The Fight

Dear Xander,

So we sort of had a fight, you and I. As father and son, these things happen. In the history of you and I, these things usually happen. But I’m noting this one down as unique because of how this ended, and because you’re only 3 3/4 years old now, I want to make sure you know what happened.

We had just gotten off the bus near your grandma’s house when you saw a food stall. I knew you were hungry because you hadn’t had dinner yet, but I also knew your grandma usually cooks for an army when she hears you, your mother and I were coming over, so I told you, “No. Grandma cooked for you already, so we need to have dinner there. You can’t snack before.”

Naturally you started throwing a tantrum. You got angry with me for insisting, you shouted at me, you even hit me with your right fist. And I have taught you before, if you beat anyone, you must expect to be beaten back. Your father is no exception.

I understood that public displays of parental discipline tends to attract unwanted attention, particularly in an old HDB estate with a number of feisty elderly residents, so I removed ourselves from the bus stop into a quieter corner and proceeded to “time-out” corner you. Your mother was not around at the time, so I took the opportunity to see if I could resolve this situation with you by myself, where previously she would have stepped in to reason with you.

You were stubborn, as expected. As you stood there, I tried to reason with you, but as a man, I know I don’t tend to go soft and my voice was coming across as stern chiding more than compromising. Your anger got worse, and you hit me again a couple more times before I took your right hand and slapped it.

Of course, you cried. Loud. Then you said the words any three-year-old boy would say to unintentionally break the heart of any parent.

“I don’t like you any more! I want you to go away!”

Of course, it wasn’t the first time I heard it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t mind it. I replied, “Fine. Let’s go find mummy now and I’ll just leave you with her for the night so you don’t have to see me. Will you be happy then?”

You didn’t answer. I started packing up the bags we had so we could set off to grandma’s house.

Then you bolted. And you were heading towards the main road.

I dropped everything and went after you. Times like this make me very glad you’re only three, because my legs were much longer than yours. I caught you by the arms and swept you back into the same place we were before. Then I looked you in the eyes and said some things that almost immediately turned the tables on our disagreement.

“Don’t you ever run away from me like that. Look at where you are. We’re right next to the main road. Look at all the cars. What’s going to happen if one hits you? I don’t care if you’re angry with me, or I’m angry with you, I will protect you. As long as Daddy lives, if you run away from me like that, I will catch you, because as long as I live, I will do everything I can to make sure you do not get hurt, do you understand? Even if you’re angry with me, or if I’m angry with you, I will still love you. Even if you beat me, I will still love you. Even if you say you don’t like me any more, I will still love you. Do you understand?”

You remained silent. But you were no longer angry. Your eyes softened as you looked at me, and I knew you understood every single word I said.

I started picking up the bags again, and this time you didn’t run; you just continued to stand there, looking at me. When I was ready, I turned to you and asked, “So? What do you want to do now?”

You took a step closer to me and said, “I want bao-bao.”

With one laptop bag slung to my side, and your 2 schoolbags on each arm, I lifted you up on my chest and you clung on me like a koala bear. And we Walked the rest of the way to grandma’s house.

Now I know you understand parental love.

Dad

Chuck Your Home Computer. I Dare You.

I received a new laptop yesterday. Prior to that, I haven’t had a working computer at home for almost 2 years.

I raise eyebrows every time I tell people I don’t have a computer at home. They’d ask, “How do you blog?”

“My iPhone”, I answer. In fact, I’m doing it right now (WordPress just updated their IOS app by the way).

“But the screen is tiny!” they remark. Well, that’s the point. I try to make sure computing is as inconvenient as possible so I don’t do too much of it; it’s the same point that brings me to why I’m writing this.

We’re a committed lot, us dads. We make sure to bring home the bacon by being on top of our work. We answer e-mails on the fly, bring unfinished work reports home to complete, messaging colleagues and clients well into dinner time. Why? Because we can. We live such connected lives in this modern age, we’d have to cook up a good excuse to our boss for not doing it.

I got just one really good reason for you to raise with your boss, though – you’re a father.

Since I discovered computers back in 2000, I spent the better part of my young adulthood as a tech geek and a recluse from my own immediate family. In between Quake sessions, creating web sites and tech spending (I was a big proponent of DIY gaming PCs back when Hardwarezone was still an indie outfit), I just never stepped out of my room much, other than to go to work and fetch peanuts to munch on.

I decided to quit bringing work home towards the end of the last decade, in the throes of a very demanding job that required a lot of travel and a nearly corporate support that bordered on 24/7 on-call service. That was about the same time I got married. It was about the same time I found an actual person I would much rather spend time with than my computer. Family 1, Technology 0.

In 2008, that actual person gave birth to another person, and then there were 2 people I would much rather spend time with. More importantly, they wanted to spend time with me too, while all my computers did were overheat and die on me every 2-3 years. Family 2, Technology still kosong.

