What You Should Do When I Die

Dear Xander,

I am 34 years old right now. By the time you turn 21, I will be 52, and when you come to be my age right now, I should be 65.

Thankfully, because of the way this country is run right now, by the time you turn 34, I should still have a good 10 years left before I retire. This means not only that I can still probably provide for the family, I can probably also have paid off the family debt and also for my funeral expenses. What I’m bequeathing to you after I die will depend on how far I’ve been able to save by the time I’m about to croak, so I’ll leave that for later.

Right now though, I want to pass down to you my instructions on the more pressing matter how to deal with my passing.

First: The moment I stop breathing, stay calm and compose yourself. No point crying, feeling sad or grieving for at least the next few days, because I got to be honest with you, your dad can’t help you when he’s dead. You need to be strong for the span of time it takes to do what I need you to do. So man up.

Two: find me a casket, and don’t cheap out. I need a good quality box with clean lines (if Apple made caskets, I want that one) and a cushy interior. Depending on whether I look good when I die, get something with a window. If I died after getting hit by something in the face, then don’t bother. Put a clip-on fan in there as well, if they don’t have one installed; I hate being warm. And make sure you put the pillow I sleep on every night to support my head; if I’m going to rest in peace, I need to at least sleep with the smell of my own pillow. If the pillow doesn’t fit into the head of the casket, cut it and remove a bit of the stuffing. I don’t mind, it’s only going to be there a couple of days anyway.

Three: the way the plan goes, I probably won’t be seeing anyone or anything until you’re going into step 4, so be a dear and get my earphones and a long-life music player (or plug it into a charging outlet together with the clip-on fan), load up some songs into it, put the thing on shuffle and plug the phones into my ears. I like Dream Theater, Rage Against the Machine, Daft Punk, Katy Perry and all the songs from Dishwalla’s first album. If you know where I keep my music collection and the music player can handle the storage, better still.

Four: DO NOT give me a funeral wake – no prayers, no incense, no burning of offerings (if it turns out they have an economy where I’m going I’ll e-mail you and let you know). I want a funeral PARTY – with luck, I will have pre-arranged a booking for one night with a restaurant that has a good 8-course menu, a bar, a good collection of beer, liquor and soft drinks and allows us to put a casket with a dead person in it on their premises for one evening, so all you need to do for the party is get balloons for the kids (if helium still exists by then), and prepare appropriately selected goodie bags. Also, make sure you let the guests know to come in their Chow Yun Fatt/Leslie Cheung Shanghai Night best (suits or suspenders for the men, cheongsams for the ladies); it was the theme your mother and I chose when we did our wedding dinner.

If I didn’t manage to pre-book all these things before my passing, put me in a freezer and get everything ironed out before the day. Just remember to thaw me out for a day or two before everything is ready. I don’t want to look like a popsicle during the party.

You might also want to let your guests know to package their ang pows like they do for a wedding; remember we’re doing this in a restaurant, not a bloody void deck.

Five: Try to relax. Feel free to laugh and joke through the night about me, about yourself, about anything and everything; I will leave it to you to freestyle your way through the party, but just make sure it’s fun, okay? My humour was my best asset, and I want people to remember that. Of course, if anyone (including yourself) needs to cry at any point, don’t stop them, but keep it to tears of joy if you can. All I want is for you guys to be happy and have fun.

Six: When everything is over and the last guests have gone, grab yourself a couple of beers and a chair, then come sit next to me. Put one beer on my casket, and have the other beer with me. Talk to me. Whatever you want to say. Anything at all. I know I can’t reply, and I’m sorry. I really really want to, but, you know, me being dead and all. But please, do it anyway. I want to just listen. I just want you to know I will always listen. For as long as you want. For as often as you want. Just talk to me.

Seven: Inevitably, the time will come when my physical carbon-based self will need to be dealt with. Bury me if you can, but if you can’t, cremate me. I won’t ask that you put me at home – that will probably totally freak your visitors out; just put me in a nice place you can always visit. And always visit.

Eight: Now you can grieve. Don’t bother with people who tell you, “He’s gone. Move on.” Grieving is a very important part of emotional wellbeing and must not be slighted. And for your information, you should know better, especially after that talk with me after the funeral party; I am not gone. I will never be gone. You move, I move. That’s the deal I made with you since you were born, and I fully plan to stick to that deal.

