How Much Does Your Personal Information Cost?

Yahoo! Singapore pushed out an article last week on a Singapore Polytechnic survey about social media security concerns, drawing information shared from a panel discussion hosted by Trend Micro (which I should have attended; sorry guys). More than in the capacity of being Trend Father, though, there’s something very important that everyone needs to understand about online privacy and internet security, which the article unfortunately does not address.

You’re Responsible for Your Own Information

To put it plainly, if there’s stuff in your life you’re inclined not to share, just don’t share it, particularly on a platform as volatile as Facebook. Nicole Yee, Cozycot.com founder and my Trend Wife, said it herself in the article: “I consider myself to be pretty savvy but because things are constantly changing, I chose not to use [Facebook] because I just don?t have the time to understand it properly.”

What’s more, we’re only human. When it comes to information, be it our own or others, intended or accidental, we have been able to prove to ourselves time and again, as this planet’s most intelligent race, that we cannot even trust ourselves.

The Internet Isn’t Free

On the flipside, how can we avoid going online? With the exception of Nicole, our online lives are so intertwined with our real lives that they have become one and the same. On the other hand, the social networking tools we engage in, the blogging platforms we write on, even the e-mail accounts we use, that we depend on to keep our lives sane and our communications open, also depend on us. They’re all businesses with a bottom line they need to take care of, each and every one of them. And we pay for these services rendered not with money, but with information. The lot of us have lived through the dot-com bubble burst, so you can imagine how this new, 3rd generation of technology is holding our world economy together.

When you see it that way, you might have an understanding of how your personal information is being valued, and possibly being used. You might also understand that there is a transaction being made for what you enjoy on a daily, hourly, per-minute basis. Whether that transaction sits well with you, I leave for your interpretation.

A Father’s Take

If you’ve read the articles here and on Dear Xander, you might get the idea that as a dad, I have no time to entertain fear, nor do I want to bring my son up in a world where fear rules your every decision and movement. Fall down and hit your head? Get up, rub the bump off and carry on. Stranger-danger? Go on and talk to everyone you see that goes, “Oh you so cuuuuuute!”. Hackers and tech misfits? If you ever meet one, by all means, make friends with the fella; you’ll learn a heck of a lot about what these people really think about your privacy concerns.

Being a blogger, a writer, and an uber-liberal parent who treats social media like my bloodline, my two golden rules for protecting myself online, then, is this:

  1. I must live an honest life. I will steer well clear from being a hypocrite, ensure I stand firm to my beliefs or don’t believe in them, and I will not lie. If I’m honest about everything I do and everything that defines me, I have absolutely nothing to hide.
  2. Pursuant to golden rule number 1, I cannot trust myself.

Wait, what?

Look, if I’m going to be sharing my life online, in part or in my full naked glory (no, I won’t go that far, so don’t worry), I have to make sure the assets I do need to protect isn’t tainted by any personal info that may or may not already be out there. And I know as well as any other connected individual that having become so dependent on putting up my name, my stories and my info on blogs, social media, online registration forms, geotagging apps and GPS maps, there is no absolutely no way I can assure myself that someone out there already knows my e-mail address, my mother’s maiden name, the name of my first pet and what my grandfather did that fateful night when my father was conceived.

So with all my trust issues, I’m just gonna let a non-human do all that protection for me.

I get a good proper Internet security program to keep script kiddies, hacker groups and info-stealers out of my hair. I get a password manager to create and maintain the passwords I use, that even I cannot see. And I do not respond to rich Nigerian princes who want to transfer US$50 million into my account and give me 5% share (unless I want funny pictures of them).

Most importantly, as long as a piece of information is liable to be shared on my many personal outlets for venting my joy or frustration, I do not put any of it in on registration forms where I can help it. As far as any of these places that use such verification tools are concerned, my mother’s maiden name can well be Queen Cleopatra Estella Kowalski the Fifth, because while I endeavour to live an honest life in the presence of my fellow human beings, I’m perfectly fine with lying to a computer.

