A Day in the Life of a Working Active Father

I wake up at 7 in the morning; these days, I try to clock a good 8 hours of slumber, which is much more than the average parent can ask for, so it doesn’t usually take much effort for me to dig myself out of bed. I wake my son up, and we brush our teeth and get dressed. I make him his sandwich while he’s wearing his socks, and I make sure his bag is all packed – spare school clothes, water bottle, and on some days, something for him to bring for show and tell – before we give the Mother and the Sister of Xander their first kisses of the day, and leave for the morning.

After I drop Xan off at school, I head to work. Some days, I might have enough time to eat before stepping into the office. But by 9am (9.30am at the latest) I’m paid about $18.75 an hour to supply an indefinite amount of words, wit and, on occasion, my knowledge and experience in the name of advertising.

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At the end of every work day, when I decide to leave at 6pm sharp. I do so knowing I leave a trail of talk behind my back. To some, my leaving on the dot is an inconsiderate act, a disruption of work processes, a disregard for timeliness, even disrespect. This mindset exists not just in my own workplace, but in many organisations around Singapore, if not the world, wherever there exists such things as an “office” or a “work culture”.

But I have to say something in defense of those that disagree with my incorrigible punctuality. I did say it myself: I decide to leave at 6pm sharp every day. I have a choice. Of course I do. Everything we do is a choice. It just doesn’t seem like it when I explain why 6pm is my magic hour.

You see, my son’s school, which is 45 minutes away from my workplace by train and peak-hour Shenton Way human traffic, charges a fine of $1 per minute should a parent be late in picking up his or her child, so I have to pay a touch more than one hour’s salary if I’m late for just 19 minutes (for justification of the math, see paragraph 2). That aside, my son’s last meal would have been a half-fold peanut butter and jam sandwich I made for him and a packet of milk at about 3-4 hours before school ends, so he will be famished by the time I get to him, making it imperative that he have his dinner by 7.30pm. And if you ever get to see the face he wears when I happen to be the last parent to reach his school, you’d make sure I always pick him up from school in time, too.

Still, I choose to.

***

Some will choose to make establishing their career the utmost priority, setting out, in properly planned and measured steps with varying degrees of speed, effort, and single-mindedness, to achieve – or exceed – industry benchmarks recognised nationwide, across regions, or around the world, if not for the full satisfaction of personal achievement.

Some will choose to take care of the very fundamental, physiological needs. In a nation like ours, this is in itself a tall mountain to climb, and its peak seems to grow with every passing year (or perhaps by our own insatiable tendency, we shift our own goalposts more frequently than we can catch up to our goal).

I once chose career over life. Then I quit a five-year stint with a company very dear to me because I found myself missing one too many milestones in Xander’s first year.

Then I took on work in a bid to clear my own financial debt from trying to shoot at goalposts I could never reach. But the emotional debt that took its place proved too much to bear; I left a very stable job at a law firm because I had too much empathy to hold on to a job that earned its keep from very messy family breakdowns.

Next, I tried my hand at self-actualisation, and decided I wanted to pursue a dream. But as a full-time writer for a grand total of 2 months minus 2 days after my law firm stint, I learned the hard way that an online publication with content geared towards parents and parents-to-be (you know the one) doesn’t necessarily mean they are run or written by parents, much less a parent-friendly employer; in this case, not by a long shot.

Throughout all the job-hopping, career switches, bad life decisions, and that year-long, nearly incomeless period of wondering what happened and what will happen next, my wife stood by my side, making sure our son was taken care of with one arm, and with the other, working on me while I worked on life. My son continues to love me because I am first and foremost his father, and for the last 5 years of his life, he made sure I knew that. Even on days when I’m the last to pick him up from school, when I see his disappointed face follow me to the car, and I apologise, and he takes a deep breath, looks me in the eye, and says “It’s okay, daddy.”

So, which do you think I would choose to prioritise: people who would grumble about me leaving on time after work, or a 5-year-old boy who will readily forgive me for being late, and still call me Daddy?

