Most of you have come to expect my letters to Xander to arrive every Monday. The last two weeks have seen a couple of unscheduled letters that were posted nearer the end of the week.
I did intend to keep a schedule for the letters, but being a personal blog, I do also realise neither my life nor Xander is inclined to conform to my plans, so here’s the deal.
I’ll still try to write weekly, but let’s keep the day of the week a surprise, shall we? It isn’t so much a rhetorical question, so do let me know in the comments if you think it’s a good idea.
Mummy: I think you were too harsh on your last couple of blog posts.
Me: Harsh? How?
Mummy: For one, you were really harsh on Andre. Also, you sounded like you were asking Xan to give up.
Sometimes, even though a person means well, he or she will inadvertently overstep boundaries, or make mistakes, or push too hard on a piece of advice they think is the only right way to go about doing things.
Sometimes, the person will be stubborn and insist his way is the right way.
Sometimes, the person will realise what he did and deal with the embarrassment with a quick brush of the hand and say, “i didn’t mean it that way. It was an honest mistake. Let’s move on.”
Sometimes, the person will admit he was wrong, and not only apologise, but try to make it right again, no matter how hard making it right might be.
What your mother said about the last two letters made me realise what I did. Bringing another party into a story published on a public platform will always carry risks; sometimes it pays off, everyone has a good laugh or a thoughtful read, and life goes on as planned. Sometimes, you screw up, and then you pay for it. On this occasion, your father screwed up, by passing judgment on a 4-year-old.
Andre is a very bright 4-year-old boy, always smiling, always friendly, socially engaging, and very caring towards the people whom he loves and who love him. He is also an only child; aside from his daily 2-hour interactions with the children from his kindergarten, the only other “sibling” of his age group he has contact with on a regular basis is his 3-year-old cousin – you.
In light of these circumstances, triggered by the sobering reminder your mother gave me, I realise I have absolutely no right to make any assumptions about Andre’s character, attitude or behaviour, much less pass judgment on him based on such assumptions.
Did I mean to pass judgment? Yes, albeit unconsciously. Was I wrong? Undoubtedly. Am I sorry? Yes, I am. Can we move on? No; not until I make amends.
A more drastic mistake your mother made me aware of was that my message to you in my last letter implied that you should give up making friends with a person when it seems like a futile endeavour. The notion is so subtle yet so impactful, it’s even made me rethink the entire premise behind Dear Xander.
My intention behind these letters is to provide you with a resource that your father can impart his knowledge and experience with, using a medium that I was most comfortable with – the written word.
That being said, the knowledge and experience I have with making friends – remembering that I mentioned having taken a lot of hits and earned myself a lot of grief and misery – hardly qualifies me as an expert in the area (for that matter, I am now reconsidering my self-perceived expertise in every area I thought I was an expert on).
Your father didn’t have many friends in his youth. I wasn’t particularly close with most of who I hung out with; I had a handful of very strong friendships, what I felt was a pre-requisite for truly regarding people friends, but at the end of the day, I found I had made more people hate me than like me.
It left me jaded, pushed me into bitterness, and made me cynical for a long time afterward.
These days, I have grown to treasure the few friends I have left from the days of my youth, and thankfully, the ones who hated me are hardly anywhere to be seen.
I really don’t want for you to resort to giving up like I did when frustration got the better of me. There is a way – there is always a way – to get through to people, as long as the kindness of your heart remains strong and your goodwill prevails no matter how people treat you. Understand that good begets good, and as long as you persist in being a good boy with the heart that you have, no one will be able to resist you for long.
For all my imperfections, I am sorry.
This is the second of a two-part letter, which began here.
It was already a good half hour past your bedtime as we prepared to leave Grandma’s house that night. As we were waiting outside, you climbed up on the wood benches in Grandpa’s garden, plopped your chin on the tabletop and continued to sulk.
I came over and sat opposite you, asking if you were all right. You replied me with a question.
“Why Andre don’t like me?”
Times like this really make me wonder if I had missed out on some milestone whilst I was researching on the mental development of a typical 3-year-old, or you were just growing up too fast.
Though I wasn’t sure you’d understand, I still tried to explain that in life, you can’t please everyone, and realistically, you shouldn’t even try. Soon after that, you added, “I don’t like Andre any more.” Looking at you then, I knew you meant you resented how he treated you but not him personally; you cared enough to continue sulking through most of the ride home, despite your mother consoling you by saying Andre still liked you, though it was getting late and he was getting grumpy.
