Ten Years of Us: A Love Letter

Dear Mother of Xander,

10 years ago today, two individuals signed a contract that would bind two sole proprietorships into a partnership that both parties vowed would last the lifetime of either party, whichever sooner (although that last clause was verbally agreed upon).

You would always say that this was a “no refund, no return, no exchange” transaction. That remains the strongest verbal commitment to our union that you have ever given me, and I have never taken your words for granted.

Things moved rather quickly thereafter. We managed to procure a nice place to set ourselves up in (we got a HDB flat), hosted a few networking sessions to establish ourselves in the market (house parties), and a year later, we even organised a company Dinner & Dance (traditional wedding dinner). One of our angel investors (my mum) said it was quite fashionable to be some months into one’s pregnancy whilst hosting one’s wedding dinner. To date, I remain unsure if she was stating an observation or trying to reassure herself.

Five months after the dinner, I managed to pass my driving test… just in time to fulfill a promise I made to be the one to drive you to the hospital when you went into labour. You looked nervous in the car; I didn’t blame you. It was our first baby, and my second time behind the wheel after I got my licence.

Our firstborn’s first year threatened to be our marriage’s last, as we struggled to juggle parenthood—ours and our parents’—our work, and ourselves. We fought a lot, sometimes quietly because Xan was sleeping, sometimes failing to be quiet because we’re just not that kind of a couple.

Then came a point when we realised the books we read, the shows we watched, the advice we were given, the things we bought from Mothercare, won’t be nearly as adequate in teaching us to parent as what we would learn from just doing it to our kid, for our kid, with our kid. Things started getting better. We started getting better.

2¾ years ago, we kind of sealed our fate as a couple of parents that will hardly ever have any time alone to ourselves for at least the next 16-21 years. My biggest relief with our second child is that she came with a rather useful foundational instruction manual: our experience with our first child has provided us with the wisdom and patience to not scream at each other… as often.

Today, our boy is going through the rigours of the Singapore education system, and we’re learning to adapt with him. Meanwhile, our daughter is going through her terrible twos, and we’re learning to take photos of her quickly and deftly enough that the pictures don’t look too blurry. We may never be alone from these two whippersnappers in the foreseeable future, but we’re together, and that’s everything to me.

I’ve never thought of myself as a good dad. Everything I do as a father—right down to writing about parenting here in this blog—I feel is simply my responsibility as a father to do. But since you and I got together all those years ago (13 years ago, as it were), I’ve always wanted to be a good husband for you, to be a good person for you, because whether we were going to have kids or not, I’ve always just wanted to be with you, and I wanted you to want to be with me.

I still do.

Love, Winston

On Busted Knee

I busted my knee last week while skateboarding to work.

I can imagine this statement to be pretty normal coming out of a 20+ year old hipster living in a Western urban setting. But this is Singapore, I’m a 36-year-old diabetic with a blood pressure problem, and a father of two. I have received opinion from various corners of society that either this is a ridiculous idea, or I’m just having another one of my mid-life crisis moments. Particularly with my recent injury, I’ve been met with a very helpful “You see lah! You see lah!” both at work and at home.

But, as I explained to the Mother of Xander a couple of nights ago when she asked me if I was going on the skateboard again after what happened, I have to skate. And this is why.

A day after I bought my board, Xander asked if he could try it. Now, here was a 5-year-old that looks at roller coasters as massive contraptions of impending doom, and would turn off the TV without hesitation the moment the screen flashed that “due to the portrayal of violence, parental guidance is advised for the following programme“, asking if he could try riding on a wooden board on 4 tiny wheels with no handles for balance or control. So I let him try it out.

He went on for hours, over 2 evenings. I thought I was never getting my board back. It was the first time I saw my son keep at something for more than 15 minutes, and loving every single moment of it, even the falls and spills.

Well, most of the falls and spills.