This post is proudly NOT sponsored by Trend Micro (I sumpah!). So if you don’t agree with any of this, don’t blame them, blame me.

My Kid May Turn Out Gay… So?

A friend of mine (quite a popular online personality, but that’s really all I have to say… or need to) posted up a Facebook status last Sunday about his opinion on how homosexuals come about.

He thought most of the gay (men) he’s ever met were like that because they didn’t have a father figure.

I thought, “Oh. My. God. You did not jussst sssay thaaaat.” (I can actually impersonate one quite well. I have various cross-dressing photos to prove it.)

But more than just wanting to comment on how a public figure should never shoot himself in the foot like that (I’ll talk about that a little later), I wanted to just share my opinion (my opinion ah, not my advice ah) about this whole homosexuality issue. Because I like to live life on the edge, you know?

My dad is very homophobic. When I was a kid, he would disallow me from making voices for my stuffed dolls because it sounded like a girl (I have another blog post for that story). When I first had my left ear pierced, I had to explain to him left was for male and right was for gay just so he’d let me. He was okay with it only because I already had a girlfriend at the time already.

And just like that very popular friend I mentioned just now, I’ve had my fair share of experience with LGBT friends. I even got picked up a couple of times. Understandably, I was pretty homophobic too in the beginning. But then I started getting acquainted with quite a number of people (both straight and LGBT) in the nightlife and entertainment industry, and my perception changed.

Particularly one night at a bar I was working in, when one guy tried to pick me up. I was starting to get used to it (the pick-up lines, which I must say, are a lot better than what guys usually use on girls), so I said to the guy, “Dude, sorry, I’m straight. But I do want to talk to you.”

It was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. He shared so much about himself, his lifestyle, and how much he would like to take me home with him. But what really struck me that night was how much I enjoyed the conversation, his company, and more importantly, how he had managed to break my homophobia to smithereens with his respect for my choice of sexual identity, kindly returned by my utmost respect — and curiosity — for his choice. And as I grew bolder and enquired more, I learned that sometimes, things happen or don’t happen, and then you become that way. Sometimes, you are just born that way. Either way, there is no choice. It’s just… life.

My wife and I have lots of LGBT friends. And we absolutely love them to bits, as they do us. I’d like to think it’s because I took the time to understand their point of view, but I’m beginning to suspect it’s really because of something else, something that up till now has been left unspoken.

I refuse to be a hypocrite. If I can accept my LGBT friends for what they are, I know I have to accept the lifestyle, the culture, the being, wholeheartedly just as it is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and I will never, ever say, “Oh, I know gay friends, but I’m sure my son has been well-provided for enough that he won’t turn into one.”

That is just so contradictory, and downright hypocritical to me.

So for all my gay friends out there, and the Singapore LGBT community at large, this is my statement to you, as a heterosexual father whose sole purpose is to bring his son up right: my son likes flowers, not toy soldiers. He likes the colour pink, not blue (though this may change, we don’t know). And he has asked my wife for nail polish on a couple of occasions. We let him make his own choices, because we want him to be him, and not what we want him to be. So are we worried he might turn gay? No. And we’re not worried if he does become a homosexual either. Because we love him just the same, and we know the world will love him just the same.

Mind you, this is just me sharing my opinion.

Your Job – The Ultimate Contraceptive

I sat on the “National Conversation” for quite a while without commenting, particularly when it came to our terrible fertility rate. I know a number of fellow blogfathers who have jumped in on the discussion already (namely, Sengkang Babies, J Babies’ Dad and Daddy Nivlek); I was also knee-deep in covering the opinion of various organisations (the Lien Foundation’s survey and NTUC’s not-so-well-thought-out recommendations, as well as dissecting the PAP Women’s Wing recommendations in light of the PM’s National Day Rally Speech). For us parents-at-large, vibrant discussions such as this is indeed a very welcome thing.

