Learning To Take Care of Yourself

Dear Xander,

You’ve always had a strong love affair with balloons. Your mother didn’t mind it so much, but it drives me up the wall sometimes. But then something happened a while back that I think may have changed the course of your character, and i think it worth putting down into a letter what I think is a milestone achieved — with a balloon you never owned.

We were having dinner at a food court, and midway through your noodles, you saw a bunch of balloons on display at a gym entrance across the other side of the mall, some 20 metres away. You wanted one, and started to ask us to get one for you. Your mum gave me a “so how?” glance, and then I said, “Finish your food, then we talk.”

In record time, you did as you were told. Your mother and I were not even halfway through our meals. Then I had an idea.

“Okay, Xan. You see that nice lady standing behind the counter? Go ask her. Mummy and daddy won’t come with you; if you want that balloon, you got to earn it yourself.”

By this time, you were poised to hold my hand so I’d go with you, but when you heard what I said, you dropped your arm and stood perplexed.

For the next 40 minutes, your mother and I watched as you tried to pluck up enough courage to ask for something all by yourself, periodically interjected with you insisting one of us go with you, and us insisting you go there and ask for one yourself.

That evening, you ended up not getting your balloon. We finished the remainder of our meal, I picked you up, and we started walking back to the car park. When you realised we were bypassing the gym completely, you started to cry. I said to you, quite matter-of-factly, “Well, if you’d just went up and asked, you’d have a balloon now, wouldn’t you?”

And then you cried harder. From the shopping centre to the car park, back to the food court (I left some shopping bags behind at the table we sat in), then back to the car, all the way home, for a total of almost 2 hours. We’ve dealt with your tantrums before, but that evening both your mother and I sensed you were crying a different cry.

You weren’t throwing a tantrum. You were regretting.

After that night, you changed. It started when you saw another bunch of balloons, this time at Swensen’s. “Balloon!” You pointed excitedly. And I said the exact same thing I did the last time. But this time, you were ready. Within seconds, you marched over to the nice lady manning the cashier, and came back waving your prize in the air.

It didn’t stop there. At the time of this letter, you’ve taken to ordering your own food, socializing with other kids and other adults, being respectful towards others (part and parcel of asking nicely for things). And you are doing this all on your own, with a little guidance, and very little prompting (save for asking us what you should say when you wanted to speak to a stranger).

At 3 1/2 years old, your mother and I decided not to dictate when you’d be ready to face whatever challenges in life lay out there for you. You could say we took a leap of faith instead, allowing you to — and trusting you would — tell us when you were ready.

And you did tell us.

With all a father’s pride,

Dad

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

Don’t Be Shy, Seriously

Some of you may have heard about this on my Facebook page. I reproduced my post here, with a second part of the incident that I haven’t shared.

Dear Xander,

Daddy’s going to tell you a story.

A blind lady is standing at a crowded bus stop in Clarke Quay. I walk up and ask if anyone is assisting her. She says no. So we introduce ourselves and talk a little while waiting for her bus.

Turns out she’s been standing at the same spot every weekday at 6pm for the last 3 months, waiting for a bus she cannot see, and most of the time, too shy to ask for help.

I tell her, “I’ll try to be here at this bus stop at 6pm every day, to help you get into your bus.”

This should be a lesson in compassion, but it isn’t. As far as your dad is concerned, the act is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s not done out of kindness. If anything, it’s a practical thing to offer for a person in need, from a person who can.

This is a lesson in being thick-skinned.

Today’s world doesn’t support shyness any more. We’re all so comfortable putting our entire lives on Facebook, Twitter and blogs – right down to what you’re eating and where you’re eating it – why not dispense with the shyness and just ask if someone needs help when you see they might need it, or ask for help when you really need it?

There is a second part to this story, with a different moral attached to it.

As the bus came and I guided her aboard, she tapped her EZ-Link card and proceeded to the one-person seat right behind the driver (I assume this is her preferred seat, as it is closest to the driver, who can inform her and guide her down when the bus has reached her destination).

Occupying the seat was a rather unkempt old man with a fair amount of bags and belongings. By the time I had tapped my EZ-Link card, the blind lady asked the old man if he could vacate the seat for her. Oddly, the old man looked flustered, and shuffled in his seat nervously, as though he wasn’t quite prepared to move. I was surprised, and as we waited for the old man to get his bearings, he motioned to the other one-person seat opposite his, and motioned for the young woman seated there to vacate her seat instead, to which the young woman immediately obliged.

I didn’t think much of it; he was after all an old man, and by the amount of things he was carrying around it, it seemed more practical to find another passenger who had less trouble moving. As the blind lady got seated and the bus moved off, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see the old man looking at me apologetically.

It took a couple of seconds to realise, the old man had tapped me with the arm he had; his other arm was missing, and by the looks of the bandaged remnant, recently amputated. I quickly smiled and reassured him that everything was okay, then proceeded to kick myself mentally for being blind to the fact that there was more than 1 disabled person on the bus.

