One of Those Days

Ever have one of those days when things get so overwhelming you try to grab hold of something just to stay afloat but everything you touch just repels you with annoyance and disgust, and you realise you’re just going to have to deal with drowning on your own?

Or one of those days when everything you try to do just goes wrong and when everything you try to say just sounds wrong and everything you think just seems wrong and everything you are is just wrong and people actually agree?

How about one of those days when you know just like every new day that the next day is going to start, but you really don’t feel like being around when it does?

How do you pick yourself up from that kind of day?

I’ll tell you what I tried. I go with the family to watch an animated movie my wife decided to buy tickets for before my day inexplicably rolled into a shitstorm, but it turns out to be about a corporate baby who was having a terrible day at work, so that didn’t do me much good. (The movie isn’t bad though, you should catch it with your kids.)

I try to eat, because I haven’t had dinner anyway, but movie theatre fast food doesn’t exactly look like the caring, kind best friend that’s going to tell you, “It’s okay, Winston. Just put me in your mouth and chew and everything will be fine, I promise.” My chicken bites were too salty and my hot dog looked like my… day.

We go grocery shopping, and I think, hey, retail therapy, right? But then my wife asks me to pick out some grapes and I go to the chilled fruits aisle and see two boxes of those fantastic Californian moondrop grapes and I pick them up and they’re wrinkly and leaky at the bottom because they’ve been left on the shelf about 3 days too long and I almost start to cry.

I tell the wife I need to take a walk after we get home from dinner, just to clear my head. She suggests bringing the kids’ bubble blowers. So I do, but it gets depressing because the bubbles would burst. And I stop blowing because I feel like I’ve been breathing life into them just to see them die.

I decide to just take that walk then, but then it starts to rain, and much as I would have liked the soft rain caressing my face, masking the tears in my eyes as I walk slowly through the night in comforting cold solitude, my son just recovered from a fever and my daughter is still nursing a cough and the last thing my wife needs is another big baby falling sick on her and then a bad 2 weeks at work won’t be the only thing I need to worry about.

So I go to my car, open the windows, whip out my phone, open my WordPress app and I write this.

Halfway through, the rain stops. I step out of the car, because it’s getting damn hot.

And, hoping I’d at least feel slightly better,  I finish the post with this before I hit “Publish”:

Just like every new day,  tomorrow is going to start, and I have no choice but to be around when it does.

… And then the WordPress app fails to upload the post and I have to log in via my web browser and copy-paste everything and re-paragraph the whole thing.

Nope, didn’t feel better. Guess it’s just one of those days.

Ten Years of Us: A Love Letter

Dear Mother of Xander,

10 years ago today, two individuals signed a contract that would bind two sole proprietorships into a partnership that both parties vowed would last the lifetime of either party, whichever sooner (although that last clause was verbally agreed upon).

You would always say that this was a “no refund, no return, no exchange” transaction. That remains the strongest verbal commitment to our union that you have ever given me, and I have never taken your words for granted.

Things moved rather quickly thereafter. We managed to procure a nice place to set ourselves up in (we got a HDB flat), hosted a few networking sessions to establish ourselves in the market (house parties), and a year later, we even organised a company Dinner & Dance (traditional wedding dinner). One of our angel investors (my mum) said it was quite fashionable to be some months into one’s pregnancy whilst hosting one’s wedding dinner. To date, I remain unsure if she was stating an observation or trying to reassure herself.

Five months after the dinner, I managed to pass my driving test… just in time to fulfill a promise I made to be the one to drive you to the hospital when you went into labour. You looked nervous in the car; I didn’t blame you. It was our first baby, and my second time behind the wheel after I got my licence.

Our firstborn’s first year threatened to be our marriage’s last, as we struggled to juggle parenthood—ours and our parents’—our work, and ourselves. We fought a lot, sometimes quietly because Xan was sleeping, sometimes failing to be quiet because we’re just not that kind of a couple.