On the second evening, about 30 minutes into his skateboarding session at a park near our home, he took a fall on the asphalt track and scraped his knee. As expected, he cried in pain and wailed to go home. After I washed his knee and put on a plaster kindly offered to us by a passer-by, I decided to give him a little pep talk while he nursed his bleeding knee and bruised ego.

“You still want to go home?”

(Nod. Sniff.)

“Do you like skateboarding?”

(Nod. No sniffing.)

“And because you fell down and scraped your knee, you’re going to give up and stop? When yesterday you remember you were falling all over the place and laughing and having so much fun?”

(No nodding. No sniffing.)

I pass him his water bottle. “Have a drink. Take a few minutes to rest. Then you decide what you want to do.”

A few minutes and ¾s of a bottle of water later, he turns to me and says, “I want to skate some more.” Sniff, and wipe.

And he was at it again, for another 2½ hours. He slept like a log that night.

***

The very next morning, after dropping Xander off at school, I busted my knee while skateboarding to work. 5 days of straggling around the house like a limping fool, sorry for not being able to go to work as a result, but not sorry for deciding to relive a part of my youth I haven’t thought to do again for 22 years.

I told the Wife, after all that talk about not giving up after a scrape on the knee (I pulled a couple of ligaments actually), I could not possibly justify not going back on the skateboard after I’ve recovered.

Besides, this is Singapore, I’m a 36-year-old diabetic with a blood pressure problem, and a father of two.

I should be skating.

Getting Older

Dear Xander,

You’ve always been a lot closer to your mother than to me. It is a perfectly reasonable bias, admittedly; she is much more better-looking than I am, for one. And she does treat you better than I do on most occasions.

I do envy your mother sometimes for the attention she receives from you. Perhaps it is because we spend so much time together, that I can’t help but use her as the superior parenting benchmark and wonder where I went wrong.

One evening when I was giving you a shower, you taught me where I went wrong.

I was just recovering from a gruelling bike training session the night before, and my body was still aching from the exercise. So when it came time to soap you, I let out a groan as I knelt down to your height and started lathering you up.

“Daddy, why you pain?”, you asked as I grimaced at the feeling of my aching thighs.

“Sigh. My body is not as nubile as it used to be. So after I exercise, I will feel pain when I kneel down. Daddy’s getting old already,” I said with a smile.

You froze, your eyes fixed on my face with a look of concern (despite not knowing what the word “nubile” means), and you maintained that stare despite the water and shampoo trickling down your face.

I returned the stare, albeit in confusion to your reaction. “What?” I asked you.

You contemplated my query for a second, then said in a measured tone, “Daddy… don’t die.”

“Huh?! Why do you think I’m going to die?” I asked.

“Because you say you old already. I don’t want you to die,” you replied. The concerned look never left your face the entire time.

I laughed. “Don’t worry. Daddy’s gonna be around for a long time.”

That one moment we shared – just between you and me – was a profound one. That moment, I learned I was important to you too. And i was competing against no one; you only have the one dad.

And I’m gonna be around for a long time.

Love,

Dad

An Unexpected Note

I received this in my email last week. It’s part of an invitation to a blogger’s food tasting session, but its introduction was just too sweet to ignore, so I wrote back to ask permission to republish the first paragraph of the note as a keepsake with all the other letters for Xander published here.

Dear Xander,

I recently read your dad’s very amusing blog (www.wordsofwinston.sg) and I was very touched by his love for you and respect for your privacy. I’m sure your dad will find a way to balance the pros and cons of being a parent blogger. I just want to say, I enjoy reading about your experiences as a family and I hope somehow I’ll be able to continue reading those great posts filled with wonderful photos.

***

Warmest Regards,
Carrie Sim

Read the follow-up post at The Blogfather.

Mornings

Dear Xander,

wpid-wp-1397091325119.jpeg

This has been part of our morning routine of late: a 2-stop bus ride from the MRT station to your school.

