Category Archives: Marriage Life

Our Changing Bond – A Letter to my Wife on Valentine’s Day

My darling wife,
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It still amazes me sometimes how the words ‘Weili’ and ‘my wife’ have become so synonymous to me. On occasion, I am reminded again of those conversations I had with my best guy buddies about you – my certainty and security in the decision I was making (to be with you). I am reminded of how sure I was when I told one of them: “I don’t need your approval on this.” How I became so sure – whether it was my meditations and search into my own heart, or whether it was God steadying a normally deeply ruminative and pensive me – I do not know.
What I do know was a clear thought I had in those early days when we were not-yet-a-couple (you know, as young people nowadays call it “not not-together”): Weili will make an awesome wife and even more awesome mother. How did I know? Maybe it was my observations of you, maybe it was your deeply kind heart that shone through. Sure, there are days when we get frustrated, angry and tempted to be bitter; but your loveliness always shows.
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Parenthood has changed us. The responsibility of bonding with Xuheng, teaching him the ways of the world (so he can take care of himself) and the ways of God (so he can love people) lies squarely on us. Life will never be the same again. It will never again be just the two of us, we will rarely have those carefree, relaxing days together. Every word we utter, every response we give, every action we make, every interaction we have forms part of Xuheng’s education into his own man.
You may not know this. There are many mornings when we are driving to work, I take a glance in my rear mirror and I see only you. I see you, my wife, cooing and playing with my son who is hidden out of sight. I see you, Xuheng’s mother, so full of tenderness towards the offspring of our love and I know in those moments that I am fulfilled as a man. I know in those moments when I smile to myself in the driver’s seat, that God has fulfilled those thoughts I had of you early on as my wife and mother. I know in those split seconds that my life has meaning – hard as it is sometimes – that I will go on for you and for our family. These moments you may not know, but I know. I know them so deeply.
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When I look back, I am amazed at how far we’ve come; how much we’ve changed. This bond we share evolves with each year, each stage of life we go through. What was once fiery romance tempers into a strong tenderness, what was once impatient longing mellows into gentle missing. This bond we have changes and will continue to change, but it is no less strong day by each day.
And so this Valentines’ Day, I celebrate our bond – our ever changing, ever growing bond. Bonds strengthened by happinesses and unhappinesses, bonds tied together as much by our similarities as by our differences, bonds built by our acceptance of each other. May Xuheng find too his security here between us.
“When love beckons to you follow him, though his ways are hard and steep.” – Kahlil Gibran
Deeply,
your husband Liren

Remembering 2014

I’ve often found NYE parties somewhat contrived: with fireworks, music and what-nots ushering in what is essentially another minute in the endless line of time. All in the hopes of waking up with new energies for a new year, but all I woke up with is a terrible hangover. The passing of calendar years to me are pointless if not for the construction of meaning: the examining of a life lived – its intents, influences, dreams and regrets all becoming the basis for another year to come. Some years go by with barely a whimper: leaving nary a mark on the one living, catalysing barely a ripple. Some years are more seminal than others: they have more impact on the years to come than the years that have gone before.

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates

This was one of the seminal ones. Perhaps I can outline the changes I have seen in myself by outlining some things I find myself thankful for as the year draws to a close.

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1. For Relationship

Honestly, it’s been a tough year. Possibly one of the toughest ones yet because of the new responsibilities of fatherhood. Oftentimes, my fuse has been short and I’ve found myself punching walls in frustration when I never had this habit before. Through it all, I’m thankful for relationships. For my relationship with my wife – sure there are days we get frustrated at things – but I am truly thankful we have a relationship we can come back to when we compose ourselves and find ways to talk and work things through. This year, we have had to make so many complex and important decisions, some at very short notice, that we are glad we can be transparent and share our thoughts openly to come to a clear decision.

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For our parents too: who are ever ready to adjust their schedules, wake up earlier or move things around to help us out when we need caregiving help. Even as I write this: we have left baby at my mom’s place and are sitting in a cafe while Weili is working on her powerpoint slides for the beginning of the school year.

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I think these experiences with relationships have balanced and rounded out my perspectives of family as an adult. Whereas previously as a young man I often focused on individuating myself away from the family: now as a father I find myself seeing relationships more as inter-dependent – we don’t just need ourselves, we need each other.