Then came a point when we realised the books we read, the shows we watched, the advice we were given, the things we bought from Mothercare, won’t be nearly as adequate in teaching us to parent as what we would learn from just doing it to our kid, for our kid, with our kid. Things started getting better. We started getting better.

2¾ years ago, we kind of sealed our fate as a couple of parents that will hardly ever have any time alone to ourselves for at least the next 16-21 years. My biggest relief with our second child is that she came with a rather useful foundational instruction manual: our experience with our first child has provided us with the wisdom and patience to not scream at each other… as often.

Today, our boy is going through the rigours of the Singapore education system, and we’re learning to adapt with him. Meanwhile, our daughter is going through her terrible twos, and we’re learning to take photos of her quickly and deftly enough that the pictures don’t look too blurry. We may never be alone from these two whippersnappers in the foreseeable future, but we’re together, and that’s everything to me.

I’ve never thought of myself as a good dad. Everything I do as a father—right down to writing about parenting here in this blog—I feel is simply my responsibility as a father to do. But since you and I got together all those years ago (13 years ago, as it were), I’ve always wanted to be a good husband for you, to be a good person for you, because whether we were going to have kids or not, I’ve always just wanted to be with you, and I wanted you to want to be with me.

I still do.

Love, Winston

Coping, with Success

I think we all live through this phase in our lives believing that we are invincible, that we can do anything we set our minds to, that we can get anywhere we want. And up until I was 35, I wanted to be successful, too. Or at least, I was taught to want it.

I’ve talked about how my mother wanted me to become a doctor to complete the set of children with noble professions that she always wished for, and how my dad, when he had lost hope in me doing well for my O-Levels, sat me down to plan my future career cooking Indonesian cuisine.

Somewhere in the middle of that, though, I wanted to be a musician. I picked up the electric guitar at 13, managed to work myself up to a level where I could impress girls, and then when I turned 20, I took night classes for a music technology diploma at some obscure, now-defunct private school. Then

I wanted to become a lawyer. I never graduated from that diploma course. When I was younger I was told by my mum that I could bloody argue my way out of anything, so since I can’t become a doctor, why not do law? I took up a position in the Supreme Court as a transcriber, then nine months into the job, I got hired by a dotcom run by lawyers (one of whom was my eldest sister), writing and editing content for their legal portal for two years, then

I wanted to become a marketer. At the peak of the company’s most intense internal conflicts, I quit to enrol into Polytechnic and did a full-time mass communications course as a mature candidate using the CPF money I amassed from work. I managed to graduate almost respectably (in my second year I managed to cause some administrative trouble by petitioning for the removal of a lecturer). I joined my second sister’s furniture company as a marketing executive, and as I got comfortable,

I wanted to try everything. For the next five years, I jumped from department to department doing just that… and I burned out. At 32, I quit, partly because spending 3 weeks out of every month in India while my son pass all his developmental milestones at home really really sucked, and our try because I was quite at a loss as to what I wanted.

I wanted to go back to school, to try and earn a psychology degree. But I needed money for that, so I went back to work with my eldest sister at her boutique law firm (litigation and divorce specialists), and lasted all of two years, gobsmacked at how people can still call their lawsuits “civil” after seeing how they conduct themselves in court, and drained by watching seemingly successful people completely and utterly fail to love their spouses and children. Then

I wanted to be a writer—any kind of writer. I tried to pursue writing and failed catastrophically, then went into copywriting and just couldn’t fit in, and then tried PR and became even more miserable.

These days, I’m not sure if the job I’m in now (I’ve still got my writer hang-ups; I’m working for a publishing house) is the job. For that matter, I’m not even sure my boss at my current workplace even likes me.

