“I love working on different projects – but my family is my lifelong project,” says Howie Chang, 30, a designer, entrepreneur, technologist, and proud father of two girls – three-year-old Rae En and ten-month-old Lyn En.
He and his wife, Joy Cheong, 29, decided early on that they wanted to be parents at a young age. “We wanted to give our best to our children while we’re young,” Howie explains. This is why they had their first child about a year after marriage, and Joy chose to stay at home to care for the girls – a decision that has meant both joys and sacrifices for the couple.
In the first six months after Rae En’s birth, Joy’s mother helped to care for the baby while Joy continued to work. But, she always felt that she was missing out on Rae En’s growing phases, her first steps and first words. That was when she decided to stay home to look after Rae En, and later, Lyn En.
“It was hard for Joy to stop working,” Howie says, reflectively. “It’s tiring to care for the kids, you miss out on social life at work, and we’re going against the tide – Joy is a graduate, and had a good career as an engineer, earning her own money; our culture will tell you that being a stay-home mother is wasting your degree.”
“And of course it’s easier on me if we have the dual income to share the financial burden,” he adds. But the couple continue to remind themselves why they chose this path – with no regrets.”
We feel it’s important that the children grow up in a nurturing environment, and that we build a relationship with them from a young age,” he says. “It doesn’t help to just take a trip once a year, to cram all the relationship-building into that short time. It’s about the everyday relationships.”
Balancing work and family
Now the sole breadwinner for his family, Howie describes himself as having a mixed personality; “I can’t stand being normal, working in stable jobs; I like the excitement of working in different start-ups – but I am also very traditional,” he says, referring to the traditional viewpoint of the father as the provider.
“I don’t feel bad about going to work, or not spending that time with the children,” he says, “because I see this as modeling for the children, that they look up to me as their father who works hard to provide for them, just as hard as their mother who takes care of them.”
But once he reaches home, the time is for his family. “I used to bring my laptop home to continue work,” he laughs. “Now I try to be back by 7.30pm, and spend the rest of the time with them.” Some people think he is too lax, he says, because the children sleep at 10.30 or 11pm, a late bedtime by some standards. But this is so that they have at least a few hours together every day.
Howie describes how each night, Rae En will sing, talk and play with him; they will sometimes read books to each other, or role play with her dolls. “I will ask her about her day in school, and she’ll try to tell me about her teacher, or about some craft they did,” he smiles. “My wife cooks dinner, but we’ll also often go out for dessert – all these things help to build our relationship.”
Providing emotional support for the family
The one point Howie keeps coming back to is his desire to emotionally support his family. “I lived with my aunt when I was young,” he recalls, because his aunt resided near his parents who were both busy working. “I was deeply loved by my aunt and my cousins, and that is why I have grown up a confident person.”
This is the same love he wants to pass on to his children. “It’s not just about caring for their physical and financial needs, but also emotional needs,” he says, regarding his role as a father. “My wife is always reminding me to empathise more,” he laughs.
“I don’t want my children to be emotional dwarves – maybe really smart, but unable to handle their emotions,” he emphasises. He believes in validating their emotions and assuring them that “it’s not wrong to feel”.
“When a child falls down, do we say, it’s OK, don’t cry?” he asks, rhetorically. “It’s better to empathise with them, and ask, ‘Is it painful?'” he explains.
And he clearly is thinking about the future as well. “If your daughter goes through a relationship break-up and is sad, maybe she’s crying, some parents might tell her to stop crying or to get over it,” he continues – but he wants to do things differently, rather than sweep things under the carpet.
“I want to empathise with them, so they can learn to trust their feelings, and grow more mature and confident,” he says. “I think if you keep telling the children ‘you shouldn’t be feeling this way’, at some point, they will just stop sharing their feelings with you.”
And this extends to discipline issues as well. “Even if they have made a mistake, I want them to be able to share it with us – of course they’ll be reprimanded – but they will still be loved,” he says. “They don’t need to earn our love.”
In fact, he gauges his success as a father by whether he is the “best boyfriend” to his daughters. “I think the father sets the standard for his daughter when she looks for a husband,” he says.
He does not want his daughters to ever feel they need to look for love elsewhere. “We want them to feel deeply loved at home, and for their ‘love tank’ to always be filled up, so that when they go out into the world, they won’t be so easily swayed by guys taking advantage of them,” he says.
This is a future he has mixed feelings about. “Of course I wish they won’t grow up,” he laughs, ruefully. “But I’m also looking forward to them growing up confidently; I want to be a nurturing father-figure, to mentor them, and walk through life’s journey with them,” he says. “I want them to look to me as a father and a friend.”
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 28-06-2013
Categories: Dads' Stories