You might not realise it because I always look like I’m distracted by other things when we travel in the mornings, but I do look at you almost all the time, quietly walking with me, trying to keep up behind me, sitting with me on the train or the bus, and sometimes, resting your still-tired self on me.

You make me feel like a dad.

And then there are these moments, when you try to learn about the world around you, taking in the surroundings as they fly by with your eyes as big as you can muster.

You might not notice it, but your innocence infects me, and makes me wonder why I can’t be as accepting of the world as you are right now.

You make me feel like I should be better than who I am now.

When we finally reach your school, before we say goodbye, you’d wipe your mouth thoroughly with your sleeve before puckering up your lips to give me my goodbye kiss. I wrap my arms around you and give you the biggest, tightest hug I can muster. And then we say goodbye for the morning.

You might not know it, but every morning, I give you that hug because  when we part ways every morning, it feels like a piece of me is being ripped out of me, and I don’t want to let it go.

I feel like my day has already ended before it has begun.

These mornings are getting fewer, because you’re growing up. You might not realise it, but I cherish every single one of these mornings with you. Every. Single. One.

Because you make me feel like you’ve given me a purpose to live.

Love,

Dad

Dear Dad – a Daddy Matters Father’s Day Special

For Father’s Day, the Daddy Matters Group posted a writing challenge for us to imagine what our kids might really say to us if they were to write a letter to their father. I thought it more fitting to have the letter written here instead of The Blogfather, though I will admit it does veer away somewhat from my usual letters to Xander. Anyway, this is what I imagine Xander might say.

Dear Daddy,

RE: FATHERHOOD PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL

I have noted the services you have rendered to me as a father for the last 4 years or so, and have thought it prudent to conduct a performance appraisal in the hopes that we are able to continue improving your service standards to the Family.

I must commend you on the contributions you have made to the Family thus far, and do also rest assured that your dedication to your roles and responsibilities as a father have been acknowledged by your peers. However, I do feel there are areas of improvement, particularly when I make comparisons to your colleague, Mummy. I will list the areas hereto, and hope you will do well to take note of your shortcomings for the good of the Family, and for your own good.

1. Inconsistencies in milk formula temperature

Mummy and I have noted that the temperature of the milk formula you make for me during bedtime tends to be on the cold side, particularly when the thermos has not been refreshed with hot water for a few days. Please try to have the thermos water changed with freshly boiled water at least once every 48 hours. I will also duly remind Mummy of this point when I am able to catch her in a good mood.

2. Speaking volume

I also note that you have a tendency to speak in a loud booming voice, even though you are not actually scolding me; I understand this to be a trait common to the members of your side of the Extended Family. However, please bear in mind that I am already very uncomfortable with just the sound of a Coke can being opened, much less a loud male voice such as yours.

Mummy has mentioned an interesting online Work Service Quality (WSQ) programme you might like to consider signing up for called the Orange Rhino. If you are interested, I will have Mummy arrange for course registration.

3. Driving

On numerous occasions whilst seated in the backseat of the Family car, I have raised concerns about the speed in which you tend to go while you are driving. Please be mindful of Section 63, Subsection 1 of the Road Traffic Act (Cap 276), which duly states:

63.—(1)  Except as otherwise provided by this Act, it shall not be lawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle of any class or description on a road at a speed greater than any speed which may be prescribed as the maximum speed in relation to a vehicle of that class or description.

I shall similarly raise the issue of Mummy’s use of profanities while she is driving with her – at a more suitable time.

4. Going home too early

Please note that your official working hours as a Father are between 8am to whenever it is I decide to fall asleep. During this time, there will be a period where we will be outside of the Family premises for dinner and perhaps a walk in a shopping mall. Let it be known that I do not appreciate being told that we need to go home at any time during this period.

5. Bathtime

You will note that the usual practice of bathtime in the Family premises should be as follows:

  1. You shower first.
  2. Then you shower me.

With that in mind, please be advised that you shower very fast, and your insisting that I follow up immediately after you severely cuts short the time available for me to watch my evening CBeebies programme. Do consider soaping a little longer, perhaps for 2 hours instead of 2 minutes. I would really appreciate your cooperation in this.

