Learning Contentment

Dear Xander,

A year ago, I wrote to you about chasing dreams and seeking happiness.

A lot has changed.

As you grow older, you must not take for granted the fact that you are constantly on a learning journey, with your graduation and convocation scheduled to happen only on the day you die – as it still is for me.

I was hospitalised two weeks ago. During my recovery, I was given a lot of time to think and reflect on the way I lived my life the past year. It began with hope, then quickly peaked with much anger, which spurred almost exactly one full year of intensive soul-searching (which some people may also accurately define as bumming and skiving), and ended with the minor health scare which I am still reeling from today.

But I met a student doctor during my hospital stay who had a profound conversation with me that began as a compulsory doctor-patient engagement exercise. As he cleared his first obligatory question with me (“How are you feeling?”), the discussion somehow branched off from how bits of my life flashed before my eyes when I first got wheeled into the A&E ward to a scene in The Gladiator in which the rather-insightful-for-his-age medical student managed to quote from – word for word – about how important it was to keep the people entertained in the gladtiator’s arena,as a reflection of managing the political arena.

More importantly, I shared with him what I learned about living a good life. Recounting what your mother said about needing me to be happy in order for the family to be happy, I said to the doctor-to-be that over the years I have had to modify that ideology. I learned that happiness is fleeting and temporary, and needs to be sought and given; you cherish the moments gifted to you, but you don’t know when it will next happen again.

Contentment, on the other hand, can be learned and nurtured. And contentment, once learned, is a lifelong skill in avoiding grief, accepting diversity, and ultimately finding peace.

Probably in the first 20-30 years of your life, you will wonder if you will ever be content with your lot in life. I cannot hope that this letter will automagically grant you the wisdom I have taken my 35 years to earn; indeed, I doubt I can consider this wisdom, as I am actively disagreeing with my own writing from a year ago. But I do hope you see something in my writing that will be of use to you in your years to come.

***

Hospitalised

The day you first came to visit me in the hospital, my sisters told me that you said were aware I was in hospital, and that you were worried for me. when you first saw me, you only took one glance at my dazed expression marred by the many tubes in my arm and in my face, and you turned away, burying your face in your grandmother’s lap to cry.

It broke my heart to see you cry for me. But it also made me realise how important I was to you, and that moment, I only wanted to be your father even more.

I’ll take care of myself from now on. One day, when you become a father yourself, remember how you cried for me when I was down. Your children will need you, and you will need them too.

Love,

Dad

Dear Dad – a Daddy Matters Father’s Day Special

For Father’s Day, the Daddy Matters Group posted a writing challenge for us to imagine what our kids might really say to us if they were to write a letter to their father. I thought it more fitting to have the letter written here instead of The Blogfather, though I will admit it does veer away somewhat from my usual letters to Xander. Anyway, this is what I imagine Xander might say.

Dear Daddy,

RE: FATHERHOOD PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL

I have noted the services you have rendered to me as a father for the last 4 years or so, and have thought it prudent to conduct a performance appraisal in the hopes that we are able to continue improving your service standards to the Family.

I must commend you on the contributions you have made to the Family thus far, and do also rest assured that your dedication to your roles and responsibilities as a father have been acknowledged by your peers. However, I do feel there are areas of improvement, particularly when I make comparisons to your colleague, Mummy. I will list the areas hereto, and hope you will do well to take note of your shortcomings for the good of the Family, and for your own good.

1. Inconsistencies in milk formula temperature

Mummy and I have noted that the temperature of the milk formula you make for me during bedtime tends to be on the cold side, particularly when the thermos has not been refreshed with hot water for a few days. Please try to have the thermos water changed with freshly boiled water at least once every 48 hours. I will also duly remind Mummy of this point when I am able to catch her in a good mood.

2. Speaking volume

I also note that you have a tendency to speak in a loud booming voice, even though you are not actually scolding me; I understand this to be a trait common to the members of your side of the Extended Family. However, please bear in mind that I am already very uncomfortable with just the sound of a Coke can being opened, much less a loud male voice such as yours.