Your mother and I understand the importance of your learning good social skills, to the point where we are heartened to see you being able to maintain your best behaviour during social gatherings, interact politely with strangers, and even extend a play-date invitation to another child who isn’t inclined to do the same to you.
There is, however, a harsh reality in learning these social skills that I realise, through your reaction to that Friday night incident, can only be taught by yourself, through your own experience.
The society we live in and try to fit into – whether it be classmates in school, playmates in your neighbourhood, colleagues at work, or even relatives in your extended family – will inevitably consist of 1 or 10 people who simply will not get along with you, no matter how hard you try to be nice.
While still a teenager, your dad took a lot of hits and earned himself a lot of grief and misery from trying too hard to be liked by people who just plain didn’t – and couldn’t – like him. It took a pretty long time to learn that I was competing in a Mr Congeniality contest against no one in particular, trying to impress no one who cares, and winning the hearts of no one who was worth it.
Your dad is giving you a pre-emptive heads-up here, knowing full well you’ll try to sign up for the same contest, expecting results where none can be given. I know also that eventually you will understand, the best way to get people to like you – people who will value your friendship and add value to you as friends – is to not try so hard to be liked. You only need to work hard on being the sensible, energetic, big-hearted, kind soul you already are, and you won’t need to look for good friendship; the good friends you need will come find you.
Your relationship with your cousin Andre is at best a tumultuous one. There are days when the both of you will laugh and play like best friends, and then things can suddenly turn ugly, when Andre refuses to play with you or share his toys, or you decide to do the same.
Andre is about a year older than you, and communicates in spoken English at a level we feel is well beyond his age. He lives mainly with Grandma, which is also where you and Andre get to interact on a weekly basis. One thing that Andre hasn’t quite got the hang of is playing well with others over an extended period of time, being an only child, much like you. More importantly, he sees you as a competitor for the otherwise unadulterated affection and attention he usually enjoys from his mother (your mother’s sister) and Grandma; a sibling rivalry between two children who aren’t siblings in the traditional sense.
Which is why you surprised everyone in Grandma’s house last Friday night.
The night had expectedly come to the point where Andre was beginning to irritate you by not playing with you, and snatching toys away from you. You got fed up, and tried pretending to sleep on the sofa with a grumpy pout for a while (your mother and I have never seen you do that before), before walking over to seek consolation from your mother.
Andre was with his own mother in the middle of the living room reinforcing the fact that he “doesn’t want to play with Xander”, and “doesn’t want to share”, when you turned to him and suddenly said, “I want Andre to come play at my house.”
Your mother and her sister started looking at you in bewilderment. Your mother then tried to confirm, “You want Andre to come play at our house? With your toys?”
You said, “Yes. I want to share my toys with Andre.”
Andre was stunned; he sat in the middle of the living room, mouth open, not knowing how to react. On your behalf, I further extended the invitation, reasoning with Andre that it would only be fair that he come to Xander’s house to play with your toys as often as you come to play with his. Through the turn of events, we could see he wasn’t able to reconcile your offer with his intentional bad behaviour towards you, though; he declined the offer, then hid in a corner, apparently in shame.
Andre’s mother puts the incident down to a heartwarming generosity unexpected of a 3-year-old. I likened it more to an equally unexpected play of reverse psychology. Either way, you stunned everyone in the living room, and your parents were immensely proud of your big-heartedness/the most impressive psychological counter-manoeuver I have ever witnessed by a 3-year-old.
This would usually be the point where I would sum up the lesson to be learnt, a moral of the story, so to speak.
Except that this story hasn’t ended, and the lesson had yet to begin.
To be continued.
Your dad was once an avid comic book collector. In fact, there is a stack of about 200 20-year-old comic books set to be written into your inheritance, the most valuable of which hang across the wall of your playroom, waiting for you to make sense of the imagery contained within their covers.
By the time you grow up, printed comic books may no longer be produced, overtaken by their more advanced and many times more interactive digital counterparts. But the stories will no doubt survive, looking at how they are being translated into cinematic experiences such as The Dark Knight, Spider-man, and of course, The Avengers.
