Malaysian single dad of a pre-teen daughter shares his fatherhood journey


Derek listening to Isabel playing a shared favourite tune on the piano in their home.

It’s never easy being a parent, what more a single parent. But Derek Kulasingham is thankful for the support of family and friends which has made all the difference in his journey as a single father to his pre-teen daughter, Isabel Ann, since his wife Lim E-Luan passed away four years ago.

Lim passed away from ovarian cancer in 2020, during the pandemic.

Derek (back row, in black) and Isabel (front row, in dark pink) with Derek’s late wife’s extended family during Chinese New Year celebrations in Ipoh a few years ago. Also in the photo is his sister-in-law E-Ling (front row, in light pink) and Ding (on Derek’s right). Photo: Lim E-LingDerek (back row, in black) and Isabel (front row, in dark pink) with Derek’s late wife’s extended family during Chinese New Year celebrations in Ipoh a few years ago. Also in the photo is his sister-in-law E-Ling (front row, in light pink) and Ding (on Derek’s right). Photo: Lim E-Ling“My family is close-knit and the support is very strong, especially with my siblings-in-law,” says the 54-year-old performance coach and consultant who was born and raised in Seremban, Negri Sembilan.

“Luan’s elder sister, E-Min, also passed away from ovarian cancer, so my brother-in-law, Ding Daw Swee, is also in the same boat as me, and raising a teen daughter. But, while my daughter is 11, his daughter is 16. It’s like we’re walking this journey together.

“And, Luan’s younger sister, E-Ling, who has two daughters aged 18 and 16, has taken over the role as a ‘reference point mother’ to both our daughters. My daughter and her cousins are close, even though Isabel is slightly younger and there is an age gap. But I believe that this gap will be bridged once she enters her teenage years,” he says.

Derek and his siblings-in-law all live in Kuala Lumpur, and he says that being close to one another helps a great deal.

“All of us meet twice a week. We stay in touch and are here for each other,” he adds.

Dealing with loss

Derek opens up about his wife’s journey with cancer, which he shares began more than a decade ago, even before their daughter was born.

“Luan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011. She was in remission for five years and had a relapse in 2016. Isabel came into our lives in 2013 when Luan was in remission. And when Luan had the relapse, Isabel was about four years old,” recounts Derek.

“So even as a child, Isabel grew accustomed to the fact that her mum would go to the hospital for treatment and come home after that. It became a normal routine for her. But Luan got weaker and, on the first day of MCO (March 18, 2020), she fainted and had to be rushed to the hospital. Eight days later, she passed away,” he says.

Derek with his late wife E-Luan and their daughter Isabel (at around four years of age) at home. Photo: Derek KulasinghamDerek with his late wife E-Luan and their daughter Isabel (at around four years of age) at home. Photo: Derek KulasinghamDerek shares that it was a difficult time, more so because of the lockdown.

“It was a huge rush (when she was admitted) because I had to get food and supplies since we didn’t know what to expect. And even though Isabel knew her mum was in hospital, she couldn’t visit because of the ICU and MCO restrictions.

“Isabel could only visit her mum when she was semi-conscious (and out of ICU) twice, before she passed on,” he mentions.

Derek says that at seven years, even though she understood that her mum had passed away, Isabel couldn’t verbalise what she was feeling, and it took time before reality sunk in.

“She didn’t cry until the cremation ceremony when the coffin went into the furnace,” he shares.

It was only several weeks later that they could have a father-daughter conversation about her mother’s death, as the young girl needed time to come to terms with it.

“Some weeks later, when her pet goldfish died, she cried and cried. And we broached the subject of death,” he says. “Her pet hamster also died this month, and it’s her third hamster that has died. She is gradually getting used to the concept of death.

“But as she gets older and can articulate her emotions better, some of the things we’ll need to address are trauma and grief,” says Derek, adding that he has dealt with a lot of such conversations in his line of work.

He believes that his work as a performance coach has also helped him in his journey as a single father.

“Training people in soft skills such as attitude and mindset, habit formation, mindfulness and such has also helped me. I’ve gained support for myself from the Reiki practitioners and counsellors whom I deal with, and also for conversations with my daughter,” he says.

Because of my work, I know what to expect and am not thrown into the deep end with no support structure or knowledge of how to address these types of situations,” he adds, gratefully.

Derek himself is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, and making a complete recovery from it.