Mummy has mentioned an interesting online Work Service Quality (WSQ) programme you might like to consider signing up for called the Orange Rhino. If you are interested, I will have Mummy arrange for course registration.

3. Driving

On numerous occasions whilst seated in the backseat of the Family car, I have raised concerns about the speed in which you tend to go while you are driving. Please be mindful of Section 63, Subsection 1 of the Road Traffic Act (Cap 276), which duly states:

63.—(1)  Except as otherwise provided by this Act, it shall not be lawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle of any class or description on a road at a speed greater than any speed which may be prescribed as the maximum speed in relation to a vehicle of that class or description.

I shall similarly raise the issue of Mummy’s use of profanities while she is driving with her – at a more suitable time.

4. Going home too early

Please note that your official working hours as a Father are between 8am to whenever it is I decide to fall asleep. During this time, there will be a period where we will be outside of the Family premises for dinner and perhaps a walk in a shopping mall. Let it be known that I do not appreciate being told that we need to go home at any time during this period.

5. Bathtime

You will note that the usual practice of bathtime in the Family premises should be as follows:

  1. You shower first.
  2. Then you shower me.

With that in mind, please be advised that you shower very fast, and your insisting that I follow up immediately after you severely cuts short the time available for me to watch my evening CBeebies programme. Do consider soaping a little longer, perhaps for 2 hours instead of 2 minutes. I would really appreciate your cooperation in this.

6. Leaving the bedroom while I am sleeping

Don’t. I don’t like to sleep alone.

***

I would like to mention that your management of weekends with the Family is quite commendable, and I also find your administration of the back-end operations to be satisfactory. I do hope you will continue to serve me and the Family well, and hope you will make a conscious effort to improve your work in the days to come.

Sincerely,

Xander

Being Good

Dear Xander,

I was speaking to a few dads in a sitdown meeting when the topic of our children’s future came up.

It was a complicated and heavy discussion, delving into such sub-topics such as our local government policies, its emphasis on meritocracy, and ultimately the need for our children to work on their academic lives even harder than any child has ever done in the history of our country, just so we can compete on level ground in what is currently a country growing a majority of foreigners who are equally, if not more, driven, talented and less materialistic.

As the “impassioned” discussion wore on, I studied each father sitting with me carefully – their postures, expressions and the stances they had taken – and decided to share my stance.

“The moment my son was born, I decided my life was no longer mine to live. The future belongs to my son now, and everything I have done over the last 4 years – in my family, my career, and myself – has been with my wife and son in mind.

“That being said, how my son will do in school is of little significance to me. And I don’t care if he grows up to be a lawyer, or a construction worker. There is only one thing I want to see my son become – a good person.

“Whatever he does in life, regardless of his successes or failures, I only really want him to learn one thing – my son must answer to himself. He must learn to be good, to do good, to learn the bad, and to understand why. The day he is able to live a good life – in every sense of the word “good” – I will know I have done my duty.”

But there is a catch to this, which I did not share with the fathers I was with at the time. In order to succeed in bringing a child up this way, I have to do the same.

I must learn to be good, to do good, to learn the bad, and to understand why. I have to be able to live a good life – in every sense of the word “good”.

Otherwise, it simply would not work. You’d catch the hypocrisy in a heartbeat. It would confuse you, hurt you, and ultimately influence you. And even if I wanted to, I would not be able to start again with you.

You would not forgive me.

I write this in the hope that one day, when you come to read this, you will remember the times I told you to “be a good boy”, and you will also truly understand when I tell you to “be a good man”.

Be good,

Dad

Nothing and Everything

This post originally appeared here on 21st October, and was updated slightly and republished for the Trials and Tribulations linky party hosted by Rachel Teo of Catch Forty Winks.