***

To my current company, clients and colleagues, I do apologise for inconveniencing your evening of clearing in-trays and requiring that office work be done after office hours . I cannot say enough that I love my current job immensely, more than anything I’ve ever done in my career up to this point, and for 8 hours every weekday, rest assured I will fully dedicate my life to the service of this organisation.

And from hard-earned, mostly painful experience, I also cannot stress enough that no one – not this organisation, nor you, nor me – can ever guarantee that any of us will still be working in this company, with each other, by this time next year.

But what I can and will guarantee is that I will be there for my family, and my family will be there for me, for the rest of our lives. That’s a promise my wife and I made to each other the day we got married. It’s a promise we made to Xander the moment he was born. And we are all committed to making sure Yvie gets all the love she can get from us.

I have to guarantee this because I chose to be an active father.

Why I Am Reading Breastfeeding Posts

A few nights ago, The Wife came out of the bedroom and joined me on the living room sofa after Yvie and the confinement nanny had gone to sleep. It was about 11pm, and I was preparing for bed myself.

After a couple of minutes, I heard a dull, rhythmic drilling sound that seemed to be coming out of the walls. It had been a long day, and the last thing I needed was to contend with a neighbour about not conducting renovations at 11am on a Sunday night. So I turned my head up and around to trace the direction of the sound, and saw The Wife seated to my right, with a handheld electric breastpump that made a dull, rhythmic drilling sound whilst attached to her left boob.

We both laughed hard about my reaction, but unlike with Yvie these days, we didn’t see as much humour in trying to breastfeed Xander. It was a very stressful time, and in between the crying and the screaming in the house (which, in truth, was coming from everyone else in the household except the baby), The Wife was having a very difficult time expressing what she felt to be enough milk to feed Xander. It didn’t help that we had a select number of mothers and advocates both young and old, related, acquainted or otherwise, that we’re guiltily her into something they kept describing was the easiest thing in the world to do, but I saw as the one thing that was about to break the very spirit of the woman I loved, and potentially our family.

With Xander, she stopped trying after 3 months or so. And for 3 years after, she would periodically beat herself up for not trying harder (Sometimes to the point of tears, even after so long), and I would stand by helpless, not knowing what to say or do.

As much as we want to, many, if not all of us fathers aren’t quite able to empathise with our wives’ obsession over breastfeeding vs formula feeding vs whatever the hell else you’d want to put in a newborn’s diet. I have friends and family who grew up feeding one way or another, and everyone is as healthy as everyone else could be. And seriously, has the state of your health ever been determined by a doctor with an initial compulsory query of “Were you breastfed, formula-fed, cow-fed, or organic soy milk fed?” I’d like to just point you to a good dad-turned-amateur pediatrician of mine, who offered these sensible, wise words at the peak of his frustration with dealing with breastfeeding/formula feeding fanatics (we are at present unable to determine if said fanatic was his wife) when he said: “When taking care of the baby, look at the baby, don’t look at the number.?If he pee ok, poo ok, happy everyday, don’t worry! Most important is to have a happy and healthy baby.”

Then we have this fine specimen of a human being, who left the following comment on another mom blogger’s post about contending with breastfeeding in the throes of her possible post-natal depression:

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Wow, indeed. Did you stop reading when you got to the part in her post about throwing her milk away? If not, and if this is your idea of helping women with maternity issues such as breastfeeding, baby care and baby blues, “petrina”, I’d rather take Andy Lee of Sengkang Babies to be my preferred lactation expert any day. How you would think one wouldn’t mind when you decide to dedicate 66 carefully chosen words to be published in the comments section of an open blog to put down a mother struggling with the stress of being a young new mother for “wasting liquid gold”, just shows how ineffective helpful comments like this can be when served up with such a generous, healthy dose of utter self-righteousness, never mind that certain long-term benefits of the method Petrina has chosen to faithfully advocate have recently been put into question.