Finally, there’s a very good chance your mother will outlive me for another couple of decades, so take good care of her. I’m trusting you with my wife, so don’t screw it up. I will be watching you.

I will always be watching.

Love,

Dad

Active Fatherhood: An Uphill Battle

Dads don’t have it easy in Singapore. (Bear with me ladies; there is a silver lining.)

While mothers (who, under the Child Development Co-Savings Act, get up to 16 weeks maternity leave) get an entire section dedicated to maternity leave entitlement on the Ministry of Manpower’s website, dear old dad gets a less-than-honorary mention at the bottom of their Annual Leave page stating:

“There is no statutory entitlement for… paternity… leave under the Employment Act. The entitlement to such leave depends on what is in the employment contract or agreed mutually between employer and employee.”

So in short, if you’re looking for a good paternity leave package (employment contracts will usually stipulate paternity leave at between 2 to 7 days), go talk to your boss.

The law also has a special section just for women; the Women’s Charter, according to the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, “was passed in 1961 to protect the rights of women and girls in Singapore”. While the Charter does try to promote gender equality, it was formulated on an assumption that the female is the weaker sex and thus requires more protection. Speaking as someone who’s been working in a law firm, I would say with some trepidation that given the modern society’s mindset on gender equality, that’s a lot of protection in the arsenal of women to have; in fact, to run through the Women’s Charter as a man, the prospects of being male can be downright scary.

The mindset is not lost in women’s perception of men in parenting either; in a recent Huffington Post article, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg remarked, “I don’t know a lot of men who feel guilty for working full time, it’s expected that they’ll work full time…I wonder if there were more shared responsibility if more men would feel guilty too and women would feel less of it.”

The Men Actually Agree

The strange thing about all this is that most men are actually okay with this mindset. We generally accept being seen as “men of the house”, able to traipse through our career without the guilt of sacrificing family time in favour of work; we understand how women might require more legal protection; and most importantly, we agree that because our wives effectively go through so much more through child-bearing and childbirth, and thus deserve their time off work.

It won’t seem so strange if you look back at what happened in Western society way back in the 50’s and 60’s when women’s lib was first introduced. The fight for independence in gender was so strong coming from the women – what men can do, women can do too – it led to a cultural tectonic shift that enabled women to take charge fo their own lives, establish their own careers, and even have a stronger voice in politics. That fight for independence was strong indeed; but traditional sentiments that govern society’s view of the man’s place – in family, in particular – was much slower in development.

While the women are still gaining a foothold in the corporate/political arena, the men are still expected to (mainly) bring home the bacon, pay the bills and ensure their family is well provided for at any cost, to have a strong focus on their careers in order to provide, to be okay with sacrificing time with their family for their family. Indeed, through talking to a stay-at-home dad about the issue, it seems it’s a generally accepted view by both men and women, to the point where the hapless stay-at-home dad in question was wondering if he was actually doing the right thing by choosing to be the homemaker.

And because this perceived role of men is so widely subscribed – by both men and women alike – society struggling to deal with what modern parenting experts are struggling to push – we’re short of active fathers.

And Here’s the Silver Lining

The truth is, the men are changing (more like adapting) too, and it started a good 2 decades ago. We’ve witnessed in the 90’s a trend of SNAGs (sensitive new age guys) and metrosexuals, and guess what? those very same SNAGs and metrosexuals have grown up to become fathers (at least, the ones that still like women).

Here’s more good news; society seems to be changing with us. Case-in-point: I frequently find myself taking public buses and trains with just my 3-year-old in tow, and though there are times when commuters don’t know what to make of me, I would say 80% of the time someone would stand up and gesture to me to take his or her seat without a second thought. And no, I do not look like a woman, despite what my widely publicised wedding photos show.

It was really quite surprising for me in the beginning, and given that I’m a father (read: male), I still don’t take such offers for granted. Being conscious of what society still deems men as in many aspects of living and lifestyle, I wouldn’t take anything for granted at this point.

That’s why Blogfathers! is looking for a way to connect to fathers in general, be they active or otherwise, firstly to understand what makes the Singapore dad tick, then where the challenges in fatherhood lie, and finally to find solutions for dads who want to play a more active role in their children and families. From what I’ve seen and heard, that last bit with the solutions is the hardest to decipher, and it might take more than an idea and a website to get the point across.