Dear Xander,

It’s been 3 weeks since your dad’s been out of work come out to work on his own. I’ve been telling friends I’m taking a break for the time being, but as much as I try to be positive about this whole state of things, I’m worried that I am not picking myself up fast enough.

Because in reality, you cannot take a break from life. The bills, the loan repayments, the food we eat, these are unfeeling entities that don’t “wait till I do better”. They’re just going to keep coming, and we have to keep dealing with them, regardless of whether I move on or not.

Your mother has been my greatest source of support. Even when we quarrel, she’s managed to show me how strong her love for me is. I told her that losing the job made me realise I was nothing and when I put myself out there again, I’m effectively starting from scratch.

What I said sort of broke her.

“You are nothing?!” she cried. “What, so you’re going to let that (censored; she was referring to my ex-employer) that means almost nothing in your life dictate your worth? Then what about us? What do you think you are as your son’s father? As my husband?”

As angry as those words were, your mother made me smile when she said that. It was your mother’s reassurance to me that despite the road blocks that get in the way, I mean everything to the two most important people in my life, and don’t I bloody forget that.

I am everything to you both.

Up until the very last day of my last job, I was fighting so hard those two months to keep my full-time job so we would remain safe and secure. On my last day, however, I realised the company I was working for could not by any means secure my position as a father (then again, no job ever can), nor could I deliver what was expected of me as an employee given I valued my family much, much more than my job.

You and your mother mean everything to me.

For two months, I lived a dream. And for two months, I found myself fighting the dream. When it was over, the dream died. Part of me died with it, because despite the fight, it was still my dream.

But the part that survived came out of it stronger. That part of me knows I have to somehow make all of this work. That part of me has kept me going these last three weeks, and I am sure it’s the same part of me ever since your mother and I got together.

I have to get it together. Everything is at stake.

Three weeks is a long time to stay angry, so I’m done. I know now I am not starting from scratch, because I have you and your mother by my side. I have absolutely no reason to be angry. But I have every reason to keep going hard, and you guys are my every reason.

Whoever says you can’t survive on love alone, doesn’t understand what love means, because in the face of everything that’s happened, and for anything that is going to happen, my love for you and your mother was the part of me that survived, and the part of me that will ensure I keep on living.

Looooooooove,

Dad

I’ve The journey continues for me, but what about you? If you don’t mind, do share your most trying moment in life in the comments, or if you have a blog, join the Trials and Tribulations linky party too, and/or experience some of the most powerful life stories I’ve ever read by our community of parent bloggers (just click on the button below).

Cockiness

Dear Xander,

Uncle Mark asked me over a beer had a conversation the other day. He said to me, “Bro, don’t take this the wrong way, but have you always been this cocky?”

I said with a shrug, “Yeah.”

“Then wouldn’t you be better off running your own business? I mean, I can’t imagine you being able to work for anyone — or for that matter — anyone who would hire you when you’re so cocky.”

I replied, “Then the people you’re imagining are hiring aren’t the people I want to work for.”

Uncle Mark was just being the best friend that he is to me. He’s also a worrywart, but he did raise a good point, which is something I’m hoping you will also be able to understand when the time comes for you to find your own job.

My cockiness is developed over years of knowing what I can do well, what I can offer to anyone willing to pay me for it and most importantly, what I can’t do. Last week, though, I learned something very valuable to the career I am pursuing: if your dad has, at any time, not been cocky at work, something is very wrong.

I realized it too late, and I’ve paid for it big time. I lost my job. But I also have to clarify (in order to live up to my cockiness), my job lost me.

So I’m writing to impart to you what I wish someone had taught me 20 years ago; hopefully by the time you read this, we will have brought you up with your own cockiness for you to embark on a successful career.

First things first: know what you’re good at. It’s got to be something you not only know you can do that very few, or no one else can do, and it must be something you thoroughly enjoy doing. You then become the sole authority at what you’re being paid to do, and you have full licence to not take any shit from anyone. (Remind me to explain to you the definition of “shit” in its various contexts when you grow older.)

