I pen this in reflection of the intimate father-son relationship I enjoy with Dad, as much as it is a note to my future-self. This also goes out to all fathers and children –not as a template to follow, but a means to reflect upon your own relationship.
I had learnt from a friend that fathers wear distinct hats at different phases of their children’s lives. I find this enlighteningly true as I reflect upon the varied roles Dad has adopted.
