Category Archives: Fatherhood

Adulting is Hard.

Being an adult is hard. Sometimes I really marvel at the complexity of life that I have had to deal with since I became a parent.

Finances, work commitments, caring for the children, family dynamics, navigating Government schemes. And on top of that, caring for myself and caring for my family. Trying to navigate an increasingly complex world for me and my children, dealing with the critical and often judgmental views of others who do not begin to understand the complexity and tiredness we deal with every day. I hardly have any emotional resources left after every weekend; and then Monday is here and work beckons.

To top it off, Xuheng is beginning his Terrible Twos and throwing tantrums every so often. Is it our fault as parents? Probably partly yes. But I can say for certain we are trying our best.

What are the options? Of course, we could outsource. To school, to parents, to other caregivers. I could then continue to have my pre-parenthood life. I could go for live music and grab a beer on Fridays, I could watch football on Saturdays midnights, and go cafe-hopping for brunch on Sundays. Why we don’t is a story for another day, but some days I really wish I could.

I struggle every day with the value base from which to parent. They say parenting is an “inside job”, but while my value base has always been quite solid I think, I find the Christian upbringing and my personal values have either surprisingly little to say to the dilemmas of modern parents or are just incredibly hard to live out given the constraints of life.

Or maybe it’s just about money. I suppose if I had unlimited money, all these problems would go away and I could just spend all the time I want at home and do whatever my heart pleases.

This is when the MLM marketers and investment “gurus” are ready to pounce. Go away.

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I don’t wanna grow up. 
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Xuheng turns two!


My dear Xuheng,

You turned two yesterday! How time truly disappears when you’re having fun!

Papa is very proud to be your daddy. My heart swells with pride everytime you say a new word. It swells even more when I see you sayang your MeiMei and hold her hand.

Xuheng, you are an incredibly fun-loving, funny and even cheeky boy. Papa loves your laughter and your smiles. You just absolutely love to spend time with Papa and Mummy! 

You are also a very sensitive boy. You sometimes get upset when we use harsher tones on you when you do things you are not supposed to – like touching the electric socket or trying to open the car door. But this sensitivity also means you are so expressive of your love for Papa, Mummy and MeiMei. 

Papa loves how you absolutely must give MeiMei a hug, tell her ‘I love you’ and ‘byebye’ when she goes off into infant care before you go to your own class. Papa also loves how you always say to Mummy (instead of ‘byebye’) “Mummy I Love You!!” in the loudest voice you can muster. You are a wonderful, loving boy.


Papa enjoys our evening times before you go to sleep. You would throw a ball around, laugh and use daddy as your playground, sliding up and down and riding on daddy’s back like a horse. You can never get enough of playing that way with Papa! 

Papa never knew his heart could contain so much love and tenderness for you, my son.

Xuheng, you have grown so much! You’re a big boy now! Papa and Mummy pray that you will continue to grow in love, kindness and joy every day of your life.

We love you!

Papa & Mummy

2 July 2016

5 things husbands wished their wives knew about Fatherhood

I wrote this post after coming in touch with many men who had a not-so-smooth transition to fatherhood after their children were born, and the resulting stress but great strain on their marriage. I hope that by penning down these thoughts, more men will feel more open to share their struggles and fears with their wives – thereby opening the relationship to greater strength and vulnerability.


We loved our wives before we loved our kids.

Our partners were our first commitment; and for some of us it was a commitment without knowing if we would have kids or not. We stood ready to love our wives through the ups and downs; through the thicks and thins, kids or no kids. Our wives were first, and even when the kids came we wanted to put you first. This will help you understand point number 5.

We struggle too.

No matter how macho or how bo-chup we look, we struggle too. Inside.

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As all the attention is poured on our wives and our babies after they are born, we struggle with loneliness. Suddenly, the word ‘express’ no longer means having a HTHT with our soulmate. ’nuff said.

We sometimes find it hard to tell you we’re struggling.

Because of our male ego, or maybe because we just have less vocabulary for feelings, we may not be able to tell you how we are really feeling. Or some of us just feel plain guilty for bogging you down with our needs when we see you already struggling big time with a newborn.

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We may find it hard to let you know that we feel useless at home; or that we feel torn between you and your mother; or that we can’t help but wonder what’s happening to the marriage. We find it hard to let you know that deep inside, we are vulnerable too.

We need affirmation too.

And so please affirm us. Let us know it is appreciated when we wake up for night feeds. I know enough men who refuse to do so, to know that a husband who helps is not a given. Let us know that you know we are making an effort. Let us know that you know we love you.

We are afraid we will take second place in your heart.

We are so moved by your love for our children; and in that moment we know we made the right choice to marry you. Yet deep down inside, we are secretly afraid we will become number 2 in your heart; that we are no longer priority.

Fellow husbands and fathers, I hope this post encourages you. Often, it is not strength, but vulnerabilities that inspires. Let’s press on!

