No regrets even with four hours of sleep

No regrets even with four hours of sleep
PHOTO: TNP

He cares for his wife, who uses a wheelchair, and their 10-month-old baby.

He cooks, cleans, does laundry and changes nappies.

He also earns a daily wage as the main breadwinner to support his family.

Juggling everything is hard, but Mr Zulfakar Mohamed Arib, 40, says he had his eyes wide open when he married Madam Salimah Ishak, 36.

They had met on the Internet and married in 2012.

Mr Zulfakar tells The New Paper on Sunday in Malay: "I don't mind. Fat or thin, I don't care. She told me her story and I understand. She is normal and it was a sudden high fever that left her in this state."

His wife has been using a wheelchair since she was 14 after contracting transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by an inflammation of the spinal cord.

Madam Salimah's condition also did not deter him from wanting a child of their own.

Mr Zulfakar says: "I did want a child and I prayed that we would have one."

When she conceived last year, he was overjoyed, even though it was a risky pregnancy.

He says: "The doctor did ask her to consider whether to proceed. I told her to proceed."

Despite obstacles, Madam Salimah gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Amirul Mukminin, last August. "I believe the baby is a gift from God," Mr Zulfakar says.

Since then, he has been caring for Amirul: Changing nappies, bathing, feeding and patting him to sleep because the child is now too mobile for his wife to handle with her weakened limbs.

He has to attend to his wife too, including her toilet needs, grooming and food.

The couple live in a four-room flat in Tampines that belongs to his in-laws.

Mr Zulfakar's in-laws are hearing-impaired and cannot help look after their grandson so much as they cannot hear the baby cry, or Madam Salimah's pleas for help.

During the day, his father-in-law works as a cleaner. His mother-in-law, who was also a cleaner, is in a wheelchair as she is recovering from a recent traffic accident that injured her legs.

When The New Paper on Sunday visited the couple, Mr Zulfakar was a whirlwind of activity. Besides stopping to answer questions, he brought the TNPS team drinks, while attending to wife and baby.

A typical day for him starts with him getting his baby ready for infant care, followed by his wife's needs and cooking. He then gets ready for work.

After dropping Amirul off at the infant care centre below their block, he heads to his workplace at Kaki Bukit where he works as a mechanic repairing motor scooters like Vespas.

He says: "Sometimes, when I am about to leave the house, my wife will need to use the toilet and I will have to attend to her."'

He has had to rush home when his wife's wheelchair ran out of battery or when his son was sick.

His father-in-law picks the child up from infant care while Mr Zulfakar leaves the workshop at about 8pm and heads home to get his wife and baby ready for bed.

He then heads out again to attend a religious class, leaving little time for sleep.

But he says he has no regrets. Even when he gets less than four hours of sleep.

"Many people just talk, without action. It is a test for me."

Mr Zulfakar says: "My baby will usually wake up for milk around 2am. Sometimes, he will play and refuse to sleep. If he doesn't sleep, I don't get to sleep."

NO WORK, NO PAY

He earns a daily wage of about $50. If he does not work - like when his family needs him more at home - he does not get paid.

But he is grateful to his boss for the flexible arrangement he has.

Mr Zulfakar says: "My friends ask me to work in a company where the pay is better, but this job gives me flexibility to care for my family.

"At least, I still have a job. It is okay that we live an average life."

Financially, they "can get by". The Government is assisting with childcare subsidies and ComCare cash assistance.

Madam Salimah works as a freelance graphics designer from home to supplement his income.

Mr Zulfakar says: "If we can't afford it, we find alternatives or do without certain things. Usually, we'll buy two tins of milk, but if money is tight, we'll wait for my pay and buy one tin first to tide over."

His dream is to have his daughter from his first marriage live with him. His ex-wife has remarried and has other children.

Mr Zulfakar says: "I don't mind looking after one more child. I feel proud as a father for not giving up on her.

"It is my responsibility as a husband and a father. I want to care for my wife and our child.

"My wife did ask me whether I have ever regretted marrying her. I said no.

"I will continue to care for her so that she doesn't give up."


This article was first published on June 21, 2015.
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