Second: know your place at work. Your dad made the mistake of accepting a managerial position when he was only fit to be an executive. And being a manager somewhere else does not qualify you to be a manager anywhere. That is a delusion — yours, and probably your employer’s as well — that should never, ever be entertained.

Third: you look for a job like you’re looking for the love of your life, and not like you’re captain of a fishing trawler. You don’t go out there sending out 50 resumes to an entire industry to net 10 interviews. As much as people would like to tell you this is an employer’s market, you have to love who you’re working for. If that means just sending out 1 resume, then you make that one work.

Fourth: the love of your life could very well be someone you never ever thought you’d even give the time of day to. You might even think your parents will never accept her in the family. But if we haven’t made it clear enough to you yet, let me make it very clear to you now: you are your own person, you make your own decisions, and you are free to experiment with anything at all if it means you will learn about who you are and what works for you as a result. So experiment with everything. Work in a nightclub. Be a bartender, a construction worker, a stripper even, if you think you’ll get something meaningful out of it for yourself. Your mum and I won’t judge you. You’re still our son, and we will still love you. Just don’t invite us to see you perform if you do end up becoming a stripper; some things we don’t need to see.

And finally: barring what was said in the first and second points, you know nothing. This will be the hardest point to swallow, and to be fair, usually smart people will only learn this when they hit their 30s. It also completely contradicts the whole concept of cockiness. But that’s where the magic happens.

When you know nothing but yourself, you assume nothing outside of what you know. It keeps you well out of trouble, opens your mind for learning from others, and drives you to be even better than what you’re good at. And then if you want to be cocky, go right on ahead.

No matter what you decide or how your life pans out, career-wise or otherwise, your mother and I have got your back. That’s our promise to you, till the day we die.

Love,

Dad

Honestly Speaking

Dear Xander,

When I was 11, through peer influence, I developed a kleptomanic streak (that means I used to steal stuff, and it became a habit). I only stole one thing in particular, though: back in my day, the large Emporium Holdings (similar to modern-day Isetan or Metro) had a display stand carrying brightly coloured button badges with rubber paint-penned slogans written on them. And I thought I was pretty good at it, too. My conquests, which grew to a good 30-40 button badges, were pinned on my schoolbag for all to see.

But I was caught eventually at my neighbourhood department store, and my dad had to come bail me out from the department store security room. What ensued was the hardest scolding I have ever received from my father, followed by an hour-long belting session that freaked out the entire household.

My mother made me kneel in front of our Buddhist altar – and the entire family – and made me swear never to steal again, never to commit any act of dishonesty, and never to lie to anyone again.

Since then, even if I wanted to, I could never lie. For the longest time, I thought it was because my mother’s altar really was a very effective telephone service to the gods it represented, and the higher powers made it a point to rid me of my bad character. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized it was because of something else altogether.

The day that I was caught stealing, the moment I got into the car and was getting the reprimand of my life, was the day I saw my father – your grandfather – cry for the very first time. And nothing hurt more than to see my father’s disappointment in raising a dishonest son.

Your father isn’t perfect; you probably already know that. And your father isn’t expecting you to be perfect, either; this you should know. But your dad does expect you to grow up to be an honest, upright man.

Don’t ever be what I was when I was 11.

Love,

Dad

Chasing Dreams is Hard Work

Dear Xander,

It’s been a month and a half since I switched careers to become a writer. You might have noticed it isn’t the easier of transitions; for one, I haven’t written to you or a while. Sorry about that.

I took this enormous leap of faith knowing it will be an entirely new experience, but knowing it and actually experiencing it seems to be two completely different animals. There are moments where I feel like I’m very much on top of things, as a vocal contributor to the company I’m working for and a suitably experienced parent (I am, after all, hired to be a parenting writer). Then there are moments where I feel like I’m in way over my head, wondering what I’m doing and whether I made the right decision.

And then, there are moments when I simply can’t write.