 

Delight and Despair in the Inner Life of a Father

I chased after his every move as he walked as briskly as his little legs could take him. To hold him steady whenever he walked down the stairs meant that I had to bend exceptionally low to reach his armpits. “Damn. Old already.” I muttered to myself. Contrary to popular belief, the high offices of financial institutions, political parties or even the UN Security Council are not the centres of power struggles. Imbalance of powers begin at the seemingly innocent playground.

The unspoken challenges of who can run faster, jump higher or climb quicker. The taunting gets louder with age. Gender and racial segregation, largely self-enforced, are clear as day. Social groups and imagined communities form a palpable sense of ‘Us vs Them’.

I looked on with pride as my son now climbs each step of the stairs more steadily than before. I am forced to my knees to go after him as he gleefully runs beneath a little bridge about half my height. I find myself scrambling and suppressing my laugh as he finds out for the first time the force of gravity on the slide.

And why do I notice mummies tend to go before a child, but daddies tend to follow behind?

Fathers are wired differently.

Mothers say, “Don’t run so fast”, “Don’t climb so high”; fathers say, “Run faster”, “Climb higher”.

Mothers protect by preventing children from getting hurt. Fathers protect by preparing them so they won’t get hurt in future. Both are needed.

Jason Wong, Founder of Dads for Life


I didn’t quite expect a short, somewhat routine evening trip to the plagground to elicit the most complex of emotions in me.

My heart soared as he screamed ‘playyyyyyyyyyy’ as I released him from the clutches of the stroller after I had applied a liberal amount of Ru Yi oil on him to prevent mosquito bites. And as quickly as it came, my beaming with pride turned to anxiety and worry.

He doesn’t know what he’s coming up against, I thought. Bigger boys. Higher steps. Kids who had no idea how their strength could be overwhelming to an 18 month toddler. Some who just didn’t care. I found in me almost a compulsion to protect, to catch, to ensure. And in cases when he was being bullied by inconsiderate kids, I almost wanted to bully back. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

The playground is the centre of power struggles. Us adults? We’re not immune either.


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As a young man from a conservative Presbyterian background, I found this verse very hard to swallow. In fact, it was so out of sync with the worldview taught to me that I secretly suspected that this verse was added to the Scriptures by a heretic.

They say it takes a father to know one. I concur; and if I may add, it takes a father to know The Father. Who would’ve thought, that a trip to the playground would awaken the realities of this verse in my heart again?

Of course! Fatherhood is the awakening of delight. Us men, socialised into stoicity and emotionless strength, rarely open our eyes to wonder.

“From that moment, I loved him.”

A recent father describing the first time he sang to his newborn child.

We delight in the fruit of our wives’ wombs. We delight as they begin to wake up to the world around them. We delight when they first recognise us, when they first smile at us, when they call us ‘Papa’. Oh, the indescribable joy, our hearts bursting.

But this delight has a shadow. The shadows are cast when they seek independence from attachment. The shadows are cast when their attachments are aligned towards their mummies, as is often the course of nature. They are cast when us daddies, in our inevitable frustration and angst, lose our tempers and our self-control.

And the shadows are the darkest when us, in the midst of the busyness and demands of our careers to provide for the family, begin to feel that our children are chores rather than joys.

Oh, the despair. He’s climbing up that damn stairs again. How many times must I crawl on my knees? Is it time to go home yet? He needs to sleep. Argh. He doesn’t want me again, he always wants only Mama.

The despair of tiredness. Of frustration. Of helplessness, of meaninglessness. Of rejection.

These are but the hilly terrains on the landscape of fatherhood.

And like our children, traversing the obstacles up and down that seemingly innocuous playground, we follow them. We go with them through the ups and the downs, through the smooth parts and the challenging ones, cheering them on, picking them up, soothing their scraped knees and their scratched chins.

‘Run along!’ we shout.

Our hearts held back by apprehensiveness, but filled with delight.

 

Every first is a last; every beginning an end

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Xuheng, a few days ago, we were about to go out together in the morning. It was just another regular morning when Papa drives you to school before going to work. Or maybe, not.

Unlike every other morning I have known since you were born, on this day you refused to allow Papa to carry you. Instead, you stood at the door of our house and waved goodbye to your Mama. You pointed at the door and made the noise that tells us you want to go outside. And you shook your head when Papa stretched out his arms to carry you.

Yes, you shook your head. It was not a normal morning.

On this day, you no longer wanted to be carried by Papa to the car. You wanted to walk on your own.

At first, Papa didn’t quite know how to react. A hundred thoughts ran through my mind. Have I brought everything I need to bring? Are his legs strong enough to carry him to the carpark? Dangerous or not? Erm, what do I do with my empty arms now?

Ironically, I was going to buy a new pair of shoes that day. “No laces please, I want slip-ons. Got baby la, I can’t tie my laces when I’m carrying him out the door in the morning.” I told the salesman. How quickly things change when you’re a parent.

We took that walk to the carpark together. It took longer, I walked more slowly that day. You were sometimes distracted by a button, or a fence, or a pebble on the floor. You stooped to pick them up and pass them to me.

I did my best to get us on our way. We were in a rush, I thought. But what is this rush we’re on?