It takes a village

Derek (in checkered shirt) and daughter Isabel (in blue) spend a lot of time with their extended family. Photo: Lim E-LingDerek (in checkered shirt) and daughter Isabel (in blue) spend a lot of time with their extended family. Photo: Lim E-Ling

As a single parent, there are four areas he feels he needs to address: finances, time, health, and relationships.

“Most parents already need to pay attention to this, but it is even more critical for a single parent,” he says.

“One of the challenges as a single dad is keeping clear and open communication with your child since, traditionally, children tend to be closer to their mother who is at home more than their father.

“But, in this era where more male parents are taking on the caregiver’s role, it has become easier,” he adds.

On the home front, he says their “very good domestic helper” from the Philippines helps a lot.

“She has been with us since Isabel was four. I’ve also got neighbours who have children in the same class as Isabel. So we take turns fetching the children to school and back,” says Derek.

The role of support groups is also important, he says.

“We have a parents’ group. Some are single mums and dads, so we often help one another along in this journey. At times, it maybe difficult for a young person to talk to their parents about certain issues, so they may talk to other ‘safe adults’ with the same values in the same safe community.”

“Isabel also goes for piano classes and is in a music group where she associates with other kids her age.”

Parenting style

Derek with his late wife E-Luan, and their daughter Isabel (at around four years old) at the zoo. Photo: Derek KulasinghamDerek with his late wife E-Luan, and their daughter Isabel (at around four years old) at the zoo. Photo: Derek Kulasingham

Derek says it’s important for parents – whether single or coupled – to prepare and equip their children for the future. This is also his aim.

“I want to make sure that I’m preparing Isabel for the future, and helping her to discover her strengths and interests, as well as develop herself rather than just growing into a version of her mum or me,” he says.

Derek adds that there are special father-daughter moments each day.

“As Isabel gets older, we find that we’ve more things in common. Since Luan passed, we’ve travelled together, and have been to Sydney, Australia, where most of my extended family is. Isabel enjoys it because she has many cousins her age there.

“And, last year, we went to Kota Kinabalu with her cousins. We’re trying to travel a bit more now that the pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

“We’ve been experiencing life and trying to identify the things that she’s interested in. She likes computers, gaming, interior design (artwork).”

Derek says that he places emphasis on five areas in their life: vibrant health, abundant wealth (“being able to take time and money out of the daily decision-making process”), loving relationships and conscious parenting, creating awesome memories, and leaving a positive legacy.

“I believe we should add value in all that we do, as we progress in life,” he says. “And I hope that this will make a positive impact on my daughter.”

According to Derek, one of the biggest challenges as a single parent is to resist the urge to “be the parent who has passed on” to his child but to focus on his own parenting style.

“It was always Luan’s plan to be a stay-at-home parent/mum,” he shares. “It can be difficult not to judge myself or hold myself to what my late wife and I had planned for our daughter.

“To bring Isabel up based on how Luan would have wanted it wouldn’t be fair to Isabel or myself because it would mean holding myself accountable to standards that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill as a single dad. I wouldn’t be able to be a stay-at-home parent, for example,” he explains.

When conflict happens

It’s important to give her the space to be independent, but not too much to the extent that she may feel neglected or vulnerable, says single father Derek of his daughter Isabel.It’s important to give her the space to be independent, but not too much to the extent that she may feel neglected or vulnerable, says single father Derek of his daughter Isabel.Conflict doesn’t have to be a bad thing, says Derek.

“Conflict can generate conversation between parents and children. An example is when my daughter wants to buy new clothing, but she already has a lot in her closet. We discussed that she could check if she has any clothes that she doesn’t want, which she can give away to charity first.”

“Also, children need their parents’ attention, and even more when there’s only one parent. When they don’t get it, this often plays up in other areas of their behaviour – or misbehaviour – to get their parents’ attention,” he says.

Derek believes that his daughter – having gone through all that she has – is very mature for her age.

“She’s a prefect in school, and she looks after her peers. She’s able to connect with and care for people. But at home, she’s still my child, and needs to be cared for and given attention.

“So, it’s important to give her the space to be independent, but not too much to the extent that she may feel neglected or vulnerable,” he says.

Some single dads, he says, might have the tendency to “overcompensate” for their child not having a mother, and be “overprotective”.

"But it’s necessary to prepare our children for the future – to have more confidence, know their boundaries and what’s right or wrong, so that they can prioritise their own safety, health and well-being.

“And this is especially relevant when they reach their dating years,” he concludes.


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