But I kept largely quiet about the whole issue here because something was missing from all the debate. Something I wanted to get to the root of, not only for the purpose of including my opinion to the already opinionated fracas, but for myself and my family as well.

My wife and I have been trying for No. 2 for almost a year. Evidently it hasn’t been easy to schedule some alone time, what with the kid and the recent changes in my life, but as I settled into my new job, something else unsettling grew in its stead, something I never realized until now.

I seem to have lost my mojo.

For a while, I thought it may just be temporary; I got my dream job, my wife and I are having the most wonderful time of our marriage together, and my son was growing up to be a beautiful chirpy little man. I should be in the mood for multiplying like rabbits every other night, but no. Then one night (the same night I’m writing this, in fact), I went on a cycling trip to ask myself why this was so, and this is what I came up with.

It was work. It always has been. This has nothing to do with parental leave of any sort, nothing really to do with money or paying the bills, nor of my son’s future in the Singapore education system. I mean, strictly to the very points mentioned (taking time off for family, money and preschool fees), do any of these really keep a guy from wanting to do the do? (Ladies, shush. This is a blog for dads, you know, that half of the species that’s supposed to be perpetually horny.)

But as I come to this realization for myself, I realise work stress does keep guys from getting frisky. Male executives will worry about keeping their deliverables delivered on schedule, male managers will worry about keeping their projects on track, male directors will worry about keeping their KPIs on target, so much so we don’t have the time nor mood for an erection. And if you were to compare genders, the men really can’t deal with juggling work and our sex life as well as our female counterparts can. We suck multi-tasking.

And really, isn’t that what is really wrong with our fertility rate? I know back in my parents’ day, my dad worked non-stop, never earned much, put his children through university with god-knows-what money, and still found time to have 5 children. So what’s changed over the last 40-50 years in our country that is making us argue that longer paternity leave, lower school fees and more work-life balance is required?

I might have an answer to that, and it points squarely at a legendary Singaporean 80’s icon: Teamy the Productivity Bee. Back in 1982, Teamy was conceived as part of the government’s effort to instill and drive the population into a high-achieving workforce, and the economy that would turn this nation into a first-world country. Teamy did his job too well; KPIs are now part of our culture. Singapore is ranked the 3rd most competitive country in the world, top easiest country to do business in and 186th in fertility rate out of a list of 195 countries by the United Nations.

Feel free to facepalm right about now.

You know what’s the worst thing about all this? Just about everyone is looking to the government for answers, but what’s really confounding to me is, why isn’t anyone asking the businesses, companies and enterprises to just stop bugging us with their bloody productivity standards and just let us procreate already?

I know this whole fertility rate issue isn’t just about one problem, and I may well be oversimplifying the whole issue, but I do acknowledge this is a viable talking point for dads especially, and it has become a very major point of contention for me. If this blog post has got you thinking a little deeper about what’s really up with our collective mojo, let me know if you’re facing similar issues with doing your so-called “National Service”.

Image via coolpicturegallery.us

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

When Young and Old Collide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Active Fatherhood: An Uphill Battle

Dads don’t have it easy in Singapore. (Bear with me ladies; there is a silver lining.)

While mothers (who, under the Child Development Co-Savings Act, get up to 16 weeks maternity leave) get an entire section dedicated to maternity leave entitlement on the Ministry of Manpower’s website, dear old dad gets a less-than-honorary mention at the bottom of their Annual Leave page stating:

“There is no statutory entitlement for… paternity… leave under the Employment Act. The entitlement to such leave depends on what is in the employment contract or agreed mutually between employer and employee.”

So in short, if you’re looking for a good paternity leave package (employment contracts will usually stipulate paternity leave at between 2 to 7 days), go talk to your boss.