Then there’s this website, this persona, these stories you’ve been reading that I wrote. Now don’t get me wrong; as far as I know, everything I write here is genuine experience, genuine opinion, genuine me. That said, people think I’m this stand-up family man that takes no bullshit, that no one dares cross because I’m a parent blogger that talks back. They don’t see the breakdowns I have when an argument with the Wife goes too far, the unbridled outbursts when I found two-week-old untouched worksheets my Primary Two boy “forgot” to do, the chair I broke one time during a particularly bad fight at home that nearly injured my 2-year-old daughter. People don’t talk about their failures here. And people don’t hear these stories enough when we really need to.

I’m not a success story. Nor do I want to be deemed one.

Success is such a subjective, short-term notion. People will define success in their own terms: whether it be successfully establishing their own businesses, successfully acquiring their dream jobs, successfully living a sedentary beach bum lifestyle, successfully getting out of bed in the morning to live another day, or successfully learning that success doesn’t matter. Heck, I can fail everything and say I successfully learned from my experience.

So instead of the 1% trying to tell the 99% that “I was just like you, and you can be like us!”, can we have the average Johan teach us how he manages instead? Because these days, we seem to have a serious problem knowing how to manage our own live and our children’s. And then when we think we’ve got more than the hang of it (success!), we try and help others, we somehow manage to miss the point entirely.

I’ve said before that when my son was born, I decided my life was no longer mine to live; my driving force as a father, and what I believe is the driving force behind every parent who cares, is for our children to cope, and hopefully to cope well, too. Successful parenting is coping well, day by day.

We get to an age where we realise life isn’t all about us, and then we worry about the generation that we’re bringing up to take over us, where they are heading, whether they’ll get there because of us, or in spite of us, and whether they’ll be doing the same with their kids when it’s their turn to realise life isn’t about them either.

When shit happens, we cope. We have to cope, or we die. I’d much rather people successfully live to see another day without buckling under all this damn self-inflicted pressure than cry in a corner of a swanky office they can’t afford because Adam Khoo once told their mother they could be somebody.

The Significance of Not Dreaming

We have a WhatsApp chat group in the family that we share stories and photos of my late father in, to help us cope with our grieving in the last 5 months since my dad has passed. Quite often, my sisters would write about how they dreamed of my father while they were sleeping, and relate to the rest of us the scene, the other people in the dream, what was said, and try and determine through his demeanour and appearance whether he was doing okay or if he needed anything.

After quite a number of these dream-sharing sessions in the group chat, someone suddenly asked a few days ago (I assume without considering that it might hit a nerve):

Y winston is rarely in anyone’s dream ah? *ponder*

It bears noting that of the entire family, I have thus far showed the least emotion for my father’s passing. There is no question I loved my father, but I would like to believe that my father and I have enough of a mutual understanding (especially in the last year or so of his life) such that we could part with little regret. Besides, I figure my mother and sisters have their hands full enough with their own personal grieving, so I’m not inclined to add to their burden unnecessarily.

Perhaps this explains why I do not feature in my family’s thoughts all that much, much less dreams. As I trust that my father loved me, I am also confident my mother and sisters have me in their hearts as well, not to mention they’re also confident I can take care of myself. Besides, the quality of their dream-time with my father is thus much better without me in there providing the usual snarky distraction I do when we have family gatherings.

goodfather

On the flipside, my father has all but appeared in my dreams just once since he passed. Although this bothered me for a while, I figured out why pretty quickly.

The past few months, the Mother of Xander has noticed I’ve taken to driving like the old man, right down to the car accessories I use, inspired by my dad’s own habits; we’ve got headrest attachments for bags and shopping, and I have free-rotating knob on my steering wheel so I can steer like a bus driver.

My entire family has been laughing at and actively using the same corny sense of humour my father had every time we talk, with each other and with others. It’s kept our spirits up during this trying time, and reminded us that this was what our father would do with us when he was around, too; make us laugh.

During my father’s funeral wake, my father’s friends and former colleagues have all remarked how much I look and talk like the old man; in fact, they noted various nuances of our resemblances to him, and various character traits and habits like distinct facial features (apparently he gave us different parts of his face), loud, aggressive demeanour, no-nonsense attitude, strong sense of justice and empathy for others.