There are always people out there who will need help, more people than you’d expect, and more help than you think. While this might sound a little daunting, remember this: you were born in good health, all limbs attached, a good head on your shoulders and a good heart in your soul (your mother and I am constantly trying to make sure of that). When someone needs help, you help. Don’t wait to be asked, because too often people don’t ask. Don’t look the other way, when you know it’s within your ability and power. Don’t assume someone else will do it, because for all you know, everyone else is assuming the same thing, and then no one will do it.

So help when help is needed, and ask for help when you need it. Don’t be shy – it’s a horrible justification to shun a time of need.

And take it one step further – be conscious of who and what is around you, and help when you can, not when you’re asked to. Because sometimes people can’t see that you’re there to help.

Love,

Dad

What You Should Do When I Die

Dear Xander,

I am 34 years old right now. By the time you turn 21, I will be 52, and when you come to be my age right now, I should be 65.

Thankfully, because of the way this country is run right now, by the time you turn 34, I should still have a good 10 years left before I retire. This means not only that I can still probably provide for the family, I can probably also have paid off the family debt and also for my funeral expenses. What I’m bequeathing to you after I die will depend on how far I’ve been able to save by the time I’m about to croak, so I’ll leave that for later.

Right now though, I want to pass down to you my instructions on the more pressing matter how to deal with my passing.

First: The moment I stop breathing, stay calm and compose yourself. No point crying, feeling sad or grieving for at least the next few days, because I got to be honest with you, your dad can’t help you when he’s dead. You need to be strong for the span of time it takes to do what I need you to do. So man up.

Two: find me a casket, and don’t cheap out. I need a good quality box with clean lines (if Apple made caskets, I want that one) and a cushy interior. Depending on whether I look good when I die, get something with a window. If I died after getting hit by something in the face, then don’t bother. Put a clip-on fan in there as well, if they don’t have one installed; I hate being warm. And make sure you put the pillow I sleep on every night to support my head; if I’m going to rest in peace, I need to at least sleep with the smell of my own pillow. If the pillow doesn’t fit into the head of the casket, cut it and remove a bit of the stuffing. I don’t mind, it’s only going to be there a couple of days anyway.

Three: the way the plan goes, I probably won’t be seeing anyone or anything until you’re going into step 4, so be a dear and get my earphones and a long-life music player (or plug it into a charging outlet together with the clip-on fan), load up some songs into it, put the thing on shuffle and plug the phones into my ears. I like Dream Theater, Rage Against the Machine, Daft Punk, Katy Perry and all the songs from Dishwalla’s first album. If you know where I keep my music collection and the music player can handle the storage, better still.

Four: DO NOT give me a funeral wake – no prayers, no incense, no burning of offerings (if it turns out they have an economy where I’m going I’ll e-mail you and let you know). I want a funeral PARTY – with luck, I will have pre-arranged a booking for one night with a restaurant that has a good 8-course menu, a bar, a good collection of beer, liquor and soft drinks and allows us to put a casket with a dead person in it on their premises for one evening, so all you need to do for the party is get balloons for the kids (if helium still exists by then), and prepare appropriately selected goodie bags. Also, make sure you let the guests know to come in their Chow Yun Fatt/Leslie Cheung Shanghai Night best (suits or suspenders for the men, cheongsams for the ladies); it was the theme your mother and I chose when we did our wedding dinner.

If I didn’t manage to pre-book all these things before my passing, put me in a freezer and get everything ironed out before the day. Just remember to thaw me out for a day or two before everything is ready. I don’t want to look like a popsicle during the party.

You might also want to let your guests know to package their ang pows like they do for a wedding; remember we’re doing this in a restaurant, not a bloody void deck.

Five: Try to relax. Feel free to laugh and joke through the night about me, about yourself, about anything and everything; I will leave it to you to freestyle your way through the party, but just make sure it’s fun, okay? My humour was my best asset, and I want people to remember that. Of course, if anyone (including yourself) needs to cry at any point, don’t stop them, but keep it to tears of joy if you can. All I want is for you guys to be happy and have fun.

Six: When everything is over and the last guests have gone, grab yourself a couple of beers and a chair, then come sit next to me. Put one beer on my casket, and have the other beer with me. Talk to me. Whatever you want to say. Anything at all. I know I can’t reply, and I’m sorry. I really really want to, but, you know, me being dead and all. But please, do it anyway. I want to just listen. I just want you to know I will always listen. For as long as you want. For as often as you want. Just talk to me.

Seven: Inevitably, the time will come when my physical carbon-based self will need to be dealt with. Bury me if you can, but if you can’t, cremate me. I won’t ask that you put me at home – that will probably totally freak your visitors out; just put me in a nice place you can always visit. And always visit.

