Filmmaker Linus Chung’s most memorable moment in fatherhood was when his wife Leong Shen Nyan showed him her pregnancy test results. And that was how his journey into fatherhood began, eight years ago, recalls the 41-year-old from Kuching, Sarawak.
“We realised that this was the moment where we would go from having to take care of just ourselves to being responsible for another life, ” he says.
Today, Chung is a father of three children aged eight, six and four, whom he says are all uniquely named after someone famous: a scientist, an artiste and a politician.
“We chose to name our first daughter Linne after Swedish botanist, zoologist and taxonomist Carl von Linne because my wife is a wildlife conservationist, and our second daughter Yasmin, in remembrance of film director and actor Yasmin Ahmad. And, our son Theodore is named after US president Theodore Roosevelt, ” says Chung who acted in Sepet, a film directed and written by the late Yasmin.
But Chung adds that he also has an “animal family” comprising Chocolate, a seven-year-old labrador and Monty, a rescued four-metre reticulated python for which he has a license from the wildlife department.
Unique parenting approach
The couple who live in Kuala Lumpur love the outdoors and have been taking their children into the outdoors since they were as young as a month old. Before the pandemic, they’d go into the jungle at least once or twice a week.
“We encourage our kids to go into the jungle and to experience nature and bond with wildlife. We bring our kids out to nature because we want them to explore and experience it, ” he says.
“In the city, surrounded by concrete, activities may be limited and fixed, and things are usually always the same, whereas the jungle is uncertain and ever-changing, Even if a person hikes in the jungle daily, the path is ever-changing because it’s alive – some days, the ground is wet and slippery when it rains, and other days, it’s dry when the weather is hot. It can even become overgrown with bushes and shrubs – so there are many uncertainties and ‘what ifs’. It teaches us many things. This is because when things change, we’ve to learn to adapt and evolve, ” he says.
Chung feels that being in the jungle therefore “forces” the children to learn to adapt to changes and pick up survival skills which are important and necessary in life.
He adds that he has always had a special bond with animals since young, that’s why he kept Monty the python after the person who initially rescued it moved away and could no longer take care of it.
“Most people may tell their kids not to touch the snake for fear of them getting hurt, but we try to encourage our kids to firstly see it as a living thing and to understand it – is it dangerous, why it is where it is, and how to help it. So, it’s important to understand any dangers involved and mitigate them, ” he says.
Chung, who makes corporate and commercial videos, as well as documentary films for a living, has his own YouTube channel on parenting called Great Little Stories, which features his wife and children.
His wife Leong from Kuantan, Pahang, is a wildlife conservationist but is currently focusing on being a full-time mother and homemaker.
The couple homeschools their children, using a mixture of methods including Unschool, which focuses on teaching mainly what a child is interested in.
“We feel that true learning doesn’t happen when it’s forced, and that children should learn in a holistic, natural way. So, instead of following a regular school syllabus – whether local or international – at home, we provide a supportive setting to encourage the child’s natural curiosity about the world around them and learning happens along the way, ” he says.
During the lockdown, they aren’t able to bring their children out to explore the world around them, but Chung says that they have “evolved” their methods to bring the outside world to their children.
“We live in a landed property so the children can spend time in the garden. Also, we do something called ‘travelling at home’ which is basically teaching them to experience the world at home, ” he says.
“This week, my children are ‘in Italy’. We print out air tickets for them and make them write their names on it. Then we arrange the chairs like in an airplane and play videos of an airplane flying. So, they’re ‘going to Italy’ and they even get peanuts like on the plane,” he says.
“In Italy, there is the Coliseum so we arrange the chairs in a circle to resemble the Coliseum. Then we put the toys in the middle like the gladiators fighting in the Coliseum,” he adds.
Chung says that they also prepare the appropriate movies and documentaries for their children to watch on Netflix, such as those that involve the Coliseum, and get them to do art by “designing and building their own gladiator armour”.
“They are also not allowed to sleep in their own rooms because they’re ‘not at home’ but ‘in Italy’. So they sleep at ‘the hotel’ which is the sofa for a few days,” he says.
“During lunch time, we give them Italian food – pizza. So, we recreate or ‘fake’ the experience for them at home, ” he says, adding that the previous week, they went to Mexico.
Commitment and sacrifice
To Chung, the most important qualities that a father should have are commitment and self-sacrifice.
“When a child is born into the world, they’re basically helpless, so we need to be committed to care for and nurture the child until they grow up and can take care of themselves. It involves a sacrifice of our time, energy, and resources – but it’s worth it.
“I’m grateful to my own parents, to my own father who was willing to nurture me and raise me. And now, it’s my turn to nurture the next generation – my own children,” he says.
Chung’s father lives in Sarawak and often visited them in KL before the pandemic.
He is hoping that the pandemic situation improves soon, so that they will be able to see each other again.
To Chung and his family, Fathers Day is like any other “regular” day.
“We try to put in effort to appreciate each other daily, rather than to only focus on specific dates," he explains.
“But Chinese New Year and parents’ birthdays are religiously observed of course," he quickly adds.
Chung reveals that some of his memorable and funniest fatherhood moments are in the simple things such as the conversations that he has with his children, including “where babies come from”.
“I showed my son a baby scan image of him in the womb and told him, ‘This is you before you were born’, and his unexpected reply was, ‘Before I was born, I was a ghost?’ because the image of the scan looks like a ghost, and we all burst out laughing,” he says.
“So, it’s not in the grand gestures but the small things and precious memories, and making every second count that really matters," the unconventional father concludes.