The rush to grow up, perhaps?

“Xuheng, remember, must always hold Papa’s hand when you walk, ok?” I said, as I tightened my fingers around your little palm.

No rush, my dear little one. No rush.

“She’s beautiful..” I whispered to myself

The wait felt longer this time. Maybe I was mired in anxiety the first time round, but this time I actually felt bored while waiting for Minyue to be born.

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It was a really strange feeling. Ok, I’m bored. 8 Days is such a crappy magazine. Now, is it even right to feel bored? Shouldn’t I be praying and twiddling my thumbs?

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And then, after almost exactly an hour, I heard the nurse call out “Mr Zheng Liren? Husband of Ling Wee Lee?” I jumped out of that little sofa.

“Is that her? My daughter?”

She’s beautiful.. I looked at her closely. Her eyes were still closed and she was covered in vernix. She’s beautiful, I whispered to myself. Minyue.. my daughter.

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You have the same frowny lines on your forehead as your korkor when he was just born!

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I half-walked, half-skipped up to the nursery with the nurse to get you measured up and the documents signed. Inside, I was leaping with joy. Why? I wasn’t quite sure, but I was.

Daddy of two, I was. Two beautiful little ones.

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And when all the documentation was done, the nurse asked me to rest in the ward while waiting for Weili to return from the operating theatre.

I took a light stroll back to the room, and as soon as I was alone in the quiet of the room, I broke down. Tears overwhelmed me as the combination of sweet relief, joy, anxiety and sheer exhaustion from the emotional toil took over.

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It’s been a difficult year. A difficult job in a difficult environment, moving house, planning for the arrival of Minyue and all this in addition to the day to day struggles of parenting and work.

It’s gonna be tough, but for now, it was ok. It was all ok. For now, all I felt was joy. The joy of being daddy all over again.

Maybe it’s easier the second time. I know better what to expect; and I can focus more on the joy than the anxieties.

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Xuheng loves to sayang his MeiMei. I truly pray they will be friends for life.

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Thank you, Lord.

The journey thus far

Some of you who know me well know that I hate spiritual cliches. I don’t like to spew ‘Christianese’ with little thought given to what I am actually saying. In fact, I sometimes kind of enjoy challenging some of these cliches because I believe our faith needs to go deeper.

Yet, at this juncture 15 months into parenthood and on the eve of my daughter’s birth, I find in myself a need to say this.

GOD IS FAITHFUL.

I do not say this flippantly or as a way to comfort myself or to celebrate my own humanly successes. In actual fact, many days are filled with self-doubt, frustration, lethargy and darkness. Many days I struggle with my self-worth, with finding meaning in my work, with juggling the stresses of work placed on a modern man’s shoulders with my hopes of being a good father. Especially on those days when the kid doesn’t want me at all and just threshes about in my arms screaming until mummy arrives. Trust me, Facebook doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yet, on Sunday as I sat in church, I was reminded by Pastor that we don’t have to act like victims even though every life circumstance qualifies us to be one. Much less me – someone who by all means is more than blessed.

I look back on our journey as parents and I can see truly how God has provided, often in the most unexpected of ways. Like how we discovered the childcare Xuheng is currently going to entirely by chance; and found out that Weili actually qualified for a discount by virtue of being MOE staff. And even more preciously, how the teachers are so joyful, caring and stable in their care for our son. And then somehow, I landed myself a job in that area too.

When it was time for me to move on from my previous workplace, our first struggle was: how now? The 30km commute from Punggol to Bukit Timah was too long to make given that my workplace was now in Yio Chu Kang. We prayed, we asked our CG to pray.. and through a series of what I can only conclude to be divinely arranged conversations, we managed to get a place at the centre we really wanted to – at a really good rate too so we can save on our finances.

And while we spent months worrying over whether or not to get a helper and making contingency plans in case she was unreliable – we looked at maid interviews one day and something clicked inside me saying ’employ her’. I encouraged wifey to sign her up early. We knew she was a Christian too but never did we imagine we would find such a joyful, God-loving, patient and enthusiastic one – who spent her time in prayer every night for our family every night before coming to SIngapore, who uses her off-day to spend the entire day in church serving and ministering to others, and who loves missions and teaching children. Of course, it’s still early days yet – but I’m praying that she will truly become a blessing to our family and our children.

Our parents too, have been so willing to support us and help us out every time we need help to care for Xuheng so we can run errands or get other things done. They often change their plans to accommodate our contingencies. My daddy sometimes works through the night on his assignments just so he can help us out the next day. What else can I say?

And of course, I am so thankful for my wife – who faithfully plans and researches and thinks through the decisions we make. I have my moods sometimes, and decision-fatigue is real, but she puts up with me and waits till I am ok before discussing again. Her faithfulness, calmness and patience is such a gift to the excitable and anxious me.

Really, God has been so faithful; even when we have been so faithless. It is with a contrite heart that I remember His goodness to me. And when I look back, I can only give thanks for His provisions.

Lao Po, let’s jiayou together for the next lap!