From bad boy to good dad

He went from juvenile delinquent to award-winning recruit.

Mr Tan Chow Ken's early teenage years were plagued with everything punishable - smoking at 13, playing truant weekly, failing in school, running away from home and joining a gang.

"Back then, I didn't care about anything at all," he tells The New Paper on Sunday.

"On the rare occasions that I turned up in school, my teachers tried to advise me to stop the nonsense. But I just didn't give a damn," Mr Tan, 21, recalls.

Until the near-death incident he experienced a day before his 16th birthday in October.

Mr Tan recounts how on that fateful day, he was chatting with two friends at an HDB block.


"A man came out of nowhere and slashed me on the back of my head and twice on my back," he says.

"I managed to turn just before the second hit and realised my attacker was a guy from a rival gang. The next thing I knew, I was running for my life."

He ended up at his friend's home before he was rushed to hospital.

His mother, Madam Chong Sin Fah, 46, tells TNPS: "When I received the call from the hospital, I was scared to death.

"I was living every mother's worst nightmare. I thought I was going to lose my son."

The trigger to change his life was the moment Mr Tan saw his mother at the hospital.

"I had never seen my mother in tears ever in my life until that day.

"It was then that I realised how much I had hurt both my parents."

After spending six days in hospital, Mr Tan was determined to "leave everything behind and start afresh".

His turnaround was the highlight of a six-minute video shared on cyberpioneer's Facebook page on Thursday night. The clip garnered more than 188,000 views, over 1,400 likes and 825 shares in just two days.

In 2009, he joined Care Corner's Crossroad Youth Centre in Admiralty. Through programmes there, he learnt how to be patient and handle difficult situations amicably.

Soon after, Mr Tan took on a leadership role as a youth ranger where he helped other at-risk teens.

The change also helped him when he enlisted for national service.

He emerged from the Singapore Army as his company's Best Recruit during his basic military training. There, he was selected for the Specialist Cadet School, where he graduated with a Silver Bayonet - an award given to the company's second-best cadet.

Mr Tan says: "I gave my best, that's for sure. But I didn't expect to achieve any of those awards. I was taken aback by the news when I found out because I've never achieved anything in my life, but the army showed me that I could," he says.

Mr Tan, who today manages a blogshop, is also studying construction engineering full-time at the Building and Construction Authority.

The third of six children, Mr Tan is happy that his engineer father and housewife mother now have a reason to be proud of him.

He says of the past: "I think it got to a point where it hurt my parents to care so I think they stopped. That didn't affect me at all because the feeling was mutual."


Now that he is a father of a two-year-old girl, his priority is "to be a good father and a good husband".

Mr Tan says: "It is a promise I made to myself the day I got married.

"It is no longer about me. Now, it is about my wife and my daughter. And I want to make sure my little girl grows up being good, (the way) her father never was."

Mr Tan met his wife through a mutual secondary school friend at a barbecue gathering, and says it was "love at first sight".

Mrs Mabelene Tan, 19, a housewife, says: "When he told me what had happened to him, I was surprised that he was still alive. I just can't picture my husband as that rebellious kid."

She adds: "Ken's such a good father and definitely a protective one.

"He is so protective that when he sees our daughter hugging a friend at the playground, he feels a little sour."

While Mr Tan doesn't think the video made him "a star", he is surprised at the feedback he has received since it was uploaded.

He says: "It is good to see that I made my family proud with the video.

"I've some friends who didn't believe it is me in the production. Many of them said it is so unlike the Ken they knew from the past," he says with a laugh.

"I am happy that I managed to change my life for the better.

"I can finally say that I am truly proud of myself."

This article was first published on January 10, 2016.
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