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Mama and Wai Po feeding Xuheng some solids!

2. For Redemption

One thing I’m supremely thankful for is not really a thing per se; but an idea. It is the idea that the Grand Story, the Larger Purpose behind the entire Christian narrative is not about sin; nor forgiveness, nor grace. It is about Redemption. I’m thankful because I have never heard my faith framed in such terms and I found myself greatly changed as a result. I find myself less judgmental about wrongs, less surprised about evil, but perhaps most tellingly of all: more rested and restful in my struggles with the Christian faith.

With Redemption as the backdrop: everything makes sense. All the seeming incongruities find connections and peace with one another. I think it’s helped me to find peace with God and within myself.

3. For Rejuvenation

For various reasons, some of you know I have been on the lookout for a new employer for some time now, but I held it off for the sake of adjusting to our new task of parenthood. One of the reasons for this was that I found increasingly the work limiting to my development as a professional counsellor. I found myself falling back more into familiar ways of counselling, not challenging myself enough in my development as a clinician. My passion slowly began to die; and it terrified me. I needed a new kind of work, to be energised by new environments, new people, new ideas.

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Packing for a new journey.

I am returning to the social work field at a time when the field is growing and changing, at a time when my own life circumstances are constantly evolving from week to week and month to month; and our larger economic and national environment seeing dramatic changes all the time. I am excited to challenge myself to grow as a clinician with different kinds of cases, to help out in programmes that serve the community and sharpen my mind in my understanding of societal and social issues. I look forward to being energised by my fellow professionals at a time in our history that needs us social workers more than ever.

And so, it’s been a year of ups and downs, of growth through the stress and challenges of parenthood. In many ways, my wife and I agree that we’ve grown so much stronger as people, more knowledgable about life, families and the world, and become more firm and assertive on that which we need to protect for our child. While we’ve had less exclusive time for each other, our relationship has become stronger and our understanding of each other deeper.

And it’s only just begun.

4 Suggestions for a better Tingkat experience

There is more to Tingkat than just having food served to your doorstep every night. 

So the Tays just recently completed a round of 10 days Tingkat trial with Hong Choo Catering.  The 10 days passed without a hitch, except one day when I wanted to cancel dinner for that night as we decided to bring baby to see the doctor but wasn’t allowed too as it was too late. Food was delivered fresh every day, and the soup was often still warm when I opened the package at about 6:30pm.

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For variety’s sake, I decided to give another company a chance to impress me next week. That’s not to say I didn’t like Hong Choo’s service and food though, I was quite decently impressed.

I realised from my posts on Facebook that many people have either considered Tingkat (but are too afraid to try because of the multitude of bad reviews on the Internet), or have themselves tried it with varying degrees of satisfaction.

Many have asked me why don’t I just dabao from a coffeeshop on the way home? First of all, I suppose it’s partly because I drive, and so it’s really troublesome to find parking, alight the car and buy food. Especially when there are parking charges and wardens everywhere. Secondly, Bukit Panjang, where we live, is a food desert. Thirdly, I honestly can’t see how Tingkat food is any less nutritious than Chup Chye Png. In fact, I think it probably is healthier and more hygienic. Fourthly, honestly, with a newborn in tow from infant care every evening, even dabaoing is a challenge. I had gotten really tired of thinking of what to eat and where to buy food every night.

For me, I think there are some points to consider when ordering Tingkat:

1. Manage Your Expectations (Like seriously, big-time.)

I mean, all the Tingkat companies will blow their own trumpets with amazing photos of food (not necessarily theirs) and make all sorts of claims. But honestly, this is Tingkat. It will NOT taste like your mother’s cooking, and most likely it will not taste like your cooking (that depends on how decent a cook you are). I think a reasonable level of expectation is that it should at least taste similar to a decent, cooked-by-Malaysian chup chye png at the coffee shop. I’m not even asking you to compare with those old school mom-and-pop shops which tend to taste better and use better ingredients.

Any higher level of expectation and I think you are just setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.

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2. Hot Food always tastes better than cold food. 

Make it a point to warm up the food properly. If you are too lazy to even pop it in the microwave, then I have nothing to say. If you have no microwave, I have even more nothing to say. Or at least steam the food. Not just to kill bacteria, but because hot food always tastes better. Really, don’t complain the food is not fresh and tastes bad if you eat it cold la. This is not salad.

