A large part of my working life was spent behind bars – as a prison officer. For 17 years, I was surrounded by inmates from different backgrounds – drug addicts and hardcore criminals, among others. From learning about where they get their drugs and the meaning of their tattoos, they also taught me much about life, and what could happen when parents, especially fathers, were physically or emotionally absent in their children’s lives. Each story is simply a recollection of childhood memories. Sadly, many either had no memory or negative memories of their fathers.
A few years ago, I did what an article suggested: Close my eyes and recall scenes of my dad and myself. What I “saw” was me waiting eagerly outside my house for dad to return at the end of each day because I missed him (he worked in a shipyard); him holding my right hand and teaching me to write Chinese characters – he was educated only up to Primary 4 in China; me snuggling up to his side at night (when he was not working extra night shift) to hear stories of his childhood and how he came to Singapore; his constant advice to me to study hard, to be thrifty, not to smoke, gamble nor drink.
I think about what I would want my daughter and son to recall if they were put through a similar exercise years from now. I hope theirs would be images of lasting memories we have created for ourselves, of time spent together, playing board games and bedtime routines. Of family holidays and adventures, and being there for each other when life deals us a bad hand.
My commitment to family life was not a natural occurrence. Some years ago, I had a terrible day at work. And what do fathers do after a bad day? We come home and sit in front of our favourite “box” – mine was the television. It was how I de-stressed.
My wife asked why I was not helping her with the kids. I didn’t want to bother her with my work problems, so I kept quiet.
The next day I received a long email from her in which she expressed her unhappiness. In the last paragraph, she shared that, while everyone else looked up to me, at work or within my other circles, no one knew what I was like at home.
This was my wake-up call – no point being a hero outside and a zero at home!
I stopped watching TV and found time to read to my children, play board games with them and tuck my son into bed at night. A couple of years later, I received the best Father’s Day gift ever. My son gave me a hand-drawn card. Each page had a picture and a sentence like “Thank you for reading books to me” or “Thank you for telling me ghost stories”. When I held that card in my hand, I knew it was all worth the sacrifice.
(I’ve since resumed watching TV as my kids are older now. My recent favourite was the award winning Korean drama “Descendants of the Sun”, which I watched together with my wife).
When a father is present for his children when they are young, they are likely to be there for him when he is old. I spent a fair bit of time with my dad at the hospital when he was being treated for cancer. Once, I was following him closely on a trip to the bathroom to make sure I’d be there to catch him if he fell. It then dawned upon me that it was what my dad did for me when I was a little toddler – walking behind me, watching me carefully, ready to dive forward to catch me.
“When a father is present for his children when they are young, they will likely be there for him when he is old.”
On another occasion, when he was staying with me after his discharge from hospital, I took him downstairs for a walk. All of a sudden, my dad turned to me and, with a twinkle in his eyes, said: “When you were young, I took you out for walks. Now, you take me out for walks.”
Towards my dad’s final days, whenever I walked past and peek into his room, I would often see him seated at his bedside table, slowly turning the pages of two particular books. The first book which he would read with much seriousness was the Bible. The second, which would often bring a smile to his face, was the family photo album. The happy memories he had created for his children, had in turn brought comfort and gladness to his heart. Though he is no longer around, those same memories are now bringing comfort to me.
The richness of a father’s love is best measured in the lasting memories we leave for our children. These memories will one day guide them and comfort them as they comfort us.
“If you want to be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.” – Anonymous.
©2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Jason is married for over 20 years and is a loving, involved father to two teenage children. Founder of the Dads for Life movement, his greatest passion is to see Family restored through turning the heart of every father back to his children, and for every child to have a good father-figure in their life.
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