While I believe the true canonical superhero universe to lie in the domain of comic books, I do quite enjoy watching the various iterations of the more favoured characters. My own favourite is undoubtedly Robert Downey Jr’s rendition of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, whose reckless candour and disregard for safety in the name of making a point inspires your dear old dad to modify my own outlook in life and speak out when I feel the out has the slightest need to be spoken.
Unfortunately, the comic book collection I am bequeathing to you does not contain anything pertaining to the Black Widow, although in the Avengers movie, she does carry a fair amount of appeal.
But I digress.
The point I’m trying to make here, is that the reality that is our world will sink into our consciousness more and more as we age; we grow into adulthood realising that the world we live in may not consist of mutant superheroes, descendants of Greek gods, tech CEOs who wear powered super suits or ninja-fighting secret agents wearing ridiculously tight black leather catsuits.
Yet despite what you might perceive as you grow older, you must understand this one vital truth: these superheroes do exist.
They exist in stories told within the pages filled with pictures and words, and beyond. They exist in the work of those that make the effort to mark their adventures in movies, in song, and in bedtime stories. They exist in the minds of adults who keep their childhood close to their hearts, who believe in the impossible. They exist in the minds of children, in their thoughts, their dreams, and their imagination. And so they will exist in yours.
It is thus absolutely essential that you never lose the imagination you now have as a child. You will grow up into reality, but you must never allow reality to overtake you, because if you believe in superheroes, you may yet become one yourself.
Catch Marvel’s The Avengers in cinemas this 1 May 2012 and like the Official Marvel’s The Avengers Singapore Facebook Page and subscribe to Marvel Singapore YouTube Channel!
Your parents have always known that at some point in your education, we will need to help you “unlearn” things that you were taught in school.
We never thought that point would come so early in your life.
It started one day when you finished showering, and were running around naked and laughing while we were trying to catch you to put your clothes on. Halfway through, you started chanting, “Shame, shame! Shame, shame!” whilst pointing at your penis (yes, your parents use the word penis quite freely).
I had to spend a bit of time teaching you there was nothing to be ashamed of. I then asked you where you learned this “shame, shame” chant, and you replied, “Teacher [name withheld].” Exasperated at the mention of the name (we’ve had problems with this teacher before), I then taught you how to react the next time someone said that to you:
“Next time someone says ‘shame shame’ to you, you must put your arms on your hips, thrust your hips forward, and say very loudly, ‘I’m not ashamed. I’m sexy and YOU know it!‘”
To be fair to the teacher (whom I know will probably be reading this), I am not angry at her. As a child, I, too, have been a victim of the “shame” treatment, and I know it’s a societal issue that extends beyond that which schools teach. It was some weeks later that I reacted to a link posted on the Facebook page of a local fatherhood community project. Being the shameless, proud person that I am (despite being shamed as a child), I put in my reply:
“Shame breeds reticence… (and) may result in an unhealthy sense of needing to comply with standards that a child may or may not be able to achieve, and are reprimands that yield short-term solutions with dire long-term side effects.”
The last thing I want is for you to grow up with low self-esteem, to be ashamed of any part of who you are and what we’ve brought you up to be. You need to be as proud of yourself as your parents are of you, of who you are and what you look like both inside and out. Our society has bred plenty of people who fear judgment from others, whether by looks, character, thinking or behaviour. You know you don’t need to be one of the many; you just need to be yourself.
And if you should think that this is but an opinion from a father of a son, you should see what a rather perturbed mother of a daughter has to say on the same subject.
The following is part of a telephone conversation overheard by my colleague and her husband during a family dinner, between their 7-year-old son and his classmate, while a Channel 8 drama was showing on TV.
Boy: “Eh, ask you something. When you see the kissing scene in the show, does your bird-bird stand up?”
Mother stops eating. Father nearly spits his rice out.
Boy: “… Ok. … Ok… Ok, I talk to you later, bye.”
There is silence at the dinner over the next 2 minutes. Father breaks the silence and asks:
“So what did your friend say?”
Boy asks, “About what?”
Father says, ” The, uh, bird-bird thing.”
Boy matter-of-factly replies, “He say no.” And he continues eating. Mother already has her hands cupping her forehead.
I’m going to have to get back to you on this one.
In the meantime, if you ever have the problem of your bird-bird standing up while watching a kissing scene, you don’t need to let us know. Seriously.