3. Read Blog Reviews

Many mummies and daddies write about their tingkat experiences on their blogs. Go take a look at the photos they post and decide for yourself how the food looks.

I’d say, forget about the Forums though. They are too often just a place for ranting and it’s very hard to judge from the reviews there as people just have very different standards and expectations (just like Tripadvisor). Blogs are better because you can see the pictures and then make your own judgment call which company is worth a shot.

4. The Paradox of Choice

Strangely, having eaten Tingkat dinner for the past 2 weeks, I found myself experiencing The Paradox of Choice.

Basically, Barry Schwartz’s thesis is that while we think choice makes us happier, it in fact makes us more unhappy because of factors like ‘missed opportunities’. Studies have shown that the huge array of choice presented to us often make us more unmotivated and even depressed.

It’s true. When I buy a dinner and it doesn’t taste as good as I hoped, I am often frustrated and spend the night thinking about my frustration and how I could have tried this other food or that other stall.

With Tingkat, in some ways, I just learn to give thanks for the food that is on the table, whatever it is. It fills my tummy, and off I go with the rest of the night. It’s surprising for a foodie like me, but I actually feel more satisfied even when objectively the food is less satisfying.

Could thankfulness really make food taste better? Can gratitude really satisfy? Try it for yourself and let me know.

Maybe Tingkat is moulding my heart’s attitude towards life.

Recipe: Liren’s Brilliant French Toast

It would probably be quite an under-statement to say that my wife’s favourite breakfast is French Toast. While my favourite is unequivocally a good ol’ Bak Chor Mee, I also subscribe to the timeless philosophy of #happywifehappylife. You see, that hypothesis is even proven in this new research study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. And so, naturally, one can not ever make too much French Toast on Saturday mornings in the Tay household.

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After so many rounds of experimenting and tweaking, I believe I’ve chanced upon the right balance of deliciousness and accessibility here in this recipe. You see, there are dozens of recipes online for French Toast, but many contain ingredients or techniques that are just impossible to do on a lazy Saturday morning.

This recipe, I assure you, will get you daddies more nocturnal satisfaction (geddit?) on Saturday nights if you serve them to your wife in bed on Saturday mornings. More tips along the way!

Ingredients (makes 8 slices of toast) 

  • Bread – any bread will do really, but not all breads are born equal. Many angmoh recipes online call for Brioche or Challakh, but I’ve discovered the best bread for French toast thus far is called “Danish Bread” which you can get for $3.10 per loaf at the common neighbourhood bakery Four Leaves.
  • Eggs – 4 large
  • Milk – about 100ml. Add more if you want your toast more ‘custardy’, less if you want it more ‘eggy’.
  • Vanilla essence – 1 tsp
  • Butter – for frying the bread
  • Dry ingredients:
  • Sugar – 2 tsp
  • Salt – a pinch
  • Cinnamon/ Allspice – a small sprinkle, or to taste

Steps: 

  1. MIX: In a mixing bowl (make sure this bowl is big enough for you to dip your bread in later), mix together the dry ingredients and ensure they are evenly mixed. Add the milk, eggs, and vanilla essence and whisk it all together with a fork until well combined.
  2. HEAT: In a hot pan, melt a bit of butter over a low heat. It’s very easy to burn French toast, so I go with the philosophy ‘low and slow‘: low heat also means you have much more time to ensure you get the right colour on your toast. When the butter begins to foam, it’s the right time to fry the bread.
  3. DIP: Dip the bread in the egg mixture and let it sit for about 15 seconds on each side to soak up the egg custard.
  4. FRY: Place slowly into the pan and fry for about 2 minutes on each side or until it achieves your desired colour.
  5. SERVE: Drizzle some syrup and serve!

Tips for extra luxury for that special Saturday: 

  • Make stuffed French toast by spreading anything you like in between two slices of bread before dipping and frying. Chocolate chips, nutella, bananas, peanut butter, jams, cream cheese. The sky’s the limit!
  • Spike your egg mixture with some booze! Rum or tequila, anyone?
  • Serve your French toast with a small knob of salted butter and syrup, or even some gula melaka sauce!