I believe this to be the reason why he doesn’t come visit me in my dreams. He probably doesn’t feel the need to, considering I still see him every day, as I’ve seen him every day ever since I’ve learned to make sense of the world.

dad-yvieI see him in the homes we’ve each made for ourselves, in my sisters whom he’s inspired, when I’m driving my car, in myself when I look in the mirror. I see him in my own children, when Xander remembers him and talks to his portrait hanging in our living room, and when I stroke Yvie’s head while she looks at me curiously; her hair is as soft as I remember my dad’s was, in his final days when I reached out to comfort him in his hospital bed.

***

Despite appearances, I have been grieving; it shows most obviously in the infrequency and dearth of good mood in the posts here on The Blogfather since my father’s passing. I’ve had a couple of private moments at home where I’d break down for seemingly no reason, and I’m glad I have the Mother of Xander with me during those occasions.

I first decided to write this thinking it would help answer the question about the dreams with my dad and my apparent lack of participation in them (like I can bloody control these things, pffft). But as I finish this second last sentence, I realise I needed to write this for myself and my siblings more than anyone else. Knowing what I know now, I guess now is as a good time as any for me – for us – to move on.

And this is what I know: my father is still with us; he is survived by us, his children, and his grandchildren. He is us, and we are him, and he lives for as long as we do, and as long as we will remember him. And believe me, the old man made sure it would be damn hard to forget him.

fam-white

So we keep laughing. We keep loving. We keep going, for him and for each other, so he’ll keep living in us, with us.

The Grey Jogger – A Halloween Tale

It’s a week before Halloween, and following the very G-rated experience I had with the SEA Aquarium’s Spooky Seas tour last week, I thought it would be a good time to turn up the fear factor a big notch and share this little story that I usually tell around this time to see if I can make people pee in their pants a little.

This is a first-hand account I originally shared years ago in a community forum called Sengkang .com, so if you’re the kind that gets freaked out easily, check your pants after you’re done and let me know in comments if it worked.

***

I used to stay in a block of flats next to an underpass that leads straight into the landed residences that form Serangoon Gardens. To access this underpass, you have to go through a jogging track (it’s still there, though they’ve taken down a few of the HDB blocks nearby); nice place, but of course, deserted at night (unless you’re want to “catch monkeys”, because of the few lovebirds that like to hang around in the bushes and thereabouts).

Anyway, I was 16 at the time, studying for my ‘O’-levels, and I was hanging out at a void deck with a couple of my friends who were also slogging for their ‘N’-level exams. We met at about 10pm that night, wanting to go through our textbooks together till really late. At about 2am in the morning, we started to get hungry, and we had our bicycles with us, so we thought, okay, let’s go to the 7-Eleven at Serangoon Gardens (in those days, there weren’t as many 7-Elevens all over the place) to get some snacks to eat.

So 2 of us set off on our bikes down the jogging track and into the underpass. When I got to the underpass, I noticed a turn we made on the jogging track that was unusually cold. I thought, trees and carbon dioxide, should be normal lah. So I didn’t think much of it.

We got to the 7-Eleven, and then realised, nobody brought money. My stoopid friend thought I was going to pay for him, and I thought he brought his wallet. So we had to cycle back.

The route back was the same; at the turn, I felt the same cold air, maybe even colder. When we reached the stone tables again, I dug for my wallet and took out my ATM card. Then we headed back. The jogging track was starting to creep me out. And the cold was starting to bite.

We reached the 7-Eleven again, and surprise! My ATM card reached the maximum number of withdrawals for the day. And then my friend confesses to me that he has no money. Feeling like absolute idiots, we cycle back again to borrow money from my other friend.

During the third trip, I swear my neck hairs started pricking up like someone applied prickly heat powder on my neck. It was getting unnerving, so I thought to myself, this better be the bloody last trip.