It isn’t writer’s block. It isn’t for lack of inspiration. It may have to do with time management, or a management of expectations from colleagues or bosses, or a lapse of confidence. I don’t know.

I will usually have some sort of takeaway for you, a moral of the story for you to chew and reflect on. Right now, though, I have no answers, not even for myself.

I’m writing this to you because I’m hoping one day, you can read about what I’m going through at this point in my life, and you can give me that answer. Hopefully by then, you’ll have grown into a better man than me.

Hopefully by then, this job would not have killed me yet.

Love,

Dad

Chasing Dreams

Dear Xander,

By this point in reading you may have realized your dad kind of likes to write. The truth is, as with all hobbies, I never thought I could make a living out of it.

In Primary Three, I won a composition contest in school for writing about a dog I didn’t have. I won a small paperback novel with the A-Team on the cover which I never read, and I never thought about it again until I was in the tail end of secondary school. Back then, my mother wanted me to be a doctor. Back then, I just wanted a dog.

I also mentioned my secondary school journal that kick-started my foray into writing. Back then, I never took it as a sign that wordsmithing was a viable career path. Back then, I just wanted to play guitar and charm the pants off girls.

I got influenced by the legal industry when I was a fledgling young adult doing transcription work for the Supreme Court of Singapore. The work required correcting grammar whilst ensuring the meaning of witness testimonials and cross-examinations by lawyers and judges alike were kept intact. Back then, the job didn’t scream out at me that I was good at writing; back then I was just paid to be a grammar Nazi.

I did a Mass Communications diploma and did exceptionally well at my Written Communication module. The lecturer of the day awarded me my distinction and subsequently an academic book prize for top scorer on the module, on the basis that I had a good head on my shoulders, a good heart and a penchant for leadership. When I quizzed him as an aside as to why he would consider me for such an honour, he told me that by my words, I held the power to change the world. I suspected he barely read what I was writing. Back then, my achievement was suspect to me; back then, I turned into my own biggest critic and repressed my own ambition.

Since graduating with diploma in hand, I took on marketing work, business development work, logistics work, computer work, human resources work, renovation work (interestingly, all in the same job and company), and subsequently went back to legal administration work. Everything I did had an element of requiring good writing, but none substantial enough for me to consider doing it exclusively. Back then, I tried everything, gained a lot of experience and led a very fulfilling career. Back then, I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t know why.

It took a simple couple of sentences from your mother, repeated about 2-3 times over the course of the last 3 years (since you were born, actually) to make me get off my arse and find out exactly what was causing this rut that I had been in. She said to me, “I would rather you be well-fed and happy than hungry and angry. When you’re happy, Xan and I are happy; that is the simple truth.”

I traced back her words, and tried to find out what really made me happy. I was always happiest just being your dad, but in the situation your mother and I were in career-wise, being a full-time dad wasn’t going to pay the bills.

Then I thought, what if it did? What if I could find a way to be a dad, and get paid for doing it as well?

When we found out your mum was preggers with you, we bought a lot of books, magazines, scoured through websites that ran content from parenting experts and parents that gave good advice. It took me another year after you were born to realize that all this reading material we were devouring in an effort to find out how to raise you, was produced by people who get paid to write about how to raise you.

I tried it. In a bid to find my voice, I started to write again, first with my own personal blog. I wanted to see if I was good enough to get published, so I started writing freelance for some publications. I wanted to share my writing with you, so I started writing letters to you. Then I wanted to share my experience and research in raising you with others, so I came up with my own parenting blog for fathers. Finally, I looked for a way to get paid for it, and did the only thing guys like me know what to do when they want to get paid for something – I sent out resumes.

It took a good two years of trial and error, carrying the stress of changing jobs, running the risk of unemployment and further unhappiness while doing it, learning from mistakes and training to be patient, but come August, I will be a writer who can feed his family and still talk all day about you.

