A dad. An unsung hero. His presence is always felt and always revered. Sometimes unintentionally forgotten by those closest to him. Forgotten that he is not just only a father but also a son, husband, brother.
I remember not long after becoming a new dad, practically everything revolved around my newborn son. I was really fine with this and I still am. It is, I suppose, the natural order of things. My mother had said “You’re old already. Of course la, your son must come first.” Regardless, I’m fine with that.
In some way, my mum was right and I really can’t argue with what she said. I’ve shared this joke with some of my close male friends or with the newly married ones who are planning for their first child, much like you.
“Careful what you wish for.” I’ve always said. “You will end up as a pariah in the corner of the house. You’re there but of not much significance. Are you sure you are ready for that? If you’re not, please hold back your plans to become a dad.”
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That’s the hard truth and necessary to tell you because that’s how you may likely feel. But is it true that dad’s are insignificant in the growth of our children? The role of dads can be rather ambiguous. You are not the one who carried the child to full term. You are not the one who breast feeds. You are not experienced enough unlike your folks and your wife’s folks, who have been through hell and high water to raise their own children; and so whatever they advise, must be the gospel truth.
But in the eyes of your child, you are an unsung hero.
Good dads sacrifice so much of their entire lives after becoming dads and right up until they are in their graves (or urns). Their sacrifices make them the quintessential unsung heroes. They are not the centre of a family unit but they certainly encapsulate it.
Imagine, all that machismo and male ego, set aside and laid on a shelf as you take turns in carrying your new baby like you’re some domesticated creature; a far cry from the macho image you tendered to since your adolescence. That my friend, is sacrifice numero uno. The first sacrifice you will make unless your male ego was nothing much to begin with, in the first place.
But you are still that same man and you have made a brave transition to become that unsung hero. You become adept at changing diapers and prepping that milk bottle. You get so good at being a pseudo-maestro or a pseudo-music composer, effectively coo-ing your baby to sleep with your own version of lullabies.
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You find yourself carrying your kid who’s wrapped around your chest in a sarong or shouldering the diaper bag like the way you used to shoulder your rifle during National Service.
You have stroller duties and that’s almost akin to guard duty. Collapsing and uncollapsing the stroller; carrying it up buses or loading it into your car and looking out for it at baggage carousels at international airport destinations during overseas family trips. Those male muscles and National Service training must account for something. You take shifts to feed the baby just like taking shifts for sentry duty.
You are always on the alert. Always aware of surroundings and observant of so many things. At road crossings or around bodies of water and even watching out for small items that could be a danger to your child. Your hand is ever ready to block sharp corners of furnishings that could cause harm to your child. You apply mosquito patches on your child before taking walks outdoors and check for insect bites. Your army training kicks in and in so many ways without you realising it.
You are consistent in checking for fever temperatures when the kid is down with a bug. You always want to be the one to catch your kid should he fall or better still, you hope to always be the one to prevent him from falling.
You kick yourself hard should that happen on your watch but you brush him off and tell him that it’s okay. If he makes a meal of it, you toughen yourself up to toughen him up. You put on the face of the toughest disciplinarian you’ve ever had. Despite your own anxiety, you summon the skills of an Oscar winning actor and play that necessary role.
But deep down inside, you want so much to coddle your kid; and still kicking yourself hard for not preventing that fall though appreciating that bitter yet sweet hard lesson your child had just undergone.
Regardless, your “radar” and watchful eye, doesn’t turn itself off. You are on high alert all the time and on constant standby. Again, your army training kicks in. However, your activation time is not 2NTM (two hours to return to camp on activation during military standby duty), it’s immediate! You are always on standby duty and this doesn’t end even when your kid gets that key to adulthood or when he receives the keys to his new HDB flat with his beau.
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You teach the rules of life. You squeeze in as much quality time as you can, to not only organise or be a part of planned family activities but more importantly, the time to talk and bond. You repeat life lessons time and again sometimes like a broken recording or you reimagine yourself to be the Anthony Robbins for your child, same lessons but delivered in hundreds of different ways; you wait to pounce on the right situations as examples to emphasise these lessons.
You want to rush these lessons because you don’t know just when you might not have your mental faculties about you any longer or live long enough to impart everything you should. With all of your good intentions, your kid might see you as a nag. This doesn’t deter you because you feel that you don’t ever want it to be a situation of “too little, too late”.
Then again, life lessons are infinite and unlimited. We struggle with identifying if some of these lessons we impart are indeed, the right ones. We ask if they contain the values we should espouse or should we teach them to learn how to bend rules a little because we know that life doesn’t just throw balls at us in a linear fashion. More often, life throws us curve balls. So do we teach our children to “bend sideways” in order to avoid curve balls?
Let’s examine this and use the issue of how to deal with bullying in school as an example. We know that it’s right to teach our kid to avoid any form of retaliation and to report to the school authorities if he is being bullied. But we also know that the kid could be cornered by a group and viciously beaten up. A dad can only hope that the injuries won’t be too serious.
We also know that kids who are constantly bullied can become suicidal. So do we continue to teach them to not retaliate? How would a dad deal with the issue of bullying then? What happens if the bullying is reported to the school and all the bully receives is a slap on the wrist and he could further retaliate so the bullying worsens?
Then I suppose the next course of action will be to report it to the police. But if the police just issue the bully a warning and if he is a hardcore bully, the situation might escalate to an even worse level.
So dad, what would you do? You decide to speak to the bully’s parents only to discover to your chagrin that their child is the way he is because his own parents are no better. I will leave this conundrum right here.
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So life lessons are hardly ever “a one size fits all” but as a dad, you have to work this through with and for your kid. This example is one of many realms that kids will look towards their dads for advice or affirmative action. As for me, I taught my boy to “bend the rules sideways”. Please, don’t judge me. You do you and I do me.
I’ve said to my son that as he grows older each year, it is a stark reminder that I’m aging alongside too. Someone said to me when I became a new dad that life from now onwards will become more fleeting and that’s what having children does.
My son is now aged 12 and I am 51. I still wonder where that pudgy baby had gone. I remember vividly every single moment of his delivery. I looked at the infant pictures taken with him and I saw a much younger man, devoid of wrinkles and lines. I look at myself now and I see a craggier faced, greying man with a son that has now begun to tower over him. It all happened within a blink of an eye! Yes, you will seem to age faster when you become a dad.
It’s true, what my friend said. It is a gratifying experience and yet, it can also be a little scary. You start thinking about your own mortality and what you can do to defy the rigours of ageing. You develop different life ambitions. You want to live longer to experience as many of your child’s life stages.
For me, it would be to experience his enlistment, choice of career, marriage and parenthood. All these used to sound so cliche when we hear our own parents talk about it. But now, this dad understands these all too well because dads would always want to be his kid’s wingman; to always be able to say “Don’t worry. I got you.”
I suppose this piece isn’t just meant for those who are thinking of becoming dads but also, for those who are already dads although some of our individual experiences may differ but I believe that much of what has been written here is relatable to many dads. So if you’re still thinking about being a dad, take the plunge! Be that unsung hero! Be a dad!