When dad is playmate and tuition teacher

  • Lifestyle
  • Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The writer in a picture taken last year with his wife Lai Lye Yee and their only child, Heng Chuan, then eight years old.

Growing up as an only child in the 1970s, I rarely had time with my dad. Most parents of my father’s generation equated putting food on the table and a roof over your head with showing love for the family. My dad was no different, toiling long and odd hours. A board game here or a football kickabout there are about the only precious few moments that remain vividly in my memory.

When my son was born, I made a conscious decision to strive for a better balance between career and family. I was determined to ensure family came first whenever possible. Easier said than done, though, considering that a global survey by Regus – the world’s largest provider of flexible workplaces – last year showed that 15% of workers in Malaysia regularly worked more than 11 hours a day, versus 10% globally.

As fate would have it, my son Heng Chuan is also an only child. And I can empathise with his need for a regular playmate, a role I fulfil with relish. I believe you are only as young as you feel, and my son certainly makes me feel young again. So much so that my poor wife sometimes feels she has two kids to contend with. All in good fun, I always say.

It certainly helps that hobbies I took up in my younger days, such as playing videogames and watching Japanese anime, remain close to my heart. All of which is music to my son’s ears. Having a kid-friendly personality allows me to be a playmate to my son, something I look forward to every day.

Be it firing Nerf guns or swinging make-believe swords at each other, the sky’s the limit as we let our imagination run wild. I derive as much fun seeing him happily at play as he does from having someone to play with.

Watching television shows together has also become a regular father-son activity. I have introduced my son to anime shows such as Dragonball Z and One Piece, while he, in turn, has got me interested in characters like Phineas and Ferb, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Contrary to general perception that kids’ shows are too juvenile for grownups, these programmes actually showcase superb writing with storylines that appeal to both children and parents.

Being involved in what your child watches on television allows you to not only monitor what he is watching but to also inform him accordingly if something inappropriate is being shown on air. It may be a luxury many busy parents of today cannot afford, but it’s an activity worth pursuing for the pleasure and benefits it brings.

But all fun and no work makes for unhealthy child development. So when required, the playmate hat is reluctantly swapped with the tuition-teacher hat. While I don’t believe studies are the be-all and end-all of what makes a person successful in life, I am unfortunately guilty of borrowing a page from Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua reported that in one study of 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, the vast majority believed their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting.” If children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.” Sounds familiar?

All this makes for an explosive affair during home-study periods, with dad and son equally stressed out. Intense sessions filled with yelling which almost always end with tears of frustration ... and that’s just from Dad.

But I guess it’s all worth it when he gets all excited at having done well in certain subjects in school.

When trying to think of some ideas for this article, I asked my son what I should write about. His response? “My father loves me a lot. That is all” and gave a thumbs up. Well, that’s something to hold on to before he hits those rebellious teenage years. 

Father’s say

With new-age dads getting more hands-on and involved in parenting these days, Fathers Figure provides a platform for them to talk about their experiences – fulfilling, amusing, inspiring, or taxing. Star2 welcomes contributions from fathers of any age and every stripe – rich dad, poor dad, single father, fun dad, tiger dad . Email your articles to star2@thestar.com.my with the subject header “Fathers Figure,” preferably between 600 and 800 words, with a photo attached . Published contributions will be paid. So please include your full name, IC number, address and contact number.

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