It’s a dream that took 21 years to compose, draft, edit, redraft, re-edit and finally publish. It’s a dream that took 10 years to chase and 2 years to bring into reality. Most importantly, it’s a dream that had to be chased, because for all the times I never tried something because I was too scared to fail, this dream has taught me that expecting, confronting and experiencing failure is essential to any meaningful endeavour, and MUST be expected, confronted and experience to succeed.

I’m telling you all this because I know at some point, you will be pondering your ambition, and in the process, you will be wondering about your dream. As far as your parents are able, we will help you through anything you want to do, but you have to be happy doing it. And if it means chasing a dream not thought possible – not even by your mother and I – show your conviction and commitment to your cause and no army in the world can stand between you and the life you want to lead.

Love,

Dad

Note: I do apologies for the slight lack of updates and photos recently; the past 3 weeks, I found out that changing jobs takes up quite a massive amount of time.

We Were All Kids Once

Dear Xander,

As you may have experienced by now, your dad isn’t perfect. I mean, sure, I have some level of authority on certain issues. Like how you need to eat over your bowl so if bits of your food drop out of your spoon/fork/mouth, the bowl will catch it and you can try again. Or if you’re going to bounce a ball in the living room, don’t hit the TV, or your mum, or for heaven’s sake, don’t aim for between my legs.

You know, that kinda thing.

But your dad was a kid once, too. And kids sometimes learn things the hard way, or they learn how to get away with learning things (which in itself is a very handy skill for working smart). Your dad’s done his fair share of both:

  • When I was in Primary 5, I was called up to stage by my discipline master during an assembly hall talk for talking too loudly and making a nuisance. After I got on stage, he took out a metre-long wooden ruler intending to carry out an impromptu public caning on me as punishment. I realised what was happening, and proceeded to run all over the stage with him chasing me for a good 2 minutes until he gave up and shouted at me to sit back down with my class. I no longer know nor recognise any of my primary schoolmates, but from the number of encounters I have with some of them, they sure do remember me.
  • By the time I was in my 3rd year of secondary school education, I had a chain of crushes for a grand total of 23 times, with a plethora of girls I never had the guts to say hi to.
  • I once tried skateboarding down a 30-metre road on a 25-degree slope on my way to school. I didn’t make it to school that day.
  • When I was doing my A-levels, I would always reach school between 9.30am-11am; school starts at 7am. I’d avoid the discipline master by jumping across a large canal that flanked the right side of the school, and then scale a 3-metre high wire fence to get in. One time, I got noticed by a class on the 3rd floor as I was climbing the fence, and didn’t know I was being watched until I dismounted – I was suddenly given a round of applause by the entire class watching me from their classroom window – together with their teacher.
  • When I was still living with my parents, I once had to hide my girlfriend in my wardrobe after she spent the night in my room because I didn’t want your grandparents to find out I was dating a girl. Your grandparents found out anyway.
  • In my secondary school graduating year, our English teacher made us keep a journal of our daily experiences which she would mark at the end of every week. I made more than a few entries describing my English teacher in many colorful terms of endearment, as “uptight”, “sorry excuse for a human being” and a “spawn of Satan”. One week my English teacher called me up to her office and said she read everything – and loved it. She made it her mission to groom me in speaking, writing and thinking in English.

Sometimes we might forget you’re just a kid – you are just growing up so fast – and kids can do things that are stupid, brash, and unthinkable. Sometimes we forget that we were once kids, too. I can’t quite speak for your mum (you and I both know she’s always right, right?), but I know I’ve done stupid, brash and unthinkable things before.

But you know what? It’s okay to be stupid. It’s okay to be brash. It’s okay to do the unthinkable. It’s taken your father 34 years to realise that this is a learning process we’ve all experienced, are still going through now, and if we’re fortunate, never grow out of. Because if we survive, we can learn from our mistakes, become more courageous with every leap of faith, and when we set out to do the unthinkable, more often than not we can end up achieving the impossible.

Enjoy your childhood,

Dad