “When the (FLC) was formed, there wasn’t much activities, so we were looking at a niche area (to start off). It was a risk (starting the Men’s Cooking Interest Group), that why our chairman at that time was quite worried about whether it was going to be another FLC ‘cold storage'”. Far from a cold reception, the Men’s Cooking Interest Group has since garnered a membership base of over 100 men, and FLC is actively working with Dads for Life to put a “fatherly” angle into their monthly cook-up gatherings.

Is it a matter of pride? Mr Abdul Mutalif bin Hashim, president of the Association for Devoted and Active Men (ADAM) remarked that the family men his organisation tries to work with have reservations about sharing their concerns on being dads, because they perceive this kind of thing as an acknowledgement of weakness, and apparently this isn’t a done thing amongst societal perceptions of fathers, much less as a statement of manhood.

Or maybe the men just don’t see it as their problem? The Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) has been trying to engage fathers into their various dad-targeted activities, but their Parents Division director, Ms Lathika Devi notes that the response they receive makes them look rather more like annoying telemarketers. She says, “Many Indian fathers are just not too keen to take part in our family programmes. To many, it is the job of the mothers to be actively involved in parenting. We have fathers who slammed down the phone on us when we call them for our programmes; we’re getting used to it.” SINDA’s Parenting Division has over the years managed to engage over 2,000 parents in its various talks and other family-centric activities – the problem is, they’re mostly only seeing mothers attend their events.

Mr Bervyn Lee
Or do we just prefer to suffer in silence? Bervyn Lee, member of the Fathers Action Network shares his own experience with his father when he was still a student. “4 times a week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – at 4 o’clock in the morning, (my own father) would wake up just to send me to the ACS swimming pool for my swimming training. And you should see him in the lift when he did that; his head was against the side of the lift, (eyes closed and mouth ajar). For 6 years, he did that. He didn’t spend a lot of time with us talking and all that.”

The North-East Community Development Council (North East CDC) created the Dads@North East Club with just that kind of scenario in mind. Mr David Ang, chairman of the North East CDC?s Family and Fathering at North East (FINE) said, “(A man’s) journey as a father and a husband can be a lonely one, and can be one that is in need of support, so we wanted to create a platform where men can come together and journey together, and learn from one another, because iron sharpens iron.”

I have to agree. More often than not, whether parenthood is planned or not, fatherhood has a tendency to catch you unawares and hit you like a ton of bricks. We can experience our way into manhood as individuals, but fatherhood is an issue that concerns a handful of other people ? in particular, your wife, your child(ren), your family, nuclear and extended. Its immediacy does require you seek guidance from those who know more, and if you can find the mind to further your career prospects through education, surely you would apply the same mindset to furthering your journey into fatherhood. Wouldn?t you?

The realisation of fatherhood as a community challenge that requires urgent addressing is fairly new ? Dads for Life has only been around for 3 years. You may have read my coverage of the Dads for Life Conference back in May 2012, where I, too, held reservations about attending events that make me question my ?fatherhood?. I have no qualms against Dads for Life?s method of engagement, though; in fact, the conference was a turning point in my career and drove me into parenting writing, and I quite enjoy the things Dads for Life – and many of the other father-focused initiatives – puts out.

The Dads@Communities initiative admits greater engagement is needed, through support of established community groups. It?s trying to get society to back up its views on making active fatherhood a priority, which really just isn?t a done thing. As much as we, the men, want to portray ourselves as heads of our households, decision-makers for our families and ?knowing what?s best? for our kids, we?re equally faced with adhering to societal perceptions that have, over years of establishment enforcement, ultimately undervalued our contributions as dads. And as much as we, the men, want to complain about it, we, the men, made it happen.

And therein lies the contradiction.

Dads, take a little time out, go look for other dads to talk to (I can even help link you up, seriously). But you need to know there?s a whole bunch of us out there that are happy to help you out, and who also need help.

And to the community groups that are proposing programmes in partnership with the Dads@Communities initiative, I have a very effective proposition for you to include in your proposal: free beer.

Getting Your Toddlers To Do Housework

Getting your kid to do housework might not be such a pain if you can manage to inculcate the idea in very early in? his or her life. We’re talking the moment your kid understands when you’re giving instructions and setting house rules, which can be as early as 18 months of age.

Doesn’t matter if you have a maid to do all that work for you; this isn’t an exercise in keeping your house clean and tidy. It’s a course in character building and teaching your child to respect and take responsibility for his or her living space. As an aside, it’s a sure-fire way to impress your own parents and in-laws as well; my own 3-year-old son’s grandparents are always fascinated when they see him picking up after himself, bringing his utensils into the kitchen after dinner and even mopping up food or drinks he accidentally spills on the floor.

Housekeeping.org lists 10 household chores your toddler can potentially manage, as well as the life values each chore holds. The blog post does carry a caveat, though:

At the toddler stage, kids tend to approach chores with more enthusiasm and gusto than actual skill; attempts may be clumsy, and little hands may not have the coordination skills to perform very many chores perfectly. It?s important that parents don?t lose patience and take over when a little one is taking longer to complete a task than they?d like; also, toddlers should never see a parent going behind them to redo their chores. If it?s necessary to finish the job, parents are advised to wait until the child is otherwise engaged to avoid making them feel inadequate by redoing the task.

It will also help to be mindful if your child starts taking an interest in any household chores you’re (or your maid is) doing; if your kid asks if he can try using the mop, go ahead and let him try it. It might just be a proud parenting moment in the making.

Image via Coventry Telegraph