But I’m going to try.

[Image via Listen To My Whine]

Your Web 2.0 Life

Dear Xander,

At 3 years of age, you have yet to understand the extent of the online presence you may have.

3 days after you were born, I saw fit to provide you with the Holy Trinity of the Web 2.0 world of my time; I decided to register a Google account under your name, create a Facebook profile and even a Twitter account for you.

When you turned 3, I decided to register a domain name for your birthday present, and xander.sg was booked in your honour (as is xndr.sg, in case you wanted to be lazy). That is also essentially how Dear Xander came to be.

Recently, I went one step further to do up a Facebook page for Dear Xander, so as to properly differentiate the network of readers with your own social network of people you’ve met and know.

But why would I do all this?

Some people may wonder if this is merely an act of parental vanity, or a father’s means of commoditizing your life. But I did all this for a few very practical reasons.

While the Google account was primarily set up to reserve a proper e-mail account for your mother and I to receive information directly related to you, just about everything else was created to ensure .

Your Facebook profile was created so you may have a reference point for listing and looking up the people you’ve met and got to know pretty much your entire life.

Your Twitter account, though rarely used, may provide you with a more efficient way to keep you updated with – as well as for you to update – the world.

Your domain name was in large part to provide you with a more traditional (Web 1.0) online identity for you to use as you wished when you grow up; create an online portfolio if you decide on pursuing a creative career, provide information on yourself or what you do on the public domain if you so wish, or just put up anything you want for personal interest. As far as the world wide web is concerned, the possibilities are quite endless.

This blog was set up to make sure both you and I remember how we grew up together as father and son. It was meant for you to remember how much I love you, and for me to remember how proud and happy you made me.

And the Facebook page tied to this blog is for you to hopefully see one day that you are not alone, that you have not only the love of your parents, but the love of a whole community of people spread all around you – some whom you know, and some whom you don’t – all brought together by reading about you and the things you learned, did and achieved.

As well-intentioned as all this may be, however, I do realise that as with all things, the permanence of these online entities is not assured by any means. Twitter may go offline, Facebook may fail as an outdated business model and Google might shut down, and then this letter may not even make sense 10, or even 5 years down the road.

But if the status quo may be sustained for the duration of your entry into adolescence or adulthood, I am going to try and keep all this online stuff of yours alive and running until you find out about it (which I have no doubt you will very quickly, looking at the amount of attention your name has been drawing online).

I’ve hopefully set you up well for you to begin living your life. Soon, I will need your help to set me up for the end of mine; I’m planning out my will to be placed in one of these letters to you.

Love,

Dad

Happy Mothers Day

Dear Xander,

I have been told on a number of occasions by a number of people (I count 3 so far; your eldest aunt – my eldest sister – and both your grandparents) what an unfilial son I have become, particularly after I settled down, had my own family and am struggling to keep things afloat financially whilst trying to ensure the happiness of those that matter to me. I know the sacrifices parents make first hand because I see and make very much the same sacrifices with our own son.

This isn’t a day to mark up your filial piety a few notches to show your appreciation to your mother; you should be doing that every day (Brian Richmond said that). It isn’t a day to judge your siblings for what they are doing with your mum, whether it’s not enough or too much (I said that). It most definitely shouldn’t be a day for retailers and restaurateurs to jack up their prices in the name of a special day (students around the island who try to celebrate Valentine’s Day say that).

It’s a day to remember the person that gave you the rest of her life so you could live yours. Making this one day extra special isn’t going to relieve the work she has done, and continues to do, or make up for the sacrifices and suffering she’s had to go through. You just need to make sure that your mother already feels extra special because of her children – you – and the love you have for her that you’ve been giving from the moment you’re born to the day that you die.

If filial piety is judged upon what I’ve done for my mother, then I’ve been a terrible son and all these words mean absolutely nothing. But my love for your grandmother has never died; life just got in the way, and words are pretty much all I have right now.

We may describe you as many things for now and for the future, but we will never accuse you of being unfilial; your mum and I already know how much you love us, and for as long as we live your mother and I will remember that your gift to us has always been love and happiness, nothing more, nothing less.

Now go give your mother a big kiss and a hug.

