Neil Humphreys is just as affable as he sounds in his books. The 37-year-old is not local, but judging from his popularity and the time spent in Singapore, he might as well be.
Originally from Dagenham, England, Neil left in 1996 to travel the world. His first stop was Singapore and he ended up staying for 10 years after taking a liking to the place.
During that time he wrote three books about his experiences in Singapore, which quickly became hugely successful. It was then that the travel itch caught up with him and he relocated to Victoria, Australia for five years. There, he celebrated the birth of his daughter, and released a new book, Be My Baby.
Kampong Independence Minus the Kampong?
Now, back in Singapore as a full time writer with seven books to his name, Neil is also a proud father of three-year-old daughter Abbie Rose. While it is a major plus having been exposed to various cultures because of his work in three different continents, Neil finds that being a mature parent -a first-time father at 35- can sometimes have adverse effects.
“The best and worst thing about being a mature parent is, the maturity,” declares Neil. “The thing about being a mature parent is that you over think…you over worry. When you’re a younger parent, you tend to parent more on instinct.” As Neil puts it quite aptly, “We’re the Oprah and Dr Phil generation. We fuss over our children, we over analyse and over protect. I try not to do it.”
While Neil hopes his daughter grows to be independent and resourceful, he also understands that those qualities do not come easy. “It’s a dilemma,” explains Neil. “I want her to have the kampong independence, but not necessarily the kampong. It’s tough.” Yet judging from the resilient way Abbie Rose is adapting to her new home, Neil does not have much to worry. “It was a sink or swim thing and she swam,” says Neil.
“Now she says she never wants to go back to Australia.”
Teaching the Value of Money
Neil and his wife, Tracy, also used the move to Singapore as an opportunity to teach Abbie Rose the value of money.
“In Australia, she had a lot of toys and books. We calculated and explained to her the dollar value of all these things and told her we’ll replace it with the dollar equivalent when we came to Singapore,” says Neil. After the family settled down in Singapore, Neil and Tracy bought Abbie Rose a double decker bed from Ikea that she loves, as a substitute for all the toys she left behind.
“Now Abbie Rose has a clearer idea that money must be earned and that she must learn to be independent,” Neil adds.
White vs Multigrain Bread
“In Australia, we had what you would call the Singaporean dream house,” says Neil with a laugh. “We had two big gardens, four bedrooms, two cars. It was a suburban dream.”
Yet despite the comfortable lifestyle, Neil and his wife knew their ultimate priority was still Abbie Rose and she was the main reason they decided to move back to Singapore. “Tracy and I didn’t like the education system in Australia. It wasn’t kiasu* enough,” says Neil. “It was too laid back and had too much play.” While Neil and Tracy wanted a more rigorous education system, he was also looking towards a multicultural environment, something that Singapore could offer.
“We felt it was too much of a white bread culture in Australia. I’m more of a multigrain man. Her class now is very international,” says Neil of his daughter’s school at Chatsworth International. “There are kids from Japan, Korea, Britain and Australia.”
Giving Abbie Rose a headstart with Mandarin was also another reason why Neil returned to Singapore.
“It’s everyday stuff that you can’t get in a Western culture,” explains Neil. “Her head is a sponge, absorbing everything. She hears the aural tones much better now which gives her perfect pronunciation.”
Definitely Worth It
Although Neil’s career as a full-time writer gives him the flexibility to stay home and look after Abbie Rose while Tracy works as a teacher, it still has not been all smooth sailing.
“It’s definitely not easy,” acknowledges Neil. “It’s harder to work because of Abbie Rose. I can’t expect her to keep quiet all day in the house so I usually work when she’s at school or after she sleeps.”
Despite everything, Neil knows that these sacrifices are definitely worth it. “I knew my lifestyle was going to change, but I wanted to be more hands on. Even with no time, or not enough sleep, I accept it willingly and wish more parents would be like that.”
“I always said the only thing I ever wanted to be was a Dad,” says Neil earnestly.
“Some days I want to ‘kill’ her, but quite often she’ll do something really magical, like smile, or swim across the swimming pool for the first time and everything goes away,” says Neil with a smile.
*Kiasu is a colloquial expression of Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) origin, which literally means to be afraid to lose or to be competitive out of fear of losing out on something.
Be My Baby is available at a bookshop or public library near you (Call number: English 306.87420207 HUM -[FAM]).
Be My Baby is a humorous look at the road to fatherhood, written from the viewpoint of Neil Humphreys. The book charts the development of his wife’s pregnancy from the moment the two lines appear on the pregnancy test till the day the baby is born. It is a delightful read, heart-warming, hysterical, and often both at the same time.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 22-06-2012