By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
Actor Patrick Teoh tells ParenThots what it is like going through fatherhood the second time around.
Actor and former radio deejay Patrick Teoh has four children. His two elder daughters – Melissa and Melanie – are 36 and 31 respectively. They are from his first marriage. He also has Laura, nine, and Adam, six, from his second marriage.
His two elder daughters have their own families while the two little ones are just starting out in life.
“Actually the second time round, for me anyway, has been really, really much better than the first time around as far as my relationship with my kids at this age is concerned. Because when my two elder girls were between one and 10, that was when I was just starting out in my career and I used to work most of the time and I really didn't spend that much time with them. Then of course the marriage broke up and as a result I didn't see them very often at all,” he says.
It was only when Melissa and Melanie grew up that they reconciled and became close. However, Patrick admits there's a whole chunk of their childhood that was missing from his life.
Adam and Laura, he says, are his second chance.
“This second time around has given me, from a rather selfish point of view, another chance at getting to know my children when they were at that age, although it is a different set of children, but I'm talking more about the experience of fatherhood during that time of your children's life. Being a father when your children are grown up is of course very, very different from when they are five and eight. So I look at it as a second chance that God, or whoever, has given me, saying 'Don't screw up this time!'
“I am a little bit more mellow, more patient because of age. You tend to slow down a bit and mellow a bit,” he says.
Does he spoil his children?
“To a certain extent I do spoil my children but not overly. I suppose actually we both are disciplinarians. There is no good guy, bad guy in our family. We both discipline them. Right now it's keeping Adam away from the Nintendo Wii game that I made the mistake of buying for him. He can play that game all day long,” he says.
According to Patrick, children today are spoilt for choice in many things yet they are totally deprived of so many things as well.
“They're deprived of time with their parents because not all parents are lucky like me and my wife – we don't work normal hours, we have a lot of time to spend with the children. Other parents work and with the Kuala Lumpur traffic situation, by the time they get home their children are asleep. Working the kind of schedules that normal young Malaysian parents work, weekends you're tired, so where do you go? You don't want to go traipsing around in the heat. You go to a shopping mall. What kind of life is that?
“For us we're lucky; we don't have regular hours so weekends we can just take the kids out to the river, or the forest and give them a look at another side of this country that a lot of kids would not be able to experience. They have computers, they have television, they have great toys to play with on one hand, but on the other hand they're very, very deprived especially if they live in a city like KL and PJ. There is absolutely no environment for kids to grow up in.
“We do try to take our kids out, my wife especially is very good. She likes the outdoors, she likes going for a picnic by the river, taking the kids out to the elephant sanctuary and letting them jump in the river with the elephants. She also comes from a family environment that is very close knit. Every year my wife's family has a huge family reunion – 60, 70 people get together from all over the country and from other countries. They continue bonding with the extended family which a lot of modern children don't have, which I'm very glad that Laura and Adam can have a chance of doing.
“At every available opportunity we do take the kids to experience slightly different things. They've been to Bangkok, Phuket, Minnesota in the winter, they've been swimming with the elephants in the elephant sanctuary, they've been to the Magic River in Kuala Kubu Baru and jumped in the rapids with the orang asli children. They quite enjoy all these things,” explains Patrick.
He says the best thing about fatherhood is being able to watch his children grow and participating in their lives. However, when he takes them to school, Patrick is often mistaken for their grandfather.
“Because there are a lot of grandparents who have the task of taking their grandchildren to school especially in the afternoons, I do get mistaken for a grandfather. Laura and Adam seem to be able to take it quite well when they are asked, 'Eh, that one your grandfather?' They laugh about it.
“However, like many children of their age, they are quite sensitive to things around them so they know and they understand that their father is much older than a normal father. They sometimes get rather sad when they think about the fact that their father will eventually die. Laura especially gets very affected by that.
“It's a little bit morbid but for me I think the worst thing about being a father at this stage is that I know I will not be able to see my children, my two younger children anyway …. Because I'm 62 and Adam is only six. So by the time he is 20, I'll be 76. But that part of it for me is a bit sad because during the next phase of their lives which is so important to them and to a father, I doubt I will be able to participate there,” says Patrick.
As both his elder daughters are settled and have families of their own, Patrick has less reason to worry about them.
His concern is providing for the younger ones.
“I think for any man who becomes a father at a later age the biggest worry is that you cannot live long enough to care for your children's financial wellbeing. Thankfully it is becoming less of a worry because my wife and I have set aside money that hopefully will see them through to some stage of their lives when hopefully they will be able to fend for themselves. That's one worry.
“The second worry is what kind of a country will my children grow up in. Some people say I am cynical and pessimistic but it is a big worry for me as a parent. What kind of country will my children inherit when they grow up to be adults? Unfortunately all the things that have been happening over the past decade do not really generate any confidence in me as a father to say okay I can just peacefully die and I know that my children will be financially secure and they will have a good environment, a good country and community to grow up in. I don't see that happening,” adds Patrick.
With such concerns, migrating might be an option … however age is a barrier.
He could send his children to study overseas in a boarding school. However, both Patrick and his wife Min feel it is best for children to remain with their parents. They believe that the responsibility of bringing up the children is with the parents and not a boarding school.
What is the most important lesson he can teach his children?
“In the Malaysian society, it is to speak up, to ask, to question, analyse, understand and to participate. I have seen Malaysians, a whole generation or two, whom I personally feel have grown up being very detached. They live here, they go about their business, they have their jobs, they make a living, they get their salary at the end of the month and they go shopping, they go clubbing and they go back to work. They could be in Timbuktu.
“I think that type of generation is very real. I see it every day in sales staff, in office staff, bus drivers, policemen. It's a zombie state of living in dis-reality. I think that would be something that I would like to teach my children not to do,” he says.
“I sometimes think I should have had Laura and Adam when I was much younger, had more time with my first two girls but these are not really regrets because now Melissa, Melanie and I get along very well, we are very close as a family.”