But lest we judge prematurely, perhaps Petrina, like the mom blogger who was the target of her ire, may have had her own inadequacies with amassing her own liquid gold. Perhaps she, like the Mother of Xander, took to blaming herself for being unable to produce enough. Perhaps she decided she needed to learn breastfeeding techniques the right way, by going to classes, reading books, massaging her breasts in the prescribed manner, taking much-discussed supplements, practising correct latching methods, and ultimately, if she had another child since her internalised “failing”, finally succeeded in creating that liquid gold for the benefit of her child, thus building her confidence, not only in offering her treasured nectar to her newly produced offspring from now until the end of time, but to help other mothers to do so by preaching her tried-and-true knowledge to other mothers, and chastising those that she sees to have erred.

Update: Petrina shares her story in the comments section of The Kam Family’s blog
. I wasn’t too far off the mark, it seems.
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Okay, The Blogfather has done lesting his judgement.

Petrina, you are a prick. I thought the nurses and the counsellors we saw at the hospital were bad, but you have taken maybe three whole cakes and a dozen strawberry muffins to boot. I sincerely hope you have at least a couple of decent people left in your social circle whom you might have what little humility you have left in you to allow to teach you a thing or two about empathy, because you sure as hell won’t get any from anyone who’s read your comment today.

I will say this for the zealots that think they’ve been endowed with the power to change lives by adamantly shoving their own staunchly-held principles, feebly masked as “help”, into the faces of people who would otherwise rather not be talking with you: absolutely no one has the right to force-feed his or her own prescribed beliefs on anyone, much less talk down to people who do not subscribe to said beliefs. The parents in the thick of seeing their children through school have spoken at length about how this method of teaching doesn’t work any more in our own education system, so how the hell do you think your holier-than-thou attitude will push your point across to anyone effectively?

People like this don’t just make hapless mothers suffer with even more guilt than they’ve already weighed themselves down with; we, the husbands, have to try and pick up the pieces you leave behind when you break our wives’ spirit with your callous words. And, especially when it comes to things like breastfeeding, a lot of the times, we don’t know how to, for the simple biological reason that we don’t have actively producing milk ducts like our wives, so we have absolutely no way of knowing what our loved one is grappling with. All we know is that we’re trying our fucking level best to take care of our kids in the best way we know, and if it doesn’t agree with the way you want us to subscribe to, well, on behalf of all the husbands and fathers that have ever stood by their wives throughout the labour, recovery and parenting process, The Blogfather would like to invite you to please go back to whatever hole you crawled out of, and make yourself a crown of liquid gold to wear on your bigoted head so you can royally go fuck yourself.

… um, yeah. I let go a little there. Sorry.

I wrote this post in support of the breastfeeding blog train started by Madeline of Mad Psych Mum, and currently going on from the mom blogger’s community, whose stories extend from not being able to breastfeed to taking their breastfeeding journey all the way up to 4 whole years. Every story is personal, and none are judgmental; that’s how it should be. The button below will take you to all their stories.

My First Week with Yvie

It’s been a week since Yvie was born. I’m happy to report we all survived, though I have to say with some surprise that the Wife and child are doing much better than I am. More on that later as I recap our first few days as a family of four.

Day 1: At the Hospital

You may have read about the minor drama surrounding the delivery. As we settled in at the hospital (we were there for only a day, so it wasn’t much of a settling-in), I notice the hospital staff were rather extremely adamant about their maternity patients taking up breastfeeding. We had no problems since we said yes immediately upon being asked, but our bed neighbour did not, and we overheard a very-close-to-angry exchange between patient and nurse when the staffer tried to insist the mother opt to breastfeed – after the woman straight declined no less than 4 times.

You will also be interested to know that when we had Xander at a private maternity hospital years back, the staff there were rather extremely adamant about us taking up formula feeding – the exact opposite. We would eventually take up mixed feeding for Yvie (at least for the first few days, though the Wife is much more confident of providing for Yvie naturally (we needed the formula as a timeout feed because the poor woman’s boobs can only take so much abuse every 2 to 3 hours). What disturbs me is how such maternal ideals are so polarised between medical institutions, and how the staff are trained to force their hospital’s prescribed ideals into their patients, who probably spent the last 7-8 months pondering over and making their final decision already.