Love,

Dad

Review: Dads for Life Conference 2012

“I would rather stay with my family and be a dad than go to a conference to hear about other fathers.”

That was one of a few responses I got when I was trying to garner support to purchase the Dads for Life Conference 2012 tickets at a group discount. And I need to qualify: I only got a few responses.

I did in fact agree to a certain extent; as a father contented and happy with how my family is doing, why would I need to learn how to be something I already felt I was good at – and for that matter, in a conference? Furthermore, fatherhood is such a personal experience; what would other dads have to offer that might apply to me?

If it wasn’t for the need to find something to talk about in Blogfathers!, I would most probably have avoided the event for fear that it might turn into a very large self-help group meeting complete with confessions, crying and excessive group-hugging.

But go I did, and I found about 800 men (plus a handful of wives) apparently not sharing the sane trepidations i had about the event. Regardless, I found myself leaving with much more than I bargained for.

Wilfrid C. Hoecke: Why Men and Women Don’t Understand Each Other

Just the first keynote alone sought to address the one biggest mystery of the universe for men – women.

While Mr Hoecke did not delve into how fathers can gain a better understanding of the mothers of their children, he did succinctly and knowledgeably explain why we don’t understand our wives, drawing particular attention to maternal vs. paternal parenting processes.

For example, mothers will continually communicate guardedness and safety while watching over their child during playtime words like “Be careful”, “Don’t do that”, and “You’ll get hurt” are very common phrases you’ll hear from mothers. Fathers naturally do the exact opposite; while playing with their child/children, they seek to push limits and achieve greater heights in play, using encouragement such as “Climb higher”, “Don’t be scared” and “You can do it!”

It’s a stark contrast in parenting style between genders – while mums protect their children from the dangers of the world, dads will prepare them for the real world, and we are naturally wired to do so because despite the conflicting sensibilities, both approaches are essential for the children’s rounded growth and development. It’s why parenting is always deemed a team effort, and not as adequate if done solo (and also a main source of family squabbles if not understood properly).

Dr John Ng – The Mediation Expert Who Needed To See a Psychiatrist

The second keynote, led by mediation expert and leadership guru Dr John Ng, spoke of understanding and dealing with parent-teen (and parent-to-parent) conflict. The premise set forth by Dr Ng was that conflict itself is a neutral entity, and it is the management of conflict that commonly determines the negativity of the experience. By understanding that conflicts reside on neutral ground, (coupled with research showing that 68% of conflicts arising from the home are unresolvable), you may be able to avoid the fighting, cold wars and general discontent that arises from disagreements at home.

The highlight of this second keynote came from Dr Ng’s 18-year-old daughter, who gamely came on stage for about 5 minutes to give her perspective on family conflicts seen through the eyes of a teenager. Her message to her father – and the audience – was frank and very clear: listen to your kid, and respect your kid’s expressed opinion, or face the consequence of being shut out by your child in return. As far as I was concerned, the well-spoken young lady stole the show from her dad, and I am sure her father is very proud of that.

This would be the 3rd year the Dads for Life Conference has been held. The event looks to be growing from strength to strength, with a foundation of credible fathers-turned-experts and experts-turned-fathers feeding the cause with well-researched information, and strong support from men (and women, too) who care enough to want to see their parenting abilities improve despite their masculine selves. More importantly, Dads for Life understands and drives the point that being a good father is more than being a dad; it involves being a good husband, a good listener, a good caregiver and a good student.

That being said, the event does show a little room for improvements and possible enhancements, but then again, who am I to talk? Before this event, I was a good dad. Now I know I can be better.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I have been told on a number of occasions by a number of people (I count 3 so far; my eldest sister, my dad, and my, er, mum) what an unfilial son I have become, particularly after I settled down, had my own family and am struggling to keep things afloat financially whilst trying to ensure the happiness of those that matter to me. I know the sacrifices parents make first hand because I see and make very much the same sacrifices with our own son.

motherofblogfather

This isn’t a day to mark up your filial piety a few notches to show your appreciation to your mother; you should be doing that every day (Brian Richmond said that). It isn’t a day to judge your siblings for what they are doing with your mum, whether it’s not enough or too much (I said that). It most definitely shouldn’t be a day for retailers and restaurateurs to jack up their prices in the name of a special day (students around the island who try to celebrate Valentine’s Day say that)

It’s a day to remember the person that gave you the rest of her life so you could live yours. Making this one day extra special isn’t going to relieve the work she has done, and continues to do, or make up for the sacrifices and suffering she’s had to go through. You just need to make sure that your mother already feels extra special because of her children – you – and the love you have for her that you’ve been giving from the moment you’re born to the day that you die.

