The Things You Do

The Fight

Dear Xander,

So we sort of had a fight, you and I. As father and son, these things happen. In the history of you and I, these things usually happen. But I’m noting this one down as unique because of how this ended, and because you’re only 3 3/4 years old now, I want to make sure you know what happened.

We had just gotten off the bus near your grandma’s house when you saw a food stall. I knew you were hungry because you hadn’t had dinner yet, but I also knew your grandma usually cooks for an army when she hears you, your mother and I were coming over, so I told you, “No. Grandma cooked for you already, so we need to have dinner there. You can’t snack before.”

Naturally you started throwing a tantrum. You got angry with me for insisting, you shouted at me, you even hit me with your right fist. And I have taught you before, if you beat anyone, you must expect to be beaten back. Your father is no exception.

I understood that public displays of parental discipline tends to attract unwanted attention, particularly in an old HDB estate with a number of feisty elderly residents, so I removed ourselves from the bus stop into a quieter corner and proceeded to “time-out” corner you. Your mother was not around at the time, so I took the opportunity to see if I could resolve this situation with you by myself, where previously she would have stepped in to reason with you.

You were stubborn, as expected. As you stood there, I tried to reason with you, but as a man, I know I don’t tend to go soft and my voice was coming across as stern chiding more than compromising. Your anger got worse, and you hit me again a couple more times before I took your right hand and slapped it.

Of course, you cried. Loud. Then you said the words any three-year-old boy would say to unintentionally break the heart of any parent.

“I don’t like you any more! I want you to go away!”

Of course, it wasn’t the first time I heard it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t mind it. I replied, “Fine. Let’s go find mummy now and I’ll just leave you with her for the night so you don’t have to see me. Will you be happy then?”

You didn’t answer. I started packing up the bags we had so we could set off to grandma’s house.

Then you bolted. And you were heading towards the main road.

I dropped everything and went after you. Times like this make me very glad you’re only three, because my legs were much longer than yours. I caught you by the arms and swept you back into the same place we were before. Then I looked you in the eyes and said some things that almost immediately turned the tables on our disagreement.

“Don’t you ever run away from me like that. Look at where you are. We’re right next to the main road. Look at all the cars. What’s going to happen if one hits you? I don’t care if you’re angry with me, or I’m angry with you, I will protect you. As long as Daddy lives, if you run away from me like that, I will catch you, because as long as I live, I will do everything I can to make sure you do not get hurt, do you understand? Even if you’re angry with me, or if I’m angry with you, I will still love you. Even if you beat me, I will still love you. Even if you say you don’t like me any more, I will still love you. Do you understand?”

You remained silent. But you were no longer angry. Your eyes softened as you looked at me, and I knew you understood every single word I said.

I started picking up the bags again, and this time you didn’t run; you just continued to stand there, looking at me. When I was ready, I turned to you and asked, “So? What do you want to do now?”

You took a step closer to me and said, “I want bao-bao.”

With one laptop bag slung to my side, and your 2 schoolbags on each arm, I lifted you up on my chest and you clung on me like a koala bear. And we Walked the rest of the way to grandma’s house.

Now I know you understand parental love.



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