The law also has a special section just for women; the Women’s Charter, according to the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, “was passed in 1961 to protect the rights of women and girls in Singapore”. While the Charter does try to promote gender equality, it was formulated on an assumption that the female is the weaker sex and thus requires more protection. Speaking as someone who’s been working in a law firm, I would say with some trepidation that given the modern society’s mindset on gender equality, that’s a lot of protection in the arsenal of women to have; in fact, to run through the Women’s Charter as a man, the prospects of being male can be downright scary.

The mindset is not lost in women’s perception of men in parenting either; in a recent Huffington Post article, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg remarked, “I don’t know a lot of men who feel guilty for working full time, it’s expected that they’ll work full time…I wonder if there were more shared responsibility if more men would feel guilty too and women would feel less of it.”

The Men Actually Agree

The strange thing about all this is that most men are actually okay with this mindset. We generally accept being seen as “men of the house”, able to traipse through our career without the guilt of sacrificing family time in favour of work; we understand how women might require more legal protection; and most importantly, we agree that because our wives effectively go through so much more through child-bearing and childbirth, and thus deserve their time off work.

It won’t seem so strange if you look back at what happened in Western society way back in the 50’s and 60’s when women’s lib was first introduced. The fight for independence in gender was so strong coming from the women – what men can do, women can do too – it led to a cultural tectonic shift that enabled women to take charge fo their own lives, establish their own careers, and even have a stronger voice in politics. That fight for independence was strong indeed; but traditional sentiments that govern society’s view of the man’s place – in family, in particular – was much slower in development.

While the women are still gaining a foothold in the corporate/political arena, the men are still expected to (mainly) bring home the bacon, pay the bills and ensure their family is well provided for at any cost, to have a strong focus on their careers in order to provide, to be okay with sacrificing time with their family for their family. Indeed, through talking to a stay-at-home dad about the issue, it seems it’s a generally accepted view by both men and women, to the point where the hapless stay-at-home dad in question was wondering if he was actually doing the right thing by choosing to be the homemaker.

And because this perceived role of men is so widely subscribed – by both men and women alike – society struggling to deal with what modern parenting experts are struggling to push – we’re short of active fathers.

And Here’s the Silver Lining

The truth is, the men are changing (more like adapting) too, and it started a good 2 decades ago. We’ve witnessed in the 90’s a trend of SNAGs (sensitive new age guys) and metrosexuals, and guess what? those very same SNAGs and metrosexuals have grown up to become fathers (at least, the ones that still like women).

Here’s more good news; society seems to be changing with us. Case-in-point: I frequently find myself taking public buses and trains with just my 3-year-old in tow, and though there are times when commuters don’t know what to make of me, I would say 80% of the time someone would stand up and gesture to me to take his or her seat without a second thought. And no, I do not look like a woman, despite what my widely publicised wedding photos show.

It was really quite surprising for me in the beginning, and given that I’m a father (read: male), I still don’t take such offers for granted. Being conscious of what society still deems men as in many aspects of living and lifestyle, I wouldn’t take anything for granted at this point.

That’s why Blogfathers! is looking for a way to connect to fathers in general, be they active or otherwise, firstly to understand what makes the Singapore dad tick, then where the challenges in fatherhood lie, and finally to find solutions for dads who want to play a more active role in their children and families. From what I’ve seen and heard, that last bit with the solutions is the hardest to decipher, and it might take more than an idea and a website to get the point across.

But I’m going to try.

[Image via Listen To My Whine]

Review: Dads for Life Conference 2012

“I would rather stay with my family and be a dad than go to a conference to hear about other fathers.”

That was one of a few responses I got when I was trying to garner support to purchase the Dads for Life Conference 2012 tickets at a group discount. And I need to qualify: I only got a few responses.

I did in fact agree to a certain extent; as a father contented and happy with how my family is doing, why would I need to learn how to be something I already felt I was good at – and for that matter, in a conference? Furthermore, fatherhood is such a personal experience; what would other dads have to offer that might apply to me?