Fathers undoubtedly have priorities to manage; the lines are constantly blurred whenever it comes to juggling work and family, what with making sure bills are paid and everyone is fed by making sure clients are happy and bosses are satisfied. But think about this: in the minds of our children, we are their priority.

Every day you come home from work, your child will greet you with an enthusiasm unmatched by any other person you have known or will ever know. Every available moment, your child will climb up on you asking to be carried, hugged or kissed. And no one else will feel as comfortable sleeping in your arms at night.

With all that love being offered to you, would you still prefer to sit in front of a computer, finger a tablet, stare at a phone, pay so much attention to a device that isn’t capable of loving you back?

Put it down, dad. Turn it off. Save it for office hours. Someone needs you more.

For all you know, you’ll probably even be able to make some time with your wife in raising the score to Family 3, Technology 0.

Failure 101 – Lesson 3: Don't Get Pissed (Refer to Lesson 0)

This is the last of the “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 other three pieces here:

By the looks of the title and how I ended off the last article, this lesson isn’t for your child; it’s for you, Mr. Dad. I’ll mostly be sharing from personal experience, though, so do let me know in the comments if you have an opinion to share of your own.

Why So Serious?

It’s an accepted notion that men are naturally more aggressive and competitive; we’re supposed to be the hunters, after all. Be it hormonal differentiation or societal grooming, by the time we’re fathers, it’s become instinct.

It will show in our parenting as well. We play with our kids more aggressively, we push our kids to do more (and do it better), and we tend to take the hard, disciplinarian approach more readily than our better halves. It gets the job done, but it also creates fear if we’re not careful, and in the long term it affects your child’s ability to deal with, and accept failure.

For the less academically inclined among us (including me, of course), it shows most explicitly if we think back to the days when our own fathers (or mothers, even) will have no qualms digging out the cane if we came back home with red ink all over our report books (ah yes, those were the days). We may have an assortment of immediate responses to how our fathers dealt with us in the old days – we may feel guilty, we may retaliate, we may feel our dads don’t love us, we may grow even more fearful should we fail again in the next round – but at the very moment where we are being reprimanded or punished, we weren’t actually thinking about doing better. That very message our dads were trying to drive into us in the first place gets lost in all the anger and frustration he’s displaying, and it isn’t until after the storm has calmed that the thought of doing better presents itself as a solution that we may not even be inclined to take up.

Beware of Repercussions

There’s another twist; I’ve mentioned before in a previous post that kindness begets kindness, which is a phenomenon that very much applies here. In the context of non-verbal communication, our emotions will tend to get reflected back on us with an equal and appropriate response; if we’re happy, our family is happy (my wife always tells me that). If we show frustration, our actions may well frustrate the people around us as well. And if we’re angry with our child, be prepared for rebellion.

The solution, though, is in every Maths assessment book, school workbook, test and exam paper that your kid will be struggling to complete: SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Getting angry is not going to solve the problem, not for you, and most definitely not for your kid. Don’t just ask your kid, “What happened? Why like this? What went wrong?”; I previously mentioned that kids might not be able to identify their own mistakes. Instead, you’ll do better to find out with him what went wrong.

The most productive thing you can do is roll up your sleeves and go through his work with him; it’s a perfect opportunity for a father to instill tactics and strategies to conquer schoolwork, impart skills and life concepts into his learning, and ultimately inspire your kid to do better through your own experience in the Singapore education system. But if time is not a luxury for that kind of commitment, at the very least let him know not to feel down about it. He’s already got bad grades to deal with, and the last thing he needs is to deal with is the fear of failing in meeting your expectations.

Put Aside Your Expectations

Above all else, you need to learn to put aside any expectations you have of your child’s development, and this is especially tough, seeing as we’ve lived most of our own lives guided by what society expects of us (the Singapore education system is a hotbed of debate over just this point, as pointed out by Monica Lim’s very eloquent post on the subject). Sure, we want our child to do well in life, but we also have to remember our child is growing up a whole generation apart from us, and times are different with every generation. The problems are going to be different, the environment is going to be more complex, and much society’s expectations are likely going to be far removed from what you or I are facing now.

With that in mind, we can only act as guides, not dictators. We have to trust our children to set their own benchmarks and have faith in their knowing what they can do best in the environment they are growing up with. Really, that trust is the best gift you can give to your child; it is a gift of independent thinking, which in turn is a core attribute in encouraging creativity, arguably the one trait in our .

You want the best for your kid, then be the best dad for your kid, instead of showing him what you’re like at your worst.

Failure 101 – Lesson 2: Helping Your Child to Learn Through Failure

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 two pieces here:

Our previous article talked about getting your child into situations with an element of risk, where the focus of the exercise was to actually anticipate failure and learn from it as a buildup to success. There was also the suggestion of easing your child into social situations where helping your child deal with rejection might be a tricky concept for a dad to wrap his head around – I know it was for me.