We finally got our snacks and drinks, and we were cycling back to our home ground. After we exited the underpass and made the turn, I was once again greeted by the cold (which by now had reached non-Singaporean levels), and then I felt something else.

As I made the turn, I turned my head around a bit. I saw a man behind me – long, curly hair, grey t-shirt and shorts, pale and near colourless skin and no face. His right arm was stretched out towards me, his hand open wide and almost at my face. I freaked, turned back and pedalled for my dear life. Not wanting to freak my friend out too much, I called out to him softly, “Eh, can cycle faster or not?” Whether he heard me or not, I could see he was also pedalling hard, head down and not turning back, as though his life depended on it.

We sped back to the stone tables; I had cold sweat running down my everywhere, and my friend was a bit white. The other guy waiting for us looked a bit weirded out seeing us in this state and asked us what happened.

Before we answered him, I turned to the guy who was cycling in front of me and asked him “Did you see anything?”

He said, “No. But I felt a hand touch me on my right shoulder.”

The grey jogger was reaching out for him, not me.

***

There’s a part of this story that I leave untold most of the time. Whether it relates to what happened or not, I can’t say, but after the incident, the next I saw the guy that was cycling in front of me was a number of months later. He had bandages wrapped thick around his wrists. It was a little later that he  went into depression a few months later and tried to commit suicide.

He says it was over a girl. I can’t help but think otherwise.

Making the Blogfather: Turning Point

2 years ago, yesterday. It was a Friday.

“Can I speak with you, downstairs?” I said to my editor.

She looked up at me as I stood next to her. “Uh, sure. Could you give me about half an hour while I clear out my morning routine?”

“Of course, take your time. I’ll be waiting at the coffeeshop downstairs. And just so you know, I won’t be coming back up into this office, again.”

The whole office heard me – a drawback of an open-concept workplace, and one that I was banking on. I took no notice of the others as I turned back, but not before I caught a glint of apprehension fall on my editor’s expression.

A while later, my editor came down to meet me, and what followed was a three-hour long exit interview that began with me saying I was resigning from the company, and looking at the way I was being treated -as an employee, a father and a person – it would be much better off, and much safer too, if everyone accepted that it be with immediate effect.

It was almost as if everyone knew this job wouldn’t last long. I never really settled in the whole 2 months I worked there. I was never given a proper desk of my own to settle into, anyway. As a result, there was nothing of personal importance that I brought to work, and thus none that I needed to bring home with me.

Except my heart.

I told my editor what her boss – the person who hired me – told me; that I was hired because I wrote with heart. And while I was in there, I tried to keep up with what I felt were their ridiculous demands, with all the hope and innocence of a writer that would put all his heart into his writing and his job, no questions asked, simply because I was in absolutely no position to argue against those demands. When I voiced my concerns, I was made out to be disruptive. But to manipulate my circumstances in such a way and force me into a corner (from full-time to freelance, with only 4 days to either decide or leave, and even a now-empty threat of legal consequences should I freelance for any other publication in a related field), whilst either knowing full well or completely neglecting the fact that I was a father with a family to feed, and after two whole months of me trying to conform to their standards, and pleading for chances when I failed to, one can hardly expect me not to snap, and subsequently push back with equal force.

They wanted a writer with heart; they didn’t consider that they also had to deal with one.

Throughout that morning, the editor was trying to explain the company’s actions away, but as I threw down (and reiterated) point after point in rebuttal, over and over again, she found herself less able to protect the interests of the company she worked for, and at some points, even wondering if she was safe from the treatment I was subject to. She even tried to recalculate the articles I had to submit, stating again that this was the workload she routinely had to deal with herself when she first started. But you could tell from the faltering resolve in her voice that the numbers were starting to look ridiculous even to her.

