Regrets of a grandson

On many nights, after my two daughters go to bed and I have some room in my head to string together coherent thoughts, I rewind the day's events and ponder my mistakes as a father.

Inwardly, I would grimace, groan, sigh, beat myself up over my impatience, short fuse, lack of tact, absence of tenderness and careless use of threats where a little cajoling and firm negotiation would have worked just as well.

Mental notes are jotted down: Faith, seven, and Sarah, four, are not necessarily obstinate or oblivious to instructions.

They are just like many young children - when engrossed in play, they lose the tenuous grip they have on the concept of time and will take forever just to brush their teeth, get dressed and head out of the house.

There's no need to raise my voice at them in exasperation.

Another note: Kids are often messy and will touch their heads, noses, ears, legs - anything! - when their hands are greasy from eating pizza. Live with it and be quick with the wet wipes. There's no need to freak out.

When Faith and Sarah wake up the next morning, I would apologise to them for my less-than-ideal behaviour.

So, yes, I work hard at being daddy to my girls, even if I don't have the inclination to read parenting books.

It comes naturally to me, this desire to do better with Faith and Sarah. Which is highly unusual for me because perseverance has never been one of my strong suits.

All my life pre-fatherhood, I've taken the path of least resistance, although "take" is too proactive a verb - I mostly allow myself to slide through life, at school, at work and in my family.

So, I tell my wife, half in jest, that being a father is my calling in life, for I've never enjoyed anything more. It's like how some children, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, reply "Mummy".

Forget astronaut, doctor, lawyer, entrepreneur, champion athlete, rock star - I love being daddy. And yet I never felt this way until Faith was born, followed by Sarah.

In all seriousness, my wife agrees with me that fatherhood is my calling, not least because I'm certainly a better father than I am a husband.

Make no mistake, I love my wife very much. In fact, I love and treat her as myself.

Therein lies the problem: Because I take it that we are one flesh, as the Bible expresses it, I do not tolerate behaviour different from mine.

It's terrible of me, of course, and I do angst about it, but not to the same extent that I feel wretched about my Big Bad Daddy acts.

My unsound reasoning goes like this: Faith and Sarah, being young, are far more vulnerable than their mummy.

The hurt they suffer will scar them more deeply. Mummy is an adult, she will be just fine.

In any case, I hope my wife takes some comfort in the fact that I'm a better husband than I am a son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, friend.

In nearly all my personal roles in life, I've been neglectful and lazy. It never occurred to me that I needed to work at relationships.

As a son, I have not dishonoured my parents. But neither have I done much to show them that I appreciate all that they've done for me.

When I went to study in Australia 20 years ago, after a short initial period of homesickness, they were mostly out of sight, out of mind until I needed a fresh infusion of funds.

Then came my marriage. Unlike in many traditional Chinese families, my parents did not gain a daughter after I got married - they lost a son, who moved out and was only too happy to be a husband.

Sure, I love and appreciate my parents, but without a car, it was too much hassle for me to travel all that way to meet them frequently.

When Faith and Sarah came along, you can imagine how much further down the pecking order my parents went.

Still, for all my sins as a son, I have made my gravest error as a grandson. Popo, my maternal grandmother, raised me for many years with all the love in her heart.

For at least one whole year, she waited every day at my primary school canteen for me because I cried often in a strange new environment.

Subsequently, she would frequently and unhesitatingly deplete her meagre savings to buy me stuff I believed I needed: a bag, a motorbike, a laptop.

When I enlisted in national service, she waited for a couple of hours in the rain to catch a glimpse of me leaving in the three-tonner.

And how did I repay Popo when I started working, got married and became a father?

With frequent promises on the phone that I would visit, although my accursed lazy butt would often win the battle of wills against the tugging of my heart strings.

Worst of all, she never got to see Faith, even though I believe she had waited many years to hold my child. One week after Faith was born, she died, content in the knowledge that I had become a father, said my aunt whom Popo lived with.

Again, I had dragged my feet too long to visit her with my new child, this time irreparably, unforgivably.

andychen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sept 21, 2014.
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