6. Leaving the bedroom while I am sleeping

Don’t. I don’t like to sleep alone.

***

I would like to mention that your management of weekends with the Family is quite commendable, and I also find your administration of the back-end operations to be satisfactory. I do hope you will continue to serve me and the Family well, and hope you will make a conscious effort to improve your work in the days to come.

Sincerely,

Xander

TimSam

Dear Xander,

TimSam

This is TimSam. TimSam is a grasshopper, and probably the largest one your mother and I have seen live (about 4-5 inches long; we didn’t think to get a ruler to measure him at the time).

TimSam landed on your godma’s car one afternoon, and someone thought it would be a good idea to catch the big guy, put it in a plastic box, and give it to your mother to bring home to you.

I disagreed. But by then it was already en route to our home. So TimSam became your pet… for a good 24 hours.

It wasn’t a smooth introduction, though. For the first 3 minutes upon meeting the gigantic grasshopper, you freaked out. “But I wanted a cat!” you said.

Then another 20 minutes later, you decided maybe we should keep it.

I still disagreed. But in the spirit of good fathering, I said, “Well, if you want to keep it as your pet, you should name it.

“How about Tim?” you asked.

“Sure,” I said. And then when your mother came out of the shower, I instructed you to let her know the name of your new pet.

“What’s its name?” your mother asked.

“Sam,” you said.

“But you said it was Tim!” I protested.

“Oh. Then TimSam lor,” you replied. Then you went to bed.

The next evening, your mother and I talked about letting TimSam go free. It was a huge bugger, and we imagine it must be getting on in grasshopper years. Being used to living in the wild so long, it just seemed wrong to keep it caged up, much less name it after a mis-spelling of steamed Cantonese cuisine. So when we got home, I said to you, “Xander, TimSam wants to go home.”

“Home? He’s at home what,” you said.

I explained, “TimSam’s home is outside in the grass; we don’t have any grass at home. If we keep TimSam here, he won’t survive. Besides, you too scared of him to hold him anyway, right?”

“But I love TimSam leh…” you protested.

“This is what we can do; we can bring TimSam downstairs into the garden, and he can live there. TimSam will be living just downstairs our block. How’s that?”

You gave it some thought, then said with slight disappointment, “Okaaay.”

TimSam2

And so we brought him downstairs. The entire time I was struggling with removing the masking tape that sealed TimSam’s box, you were clutching tightly to the back of my t-shirt, peering over my shoulder as if TimSam would jump out at any time and attack your face.

And TimSam was eager to come out. Upon realising we were opening the box, he banged against the walls of the box so hard it felt like there was a much bigger animal in there. But when the lid was finally opened, I saw TimSam slowly climb out on the edge of the box, then turn to look at me for a good five seconds, before turning around to fly into the adjacent bushes. TimSam was safe, and free.

As we walked away, you repeated, “But I still love TimSam leh.”

“Well, you can always come downstairs and visit him,” I said. I am quite optimistic that way. “Say goodbye to TimSam.”

You half turned and waved half-heartedly into the bushes. “Bye bye, TimSam.”

Just before we reached the lift landing, you said, “But I wanted a cat leh.”

Perplexed,

Dad

Being Good

Dear Xander,

I was speaking to a few dads in a sitdown meeting when the topic of our children’s future came up.

It was a complicated and heavy discussion, delving into such sub-topics such as our local government policies, its emphasis on meritocracy, and ultimately the need for our children to work on their academic lives even harder than any child has ever done in the history of our country, just so we can compete on level ground in what is currently a country growing a majority of foreigners who are equally, if not more, driven, talented and less materialistic.

As the “impassioned” discussion wore on, I studied each father sitting with me carefully – their postures, expressions and the stances they had taken – and decided to share my stance.

