Terence Cao and mum: Lost, then found

After losing touch with her for 27 years, actor Terence Cao, 46, lost no time in building a strong, loving bond with his mum, Lucy Tan, 65. 

Terence, how is it that you got to know your mother only when you were 30?

Terence: My parents separated when I was three years old. I was raised by my grandparents, and only reconnected with my mum when I turned 30. Before that, I had no contact with her at all.

What was it like when you were reunited?

Lucy: When I had to leave Terence, I trusted that he was in the good hands of his grandparents. Even so, it was tough - I had to keep telling myself to be strong, and to move on with my life.

A member of our family decided to bring us together when Terence was 30.

When I saw him for the first time, I was speechless - there were no words to describe how happy I was.

Terence: I was too young to understand what happened when Mum left. I missed her, but my grandparents loved me and taught me to be positive and independent, so I hardly dwelt on my sadness. I felt an instant connection with Mum when I met her again; there was no bitterness - what's past is past and it's time to start cherishing our moments together.

Do you see each other often?

Lucy: Terence always finds pockets of time to have lunch or dinner with me, even when he's busy filming.

On Sundays, all my children (Terence and his three half-brothers and half-sister) make an effort to come over for lunch, so I'll wake up early to cook.

Terence: I've had to cancel our plans occasionally because of work. I can understand when she gets upset with me - especially when she's gone to the trouble of cooking my favourite dishes, like mee siam, nasi lemak and lontong.

How do you make it up to her, then?

Terence: The good thing about Mum is that she's too polite and well-mannered to scream at me (laughs). But we're similar in temperament - we're both stubborn - so when we're not happy with each other, we won't talk for weeks. But I always give in to her because she's my mum and I want to make her happy - that's the trick to handling mothers!

How else do you bond?

Terence: Mum and I have plenty in common. For example, we both love fruit cake and spicy food. When we go shopping together, we hit the supermarket first and easily end up spending $500 in one trip.

Lucy: Terence likes buying things in bulk, like 12-pack tinned soup cartons, because he says it's convenient to prepare, especially when he wants to invite friends over.

I always remind him to avoid processed food because he has a sensitive throat, like me. So I'll stock up on Danzen tablets (an anti-inflammatory oral drug) for him at his place.

Terence: That's how she shows her love - when she first found out that I love fruit cake, I often came home to a fridge stocked with delicious ones I could never finish.

Lucy, share with us a side of Terence that people usually don't know about.

Lucy: He has a really big heart and always thinks of others first. Whenever we go on holiday, he wants to get gifts for everyone.

At Christmas, he's like Santa Claus, giving out presents to all his aunts and uncles. And about three years ago, he called me out of the blue and said that he wanted to deliver food to an old folks' home.

He woke up at 4am just to prepare char siew rice for a few hundred people!

Terence, Now that you're a father, what's the best parenting advice you've received from your mum?

Terence: My mum has always been the pillar of her family - she ran her home and her own business while raising my half-siblings.

She took on the responsibility of looking after her family, and that's an important trait I want to emulate. I wasn't raised in a big family, so I also admire how close she is to her 11 siblings.

How are you working on nurturing ties with your own daughter?

Terence: My daughter lives in China with her mother, so I communicate with her as much as possible using a webcam or the Wechat app.

It's amazing that at only three years old, she already knows how to use Wechat!

Lucy: We also made a trip to China last December to spend Christmas with her.

That was the first time I had seen my granddaughter, and when she called me Nai Nai (grandmother), my heart melted.

Terence: She didn't even want me to carry her! She only wanted her nai nai.

Terence Cao: Just a regular guy

What's your greatest wish for Terence now, Lucy?

Lucy: That he'll find a good partner to love - someone who'll stand by him and take care of him when he's old or sick.

It will comfort me to know that he has someone to go home to after a long day at work.

Terence: Mum even told me once that it doesn't matter if the girl is from Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam, if you catch her drift. She's subtle that way. (Laughs) Lucy: As long as she has a good heart and character, why not?

So have you ever tried to hook him up with someone?

Lucy: I haven't dared to.

(Laughs) Terence: My aunt (Lucy's sister) tried.

I went on the date, but it was awkward for both of us. I wouldn't do that again. That said, I'll still work hard to make Mum's greatest wish come true.

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