The whole debate in the next bed kind of reminded me of the current LGBT war of words going on the last few months (or years, if you count the 377A debate). No prizes for guessing who the nurses resembled.

Day 2

The confinement nanny we booked had to fly down from Perak on short notice, seeing as we were discharged only a day after we were admitted. Thankfully, it worked out well… until I got into a car accident whilst driving her to the supermarket to get our first batch of confinement groceries.

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The confinement nanny was incredibly apologetic for distracting me with her questions and causing me to lose focus. After I paid off the guy whom I induced to take off my bumper (really, it was my fault), I told her, “Look at it this way. If not for the accident, we wouldn’t have been able to break the ice so quickly, right?”

In my heart, I was thinking, that was some damn expensive ice breaking.

Day 3

Now, let’s get this absolutely clear: when you’re hiring a confinement nanny, you are in fact hiring a trained professional to take care of mother and baby, and not a maid. With this understanding, I had to rearrange our bedroom such that the confinement nanny be able to stay with the Wife and Yvie with as little obstruction and disturbance as possible.

That also meant I would be sleeping in the living room sofa for the entire month. I don’t sleep well on the sofa, partly because the sofa’s been broken for a while now. In fact, it really does seem the Wife, the confinement nanny and Yvie are all much more well-rested than I am.

The confinement nanny did say to me that besides caring for the mother and child, she would also try to take care of the household chores that the woman of the household would normally be doing were she not recovering from having another person forcefully ejecting out of her nether regions. That being said, she was only going to be with us for a month, and The Blogfather knows better than to take for granted that someone else was cleaning up the house on a much more regular basis than we were for the last 8 years.

So I’ve been mopping the floor, too.

Day 4

Grocery shopping is now a three-times-a-week activity, each trip costing between $20-80, car accident notwithstanding. You also learn the proper Chinese terms of a lot of premium meat cuts, fish species, herbs and vegetables you would normally just eat and not sit down and get to know on a first name basis. Like I said, the confinement nanny’s a professional, and Google is your (multilingual) friend.

Day 5-6

It starts getting a little blurry by this time. I am told I lasted some ways longer than the average new dad, but I did reach my breaking point somewhere in between day 5 and day 6.

On day 6, I got into a minor spat with the Wife at the polyclinic, lost my patience with the nanny whilst she was trying (and not quite succeeding) at teaching me how to bathe Yvie, and I was this close to swearing at my own mother when she unexpectedly expressed her disappointment at my not driving carefully enough and losing money over the car accident.

But the biggest victim was Xander. Throughout this time, he’s been the ultimate trooper with all the changes that’s been going on. He been nothing but loving, courteous and patient while we’ve been busy cooking, cleaning, planning and fussing over Yvie. And yet, on a Saturday afternoon, I managed to not be the loving, courteous and patient dad I should have been to him by flipping out on him for not paying attention when I called his name or asked him a question. In all honesty, I knew I was flipping out on him for being what he naturally is – a happy, playful, sometimes distracted 5-year-old boy.

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That thought was my wake-up call to end what would otherwise have been a pretty ugly meltdown.

Day 7

It’s 1am into Day 8, as I think about the things I did on Day 7 that days 1-6 prepared me for. I’ve relearned how to change diapers, give baby baths, and how, while doing these two things, no matter how you take care not to, you will still get peed on. Every. Single. Time.

And boy, am I glad.

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living – self-employed, full-time employee, part-timer, or freelancer – the first week of your child’s birth is your most crucial week in fatherhood. You have got to be there with your wife and your child, no matter what, or you lose the one precious week that will inevitably define your relationship with your entire family as a husband, a father, and a person.

I’ll be back at work today, not only missing the first 7 days of having Yvie in our lives, but knowing that it was one of the most well-lived weeks I have ever had.