If filial piety is judged upon what I’ve done for my mother, then I’ve been a terrible son and all these words mean absolutely nothing. But my love for my mum has never died; life just got in the way, and words are pretty much all I have right now, so if these words hold any meaning for you, or has touched you in any way, do something about it.

Y U No Share?

Getting your toddler to play well with others is always a challenge; most, if not all of the time, it’s because the kid hasn’t learnt the concept of sharing.

Young Parents has published an article explaining that this is a normal developmental process in children, and where the difficulty lies:

When you think about it, sharing doesn?t actually make logical sense anyway. It involves your child giving away something he likes, without any promise of anything in return ? and maybe not even the item he shared in the first place!

The right approach to this starts from home; the article teaches parents how to inculcate sharing in your child by creating opportunities between your child and yourself, then explaining the intangible benefits and also ultimately setting an example for your child, since this is the age where your child will be following your actions and behaviour as part of his or her character development.

Of course, the ultimate test would be to put your kid amongst other children for playtime, where you can observe and even catch opportunities to encourage or correct (gently, mind you) your child’s sharing of toys with his or her peers.

Go on, think about it and give it a shot. You can always share your experience here in the comments too. [<a href="Young Parents]

Have a Little Faith

Amidst the current affairs commentary and general horsing around, Mr Brown doesn’t delve into his family life very often, particularly when it comes to his autistic 11-year-old girl Faith. But when he does,… well, click here to see for yourself.

Her Special School teachers shared something startling with us when they did their home visit. One Friday, in March, Faith kept shoving the card for the number 16 to her teachers. They couldn’t figure out why at first. But she kept giving them the number 16.

Then the teachers got it and asked, “Today is your birthday, ah? Happy birthday, Faith!”

It might not seem much, but for the parent of an autistic, it makes a world of difference.

Don’t Push: Avoiding the Rush in Developing Your Child

This is the 3rd in a 6-part series of articles based on the public lecture conducted at the National Library on 16 April 2012 by Professor Steven Pfeiffer entitled “Raising a Successful Child”; the content herein is reproduced with permission from Professor Pfeiffer and the National Library Board.

As parents, we naturally only want the best for our children, to love them, encourage them, do everything we can do to ultimately see them do well and become successful individuals. But as we uphold these values and expectations of good grades, doing things correctly and success in general, we need to be careful that we don’t unduly rush or push our children too hard.

If your child is pushed too hard to work on or excel, your child will perceive such a push as a shove, and because of that, the child loses the intrinsic motivation to do well. Your child will feel like he or she is working for you instead of himself or herself, or working to avoid disappointing you, or to avoid failure. If you put too much pressure on your child to get good grades, or put too much emphasis on not making mistakes, what starts out for your child as a desire for mastery or accomplishment – that internal, intrinsic desire to do well – will quickly diminish, to be replaced by a forced sense of working to satisfy the demands of parents and others (i.e., teachers) who push them too hard.

Related to this act of pushing is encouraging or rushing your child to grow up too quickly; wanting a child to advance beyond their age has grown to a global pandemic, not just in Singapore, where parents, as well-intentioned, loving and caring for their children as they may be, not only push their children too hard to achieve, but also rush their child to accomplish academic and/or non-academic pursuits at levels higher than what they are developmentally capable of.

The dual lesson here is to encourage and provide opportunities for your child to learn at a level suitable for their age and developmental stage, be excited about their mastery at work, but not push too hard, and not to rush them; don’t unduly focus on them doing everything perfectly and accurately, or you may find the child’s internal, intrinsic motivation erode, They may lose their passion for learning, and what you may end up with is a youngster who will not be successful in adolescence or young adulthood.

Steven Pfeiffer, PhD, ABPP, is a Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the Florida State University, and is also currently visiting scholar at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Prof. Pfeiffer is also author of Handbook of Giftedness in Children, Springer (New York), 2008, and his upcoming book, Serving the Gifted… (Routledge, New York, 2012), will be available this coming August.