Later after lunch, she would request I go to the conference room for a talk with the CEO’s right-hand man, the company’s sales director. Having not been privy to the emotions I displayed in the morning, he commenced the afternoon’s session with the remark, “I’m sorry, but by leaving without notice, it feels like you’re screwing us over.”

My editor’s face went pale as mine turned a richer, bolder dark red, and I swear the room also went a few shades darker. I said, in as calm a tone as I could muster, with my left hand clenched and pressed hard on the conference room table and my right index finger pointed solidly just a centimetre away from the skin between his eyes, “Consider what you have put me through, and please speak to the editor should you have any doubt of the ordeal that your company has orchestrated over the last 3 days, and Say. That. Again. To. My. Face.”

He backed up a little, fumbled with his words as he tried to mask his confusion over the sudden turning of tables, then asked to be excused with the editor and left the room for a few minutes. He’d return later with the editor (who decided she would take notes of our afternoon meeting for whatever reason), and try to explain his company’s position over the last few weeks that led to such a drastic restructure, ultimately involving their proposal to switch me to a freelance contract.

But he had already lost me.

In his bid to salvage what was left of our working relationship, he said two things to me. First, that based on my writing for Blogfathers SG! and Dear Xander, I could seriously consider monetising my blog(s) as my primary means of income (something that I did consider later on). Second, he hoped that I wouldn’t consider any part of this a “burning of bridges” of any sort.

I replied to his second notion with not a little scorn: “Haven’t you already beat me to it?”

Then I stood up, and I left.


At a recent blogger event, I was introduced to someone who was looking for dad bloggers to join her company’s writing pool. When she passed me a namecard indicating she was a new marketing manager for this company, I froze for a good 15-30 seconds, and my wife had to briefly (and curtly) explain why on my behalf. A few minutes later, I couldn’t bear to stay, and we left in haste. It had been close to 2 years since I quit, and the wounds still felt as fresh and raw.

I decided to pen this down not so much for public reading, but to figure out how to close this chapter in my life. I can’t say for sure I won’t freeze again if I ever encounter another member of that company in the future, nor can I say I can put all this behind me right now.

Because right this moment, I’m not sure where I will be headed. Last Friday, I was told my services would not be extended for my current job.

The feelings I had facing the uncertainty of my future 2 years ago came flooding back over the last three days. And once again, I am at a loss.

Making The Blogfather: Dark Days

In one of the last coffee sessions I had thanks to the cover letter I wrote, I took an editor job with a company that had a good focus on family (judging from the category of content they dished out at least), and the person who interviewed me was kind (or crazy) enough to overlook the fact that I had no prior full-time editorial experience (I only had my blogs and freelance writing to show in my portfolio at the time). I felt was being granted a first step in chasing a dream, but in my eagerness, I committed my first fatal flaw: an editor is a very different level from a writer, and I was inadvertently skipping a couple of levels. I’d learn this the hard way in a bit.

There were other warning signs: as I started familiarising myself with their editorial style, I found a number of “sensational” articles being published alongside their regular fodder – strange, tabloid-ish incidents, kinky sex stories, domestic abuse gone wrong, even gruesome deaths due to neglect or crimes of passion. I was uneasy about the content arrangement. This really isn’t the kind of thing our target  want to read, I thought. But then I was told that this was necessary to attract readership (advertisers were the business’s core source of revenue, and readership numbers were crucial to maintaining our price point), and it also worked (somewhat) to lead people into our more serious writing. So I tried to swallow it and move on.

Then there were the KPIs. I was tasked to come up with at least 2 articles a day, 5 days a week (my editor at the time would tell me each writer would typically do 4 articles a day, but since I was new, she’d start me slow), while maintaining 2-3 hourly Facebook posts to drive online traffic to everything we published.

But the biggest sign I should really have taken heed to: I was the only writer in the company, and the only one of two in the entire organisation, that had kids. When I raised this concern with my editor and the CEO, both understandably didn’t subscribe to the notion, saying that in the many years since the publications were established, they got by fine without writer-parents. Besides, they both didn’t have any children, either, and they were both contributing to the content pool anyway. The revelation – and its subsequent brushing off – made me feel, somehow, alone.