Eight: Now you can grieve. Don’t bother with people who tell you, “He’s gone. Move on.” Grieving is a very important part of emotional wellbeing and must not be slighted. And for your information, you should know better, especially after that talk with me after the funeral party; I am not gone. I will never be gone. You move, I move. That’s the deal I made with you since you were born, and I fully plan to stick to that deal.

Finally, there’s a very good chance your mother will outlive me for another couple of decades, so take good care of her. I’m trusting you with my wife, so don’t screw it up. I will be watching you.

I will always be watching.

Love,

Dad

Your Web 2.0 Life

Dear Xander,

At 3 years of age, you have yet to understand the extent of the online presence you may have.

3 days after you were born, I saw fit to provide you with the Holy Trinity of the Web 2.0 world of my time; I decided to register a Google account under your name, create a Facebook profile and even a Twitter account for you.

When you turned 3, I decided to register a domain name for your birthday present, and xander.sg was booked in your honour (as is xndr.sg, in case you wanted to be lazy). That is also essentially how Dear Xander came to be.

Recently, I went one step further to do up a Facebook page for Dear Xander, so as to properly differentiate the network of readers with your own social network of people you’ve met and know.

But why would I do all this?

Some people may wonder if this is merely an act of parental vanity, or a father’s means of commoditizing your life. But I did all this for a few very practical reasons.

While the Google account was primarily set up to reserve a proper e-mail account for your mother and I to receive information directly related to you, just about everything else was created to ensure .

Your Facebook profile was created so you may have a reference point for listing and looking up the people you’ve met and got to know pretty much your entire life.

Your Twitter account, though rarely used, may provide you with a more efficient way to keep you updated with – as well as for you to update – the world.

Your domain name was in large part to provide you with a more traditional (Web 1.0) online identity for you to use as you wished when you grow up; create an online portfolio if you decide on pursuing a creative career, provide information on yourself or what you do on the public domain if you so wish, or just put up anything you want for personal interest. As far as the world wide web is concerned, the possibilities are quite endless.

This blog was set up to make sure both you and I remember how we grew up together as father and son. It was meant for you to remember how much I love you, and for me to remember how proud and happy you made me.

And the Facebook page tied to this blog is for you to hopefully see one day that you are not alone, that you have not only the love of your parents, but the love of a whole community of people spread all around you – some whom you know, and some whom you don’t – all brought together by reading about you and the things you learned, did and achieved.

As well-intentioned as all this may be, however, I do realise that as with all things, the permanence of these online entities is not assured by any means. Twitter may go offline, Facebook may fail as an outdated business model and Google might shut down, and then this letter may not even make sense 10, or even 5 years down the road.

But if the status quo may be sustained for the duration of your entry into adolescence or adulthood, I am going to try and keep all this online stuff of yours alive and running until you find out about it (which I have no doubt you will very quickly, looking at the amount of attention your name has been drawing online).

I’ve hopefully set you up well for you to begin living your life. Soon, I will need your help to set me up for the end of mine; I’m planning out my will to be placed in one of these letters to you.

Love,

Dad

Happy Mothers Day

Dear Xander,

I have been told on a number of occasions by a number of people (I count 3 so far; your eldest aunt – my eldest sister – and both your grandparents) what an unfilial son I have become, particularly after I settled down, had my own family and am struggling to keep things afloat financially whilst trying to ensure the happiness of those that matter to me. I know the sacrifices parents make first hand because I see and make very much the same sacrifices with our own son.

This isn’t a day to mark up your filial piety a few notches to show your appreciation to your mother; you should be doing that every day (Brian Richmond said that). It isn’t a day to judge your siblings for what they are doing with your mum, whether it’s not enough or too much (I said that). It most definitely shouldn’t be a day for retailers and restaurateurs to jack up their prices in the name of a special day (students around the island who try to celebrate Valentine’s Day say that).

It’s a day to remember the person that gave you the rest of her life so you could live yours. Making this one day extra special isn’t going to relieve the work she has done, and continues to do, or make up for the sacrifices and suffering she’s had to go through. You just need to make sure that your mother already feels extra special because of her children – you – and the love you have for her that you’ve been giving from the moment you’re born to the day that you die.

If filial piety is judged upon what I’ve done for my mother, then I’ve been a terrible son and all these words mean absolutely nothing. But my love for your grandmother has never died; life just got in the way, and words are pretty much all I have right now.

We may describe you as many things for now and for the future, but we will never accuse you of being unfilial; your mum and I already know how much you love us, and for as long as we live your mother and I will remember that your gift to us has always been love and happiness, nothing more, nothing less.

Now go give your mother a big kiss and a hug.

Love,

Dad

Never Gonna Give You Up

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.

Dear Xander,

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.

Love,

Dad.

One Night at Grandma’s (Part 2)

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.

Love,

Dad

The Importance of a Child’s Imagination

Dear Xander,

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.

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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.

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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.

Love,

Dad

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!

Unlearning Shame

Dear Xander,

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.

Au naturel – just as nature intended.

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.”

Shame? What’s that? Can eat or not?

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.

Love,

Dad

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.