A Letter to my son about Family

Dear Xu Heng 恤恒,

You are 10 days old today. As each day passes, you begin to feel more and more like a part of us; a part of our family. Of course, when we first met you, we weren’t quite sure how to feel or how to interact with you. But as each day passes, Papa and Mama start to understand you more. We begin to differentiate the soft cries for milk from the wailings when you are cold. We begin to be able to understand your needs, as communicated in your own way which only you can. We begin to experience you as family.
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Xu Heng, there are many kinds of families. Ours is one. A mother, a father, and you, our son. Our type of family is kind of common, but Papa hesitates to teach you that this is ‘normal’. You see, in some families, there are grandmothers and grandfathers. Some like you are blessed with a great-grandmother still strong and healthy. In other families, there are sisters and brothers. In some, cousins are like siblings and aunts are like mummies. Some of us have godfathers, others have ‘Uncle Papa’ or ‘Auntie Mummy’; people who cared for us with great love despite not having blood ties with us.
At some point, perhaps when you go to school, you might hear of the term ‘single-parent family’. This term is sometimes, much to Papa’s pain, used to mean the same thing as ‘broken family’. But families with only one parent are not broken, they are merely different. Sometimes, things happen in life beyond one’s control, like illness, or accidents, or death, which is a part of life. Papa can say to you with 100% certainty, that our family will one day too be a ‘single-parent family’, because it is unlikely that both your Mama and I will be called home to be with the Lord at the exact same time. Even for one second, you will be in a family someday with only one parent. Does that make us broken? No, not if we love as hard as we can, cherish every moment we have, and remember the legacies of those who have gone before us. Maybe, Xu Heng, every family is a broken family because we are all broken people; our righteousness as rags before the Lord. But in His grace, He teaches us to love and redeems our hearts often in the love of those who sacrificed much for us. The route to wholeness for our brokenness is often found through the meandering challenges of our broken homes. Home is, and will always be to you, a place of grace.
‘Absent father’ is probably another term you will hear. Xu Heng, remember, fathers are absent for many different reasons. And it’s not always because they don’t love their family any more. Many, many men are willing to go through the pain of being separated from their wives and sons because they love them. Because they yearn to provide a better life. Some work far away from home, like the Uncle Gopal who washes Papa’s car every night who comes from India. Or the men who built the comfortable church you go to every Sunday to worship Jesus. Every one of them is an ‘absent father’, but not always for the absence of love. Some families don’t have mothers too, because their Mummies have gone to countries far away to take care of other people’s babies so that they can have money to feed their own and send them to school. There are many families without men and without women, but these are families too. Some daddies are not living far away from home, but their hearts are distant. They come home every night, but their hearts are left behind in their office cubicles. These kinds of ‘absent fathers’ bring a lot of pain to Papa, and I promise to try my best never to do that to you. I pray, you will not be like that too, when you become a daddy yourself.
In some families, Papa and Mama may look different. One might have lighter skin, and another one darker. That is because they come from different parts of the world, but have decided to spend their lives together. You see, adults make these choices because of this thing called love. It’s kinda hard to explain, but it grows each day that your Papa is married to your Mama. Perhaps when you experience it one day too, you will know what I mean. Remember to share with me, ya? In other families, their papa and mama’s might speak different languages, or believe in different gods, or like to eat different foods. Some of them never knew each other until their wedding day, others were introduced to each other by their parents. Some came together with blessings, others through much tribulation. But in the midst of it all, there is love.
And yes, love is the most important foundation of a family. Love is the glue that holds a family together: more than eating or praying together. As you can probably tell by now, there are really many, many different kinds of families. As many as there are different kinds of people. No family is perfect, neither is there such a thing as a ‘normal’ family. Every family is normal, and every family is abnormal. Remember: never look for whether a family is normal; but always look for love. Always love.
We love you.
With all my heart,
Papa.

Fathers’ Day and The Task of Fatherhood

It’s Fathers’ Day and we decided against heading to church as we both didn’t get much sleep last night. Many thoughts have been brimming, some more distracting than others, but the theme has been a kind of a sense of urgency as we lead up to the big day when Xu Heng is born on 2nd July. It feels like we are taking every opportunity to spend time together, to enjoy the last and final bits of life as it is now. Life will never be the same from this point onwards, yet we truly don’t know what the future holds.