A week into the job, the company went through a surprise restructure. Though editorial was assured that our jobs were intact (which later turned out to be untrue), a staffer in charge of one of their newer websites decided to resign, giving his two week’s notice. The website was handed over to me, with a view for me to drive unique visitor numbers up from its current 10,000 to 30,000 by the end of the following month.

My own inexperience showed, both in the way I worked and in the way I accepted my work. In the 2 months I was there, my dream turned into a nightmare. I was being chided for not being able to keep up, criticised for coming to work late and leaving on time (I was dropping my son off at school and had to pick him up on time after work). The stress of the job was taking a toll on me; I found myself unable to meeting my daily writing quotas, neglecting my blogs, and at one point, fighting with my then 3-year-old son. The stress manifested physically as well; I started losing sleep and my mojo, and I had bouts of uncontrollable trembling. I lost confidence; I felt I was failing, as an employee, as a writer, as a father. I felt impotent, hopeless, and utterly useless as a human being. I was slipping into depression.

Things came to a head when the editor brought me to the conference room in private to tell me that I was not performing up to expectations; I was still only able to churn out about 2 articles a day for the websites -some days only 1 – and I was only able to bring the website under my care up to 29,000 visitors, 1,000 short of the 30,000 I was supposed to hit by the end of that month. In view of my performance, and in line with the recent decision by the board to restructure, the management was converting the entire editorial department from full-time to freelance.

The entire editorial department consisted of 4 personnel: the editor, that was to remain full-time because she had to manage the editorial department (hmm), a writer in Malaysia that was to remain full-time because he was to be reassigned other tasks, another writer in the same office as me (because, as I was told, the other writer was allegedly also not performing), and me.

Then I was told not to worry, as they hoped to assign me enough work to match my full-time salary, at between $30 ( for non-advertorial, non-sponsored articles, or what they termed “summary articles”) to $100 (for advertorials). (Again, I may have been terribly naive to think it should have been higher, but can someone enlighten me about this as well?) So  under this new arrangement, I now had to churn out more work than I already was the last two months – between 61 to 92 articles a month (including event attendances) in order to keep my salary level, with no benefits and no freelancing with any other parenting publication.

And as if I wasn’t dazed enough from the obvious double-talking, I was told I had till Friday to decide – I was notified at the end of our Tuesday workday.

The next two days nearly broke me. I tried to cope with the sudden and rather brutal changes that I thought was all in a day’s work in an industry I was slowly realising I knew nothing about. To this day, I still couldn’t figure out if the company was screwing with me, or I was simply not fit to be in a full-time editorial position. My wife initially advised me to “grit my teeth and bear it”; I was a father, and we needed to sustain ourselves whilst I tried to find something new.

But even she could only bear so much; the final straw came when I received an email from the CEO of the company while I was attending a gala movie screening as the Blogfather with the Mother of Xander two days later. In the email, amongst the reiteration of my alleged incompetence, I was also accused of being “highly unproductive and disruptive”, with “a work style that is not compatible with your immediate supervisor”.

Something in me snapped when I got to that line in the message. Gone were the feelings of loss, hopelessness and depression – pushed aside with a fresh, slow burn of quiet fury.

Just before the lights dimmed at the theatre, I showed my wife the email on my phone. She took about 30 seconds to go through it, then returned me my phone, turned her eyes back at the cinema screen and said, “Quit.”

And that was all I needed to hear.

On Busted Knee

I busted my knee last week while skateboarding to work.

I can imagine this statement to be pretty normal coming out of a 20+ year old hipster living in a Western urban setting. But this is Singapore, I’m a 36-year-old diabetic with a blood pressure problem, and a father of two. I have received opinion from various corners of society that either this is a ridiculous idea, or I’m just having another one of my mid-life crisis moments. Particularly with my recent injury, I’ve been met with a very helpful “You see lah! You see lah!” both at work and at home.