“The moment my son was born, I decided my life was no longer mine to live. The future belongs to my son now, and everything I have done over the last 4 years – in my family, my career, and myself – has been with my wife and son in mind.

“That being said, how my son will do in school is of little significance to me. And I don’t care if he grows up to be a lawyer, or a construction worker. There is only one thing I want to see my son become – a good person.

“Whatever he does in life, regardless of his successes or failures, I only really want him to learn one thing – my son must answer to himself. He must learn to be good, to do good, to learn the bad, and to understand why. The day he is able to live a good life – in every sense of the word “good” – I will know I have done my duty.”

But there is a catch to this, which I did not share with the fathers I was with at the time. In order to succeed in bringing a child up this way, I have to do the same.

I must learn to be good, to do good, to learn the bad, and to understand why. I have to be able to live a good life – in every sense of the word “good”.

Otherwise, it simply would not work. You’d catch the hypocrisy in a heartbeat. It would confuse you, hurt you, and ultimately influence you. And even if I wanted to, I would not be able to start again with you.

You would not forgive me.

I write this in the hope that one day, when you come to read this, you will remember the times I told you to “be a good boy”, and you will also truly understand when I tell you to “be a good man”.

Be good,

Dad

Nothing and Everything

This post originally appeared here on 21st October, and was updated slightly and republished for the Trials and Tribulations linky party hosted by Rachel Teo of Catch Forty Winks.

Dear Xander,

It’s been 3 weeks since your dad’s been out of work come out to work on his own. I’ve been telling friends I’m taking a break for the time being, but as much as I try to be positive about this whole state of things, I’m worried that I am not picking myself up fast enough.

Because in reality, you cannot take a break from life. The bills, the loan repayments, the food we eat, these are unfeeling entities that don’t “wait till I do better”. They’re just going to keep coming, and we have to keep dealing with them, regardless of whether I move on or not.

Your mother has been my greatest source of support. Even when we quarrel, she’s managed to show me how strong her love for me is. I told her that losing the job made me realise I was nothing and when I put myself out there again, I’m effectively starting from scratch.

What I said sort of broke her.

“You are nothing?!” she cried. “What, so you’re going to let that (censored; she was referring to my ex-employer) that means almost nothing in your life dictate your worth? Then what about us? What do you think you are as your son’s father? As my husband?”

As angry as those words were, your mother made me smile when she said that. It was your mother’s reassurance to me that despite the road blocks that get in the way, I mean everything to the two most important people in my life, and don’t I bloody forget that.

I am everything to you both.

Up until the very last day of my last job, I was fighting so hard those two months to keep my full-time job so we would remain safe and secure. On my last day, however, I realised the company I was working for could not by any means secure my position as a father (then again, no job ever can), nor could I deliver what was expected of me as an employee given I valued my family much, much more than my job.

You and your mother mean everything to me.

For two months, I lived a dream. And for two months, I found myself fighting the dream. When it was over, the dream died. Part of me died with it, because despite the fight, it was still my dream.

But the part that survived came out of it stronger. That part of me knows I have to somehow make all of this work. That part of me has kept me going these last three weeks, and I am sure it’s the same part of me ever since your mother and I got together.

I have to get it together. Everything is at stake.

Three weeks is a long time to stay angry, so I’m done. I know now I am not starting from scratch, because I have you and your mother by my side. I have absolutely no reason to be angry. But I have every reason to keep going hard, and you guys are my every reason.

Whoever says you can’t survive on love alone, doesn’t understand what love means, because in the face of everything that’s happened, and for anything that is going to happen, my love for you and your mother was the part of me that survived, and the part of me that will ensure I keep on living.

Looooooooove,

Dad

I’ve The journey continues for me, but what about you? If you don’t mind, do share your most trying moment in life in the comments, or if you have a blog, join the Trials and Tribulations linky party too, and/or experience some of the most powerful life stories I’ve ever read by our community of parent bloggers (just click on the button below).