Could this be what finitude feels like? Feelings of ‘not enough’, of grabbing onto whatever little one has, of wanting to savour every moment with as deep an experiencing as possible – allowing the full range of our sensations and emotions to take centre stage from our usual rigid rationality. To fully just be.
The past few months have felt so busy and intense that in some ways it left me breathless. The anxiety from the car insurance issues, coping with finishing up the GDip, applying for and not getting a new job.. stuff that in some ways was not as much within my control. And then there were other things I wanted to do – go shopping with Weili for baby things, researching for items, making sure we had whatever is necessary, looking at furniture and home designs and more. What I’m truly glad for is the sense of togetherness in all of this: our inseparable-ness and the joy of doing it all together. Doing all of this was a deeply joyful process, not without its frustrations to be sure, but nonetheless very enjoyable. What every stage of life brings is a new set of challenges: learning new things, doing things differently, but what sustains and keeps us going is our joy.
In the midst of the busy-ness, I too, grappled with larger issues of life. Health issues, a sense of balance between work and home, my career and what I find most engaging at work.
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“By the time a man realizes his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he is wrong.” – Charles Wasworth 
Most recently, I grappled a lot with how one is to respond when faced with injustice done to oneself, going through a period of uncertainty and anxiety in this respect. I realized that our heart’s response to injustice is at the heart of character. After all, didn’t Jesus teach that even sinners love those who love them? The ability to love those who hate us, who are out to bully us or take advantage of a system at our expense, is the mark of true character. I found myself struggling as I looked inward; with the temptations to rage, to curse; and certainly very little love. It was so hard. Yet, in my heart of hearts, I knew God was teaching me a valuable lesson in fatherhood: a good father teaches and enables his children to love that which is unlovable. A good father knows that the task of his life is to prepare his son for times when life does not go his way. One can overcome the problems by taking on a harsh, angry and highly self-protective worldview; or one can choose to take on a posture of kindness while being slapped or spat on. It may seem stupid to the world, but to love the unloveable is a mark of strength; the very nature of God – it is certainly not the way of the weak.
And so we named him 恤恒 – kindness that is determined, strong and eternal. Just like the Father in Heaven who in his very nature embodies that. It’s a posture that will take a lifetime to learn. And we sure are starting early.

Counting the Cost

I must admit, sometimes the costs of living in Singapore – a HDB mortgage, my Japanese sedan, my coming baby – they scare me. Some of my closer friends know that each time I go through a major transition, the feelings of anxiety surface. Now, part of this is my existential anxiety. With each transition, I become more and more aware of my limitations and the limited time I have to make good of my life. When I’ve faced my existential anxiety, that part feels a bit more settled but there is still the part where I constantly think about how I can bring in alternative streams of income to supplement the needs of the family. Actively, I’ve been trying to increase my range of professional skills and visibility in part because I hope to move into jobs in the future which can provide more comfortably for my family. And each time the anxiety comes, so do new ideas.

You see, with these anxieties, I sometimes see those who have much higher earning power than I do and I ask myself: why? Yes, a gynaecologist may be much more brilliant than me intellectually and work longer hours than I do. But does the differential between my intelligence and his, and the fact that he works perhaps 1.5times the number of hours I do justify him earning about 100 times more than me? I don’t think so. Sometimes, I feel frustrated, I feel unfair. But life goes on.

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It seems that in a few conversations I had with different ones recently, ‘counting the cost’ was a theme that emerged. My brother James said: “My family is important. My marriage is important. Yes, I could spend so much more hours at work, but at what cost? One needs to count the cost.” Just last night, my cousin Yiyi and a few of us were sitting around the dinner table and she related how hard her boss works and the income it brings in. That kind of money blows my mind. And Yiyi said earnestly to us: “But everything comes at a price. Would you want a lot of money, but a broken marriage? What about the moments when your child is growing up? When they utter their first words or take their first steps? Those moments, once gone, are gone forever.”

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” – Luke 14:28-30

It’s true. Everything comes at a price. Including my HDB. With my wife considering taking some no-pay leave to care for the child while we transition to our house in Punggol, purse-strings will be tight. So how? I suppose it will be a combination of both looking to increase the income but also learning to live simply.

They say fatherhood, or impending fatherhood, has a way of making one re-look at priorities. They certainly are for me.

It’s gonna be one hell of a ride. #bringiton