But, as I explained to the Mother of Xander a couple of nights ago when she asked me if I was going on the skateboard again after what happened, I have to skate. And this is why.

A day after I bought my board, Xander asked if he could try it. Now, here was a 5-year-old that looks at roller coasters as massive contraptions of impending doom, and would turn off the TV without hesitation the moment the screen flashed that “due to the portrayal of violence, parental guidance is advised for the following programme“, asking if he could try riding on a wooden board on 4 tiny wheels with no handles for balance or control. So I let him try it out.

He went on for hours, over 2 evenings. I thought I was never getting my board back. It was the first time I saw my son keep at something for more than 15 minutes, and loving every single moment of it, even the falls and spills.

Well, most of the falls and spills.

On the second evening, about 30 minutes into his skateboarding session at a park near our home, he took a fall on the asphalt track and scraped his knee. As expected, he cried in pain and wailed to go home. After I washed his knee and put on a plaster kindly offered to us by a passer-by, I decided to give him a little pep talk while he nursed his bleeding knee and bruised ego.

“You still want to go home?”

(Nod. Sniff.)

“Do you like skateboarding?”

(Nod. No sniffing.)

“And because you fell down and scraped your knee, you’re going to give up and stop? When yesterday you remember you were falling all over the place and laughing and having so much fun?”

(No nodding. No sniffing.)

I pass him his water bottle. “Have a drink. Take a few minutes to rest. Then you decide what you want to do.”

A few minutes and ¾s of a bottle of water later, he turns to me and says, “I want to skate some more.” Sniff, and wipe.

And he was at it again, for another 2½ hours. He slept like a log that night.

***

The very next morning, after dropping Xander off at school, I busted my knee while skateboarding to work. 5 days of straggling around the house like a limping fool, sorry for not being able to go to work as a result, but not sorry for deciding to relive a part of my youth I haven’t thought to do again for 22 years.

I told the Wife, after all that talk about not giving up after a scrape on the knee (I pulled a couple of ligaments actually), I could not possibly justify not going back on the skateboard after I’ve recovered.

Besides, this is Singapore, I’m a 36-year-old diabetic with a blood pressure problem, and a father of two.

I should be skating.

Getting Older

Dear Xander,

You’ve always been a lot closer to your mother than to me. It is a perfectly reasonable bias, admittedly; she is much more better-looking than I am, for one. And she does treat you better than I do on most occasions.

I do envy your mother sometimes for the attention she receives from you. Perhaps it is because we spend so much time together, that I can’t help but use her as the superior parenting benchmark and wonder where I went wrong.

One evening when I was giving you a shower, you taught me where I went wrong.

I was just recovering from a gruelling bike training session the night before, and my body was still aching from the exercise. So when it came time to soap you, I let out a groan as I knelt down to your height and started lathering you up.

“Daddy, why you pain?”, you asked as I grimaced at the feeling of my aching thighs.

“Sigh. My body is not as nubile as it used to be. So after I exercise, I will feel pain when I kneel down. Daddy’s getting old already,” I said with a smile.

You froze, your eyes fixed on my face with a look of concern (despite not knowing what the word “nubile” means), and you maintained that stare despite the water and shampoo trickling down your face.

I returned the stare, albeit in confusion to your reaction. “What?” I asked you.

You contemplated my query for a second, then said in a measured tone, “Daddy… don’t die.”

“Huh?! Why do you think I’m going to die?” I asked.

“Because you say you old already. I don’t want you to die,” you replied. The concerned look never left your face the entire time.

I laughed. “Don’t worry. Daddy’s gonna be around for a long time.”

That one moment we shared – just between you and me – was a profound one. That moment, I learned I was important to you too. And i was competing against no one; you only have the one dad.

And I’m gonna be around for a long time.

Love,

Dad