Educational psychologist Kairen Cullen says that external group interaction will always carry the risk of rejection, but “the personal, emotional, and social resources, you’ve helped them to build up will help get them through.” During these situations, being there as a confidante, a source of comfort and a pillar of strength for your child will also help immensely.

The element of risk your child will bear is only one side of the story; helping your child through dealing with failure when it occurs is a whole new can of worms.

Being there for your child at the point where he or she has problems during social interaction also makes a great study for whether there are shortcomings for you to help your kid to address. Robin Nixon from Live Science has written an article with a guide to help you do just tha, along with a recommended approach to guide your child through dealing with awkward social situations. He writes, “Instead of reacting with anger or embarrassment to a child who, say, asks Aunt Mindy if her new hairdo was a mistake, parents should teach social skills with the same tone they use for teaching long division or proper hygiene. If presented as a learning opportunity, rather than a punishment, children usually appreciate the lesson.”

Of particular note are some of the recommended steps as prescribed by child social behaviour expert Richard Lavoie to help your child identify where the problems lie:

  1. Ask what happened, and listen without jumping to conclusions. You might need to egg your kid to reveal the full story, though, but the process will also help to calm the child down somewhat.
  2. Explain to your child what’s wrong with the picture, because kids are only able to tell when someone’s upset, but aren’t able to identify why.
  3. Help your child see how he or she has erred or missed (“If you were in the other kid’s shoes, how would you feel?”). Keep a calm, encouraging tone if you want to provide alternative solutions (“Maybe you could have done it this way” instead of “You should have done it this way”).

The social scenario is just one example out of many you can set up – or will encounter – as an opportunity to be there for your child when he or she needs you the most. Remember also that as a father, helping your child deal with problems also helps you to learn more about your child, and yourself; as a dad, you are as much a student of your child as you are your child’s teacher.

And whatever it is, don’t get pissed. That never helps.

Next: Lesson 3 – Don’t Get Pissed (Refer to Lesson 0)

I'm Playing Dad to the Trend Family! – an Internet Safety Community Initiative

I know it’s been pretty quiet here lately, primarily because I just made a career switch into full-time writing at The Asian Parent, but also because I’ve been making preparations for Trend Micro’s latest family cyber-security awareness campaign.

It’s not the norm for Blogfathers! to endorse brands, and neither is the site into the advertising game (notice there are no more ads; I was going through a phase back then). But Trend Micro approached me with a very interesting proposition: there are no products to push, no services to promote, just a community cause to bring Internet safety awareness to families (so no, I’m not getting paid to do this – as usual).

Why I’m Paying Attention

Blogfathers! is primarily a community cause too; I’m basically a dad trying to help dads too, and learning from other dads in the process. Having been involved in tech for a number of years, I also know exactly where Trend Micro is coming from with this initiative. That’s why I said yes.

20120802-221648.jpgI’ve run and managed a number of websites throughout my working life, and have both seen and experienced identity theft and hacking first-hand. It’s not a nice feeling when you go to your blog and find a black screen with a dimly-lit red skull proudly proclaiming your`website has been compromised by r4nd0mh4ck37, complete with shoutouts to all of r4nd0mh4ck37’s friends with similarly L337 monikers.

Then there’s the cleanup; if the attack was malicious (files get deleted and databases get wiped) and you don’t have a recent enough backup of your website, it really is game over for the most part.

The worst part of all this is, it can be completely random; hackers don’t necessarily pick targets because of government affiliations or controversial values. They just find sites and servers that are the easiest to get into, and have a party with your work, at your expense. And when it’s happened to me, I’m extremely aware of what my website’s readers and users must be feeling and thinking about me or my company when they see that red skull smiling back at them.

Why You Should Pay Attention, Too

Sharing your family life through social media and blogging comes with a similarly sinister danger, as I previously mentioned here. It is ridiculously easy to find personal information given the popularity of social networking – personal information that you might use as passwords, or to verify forgotten passwords, or to authenticate bank and credit card accounts over phone banking.

Any hardworking novice hacker may be able to find out where you are (e.g. by tracking your FourSquare check-in) or where you’re going next (when you update on Twitter), and tail you just so he can peep over your shoulder when you’re making a credit card payment, and with all this information at hand (including your Facebook history or LinkedIn profile), he can just as easily pass off as you whilst speaking with your bank’s customer service officer (all it takes is a phone).

So keep an eye out for new stuff over the following months, where I’ll be sharing experiences, research and tips on keeping you and your family safe in this increasingly online world. I’m happy and honoured to be a part of the Trend Family, and I do expect I’ll be learning as much as I’ll be sharing through this initiative.