If it wasn’t for the need to find something to talk about in Blogfathers!, I would most probably have avoided the event for fear that it might turn into a very large self-help group meeting complete with confessions, crying and excessive group-hugging.

But go I did, and I found about 800 men (plus a handful of wives) apparently not sharing the sane trepidations i had about the event. Regardless, I found myself leaving with much more than I bargained for.

Wilfrid C. Hoecke: Why Men and Women Don’t Understand Each Other

Just the first keynote alone sought to address the one biggest mystery of the universe for men – women.

While Mr Hoecke did not delve into how fathers can gain a better understanding of the mothers of their children, he did succinctly and knowledgeably explain why we don’t understand our wives, drawing particular attention to maternal vs. paternal parenting processes.

For example, 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!”

It’s a stark contrast in parenting style between genders – 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 because despite the conflicting sensibilities, both approaches are essential for the children’s rounded growth and development. It’s why parenting is always deemed a team effort, and not as adequate if done solo (and also a main source of family squabbles if not understood properly).

Dr John Ng – The Mediation Expert Who Needed To See a Psychiatrist

The second keynote, led by mediation expert and leadership guru Dr John Ng, spoke of understanding and dealing with parent-teen (and parent-to-parent) conflict. The premise set forth by Dr Ng was that conflict itself is a neutral entity, and it is the management of conflict that commonly determines the negativity of the experience. By understanding that conflicts reside on neutral ground, (coupled with research showing that 68% of conflicts arising from the home are unresolvable), you may be able to avoid the fighting, cold wars and general discontent that arises from disagreements at home.

The highlight of this second keynote came from Dr Ng’s 18-year-old daughter, who gamely came on stage for about 5 minutes to give her perspective on family conflicts seen through the eyes of a teenager. Her message to her father – and the audience – was frank and very clear: listen to your kid, and respect your kid’s expressed opinion, or face the consequence of being shut out by your child in return. As far as I was concerned, the well-spoken young lady stole the show from her dad, and I am sure her father is very proud of that.

This would be the 3rd year the Dads for Life Conference has been held. The event looks to be growing from strength to strength, with a foundation of credible fathers-turned-experts and experts-turned-fathers feeding the cause with well-researched information, and strong support from men (and women, too) who care enough to want to see their parenting abilities improve despite their masculine selves. More importantly, Dads for Life understands and drives the point that being a good father is more than being a dad; it involves being a good husband, a good listener, a good caregiver and a good student.

That being said, the event does show a little room for improvements and possible enhancements, but then again, who am I to talk? Before this event, I was a good dad. Now I know I can be better.

Homework for a Three-year-old

The pressures of a child going through early childhood education doesn’t just wreak havoc on the child’s life; a large part of the time, parents are also – if not more – stressed out by what their child has to go through.

In this excerpt from Dear Xander, that same pressure led to an emotional breakdown between mother and child in what was ultimately a miscommunication between parents and preschool over how a 3-year-old’s homework should be done.

It begs the question: are we putting too much stress on ourselves and our children, in the quest to prepare ourselves for the rigorous, competitive academic life that is signature of the Singapore education system?

You can read the full post here.

Your mother tried getting you to write the Chinese characters on a blank piece of paper, without much success. Sensing something was up, she asked you to write your name in English; you went as far as X and A before finally exhibiting what you were only capable of writing at 39 months of age – crooked lines. Your mother started wondering what you’ve been taught in school since you enrolled back when you were 18 months old. Then she started getting angry, then anxious, then worried.

She started to cry.

You realised what was happening, and went up to hug her. you took some tissue nearby to wipe off your mother’s tears, and then started stroking your mother as you would always do whenever you think she’s sad. You started crying as well, and in between breaths, you said to your mother, “Mummy, don’t cry.” confused and not knowing what else to say, your mother replied, “But you’re not writing your words.” And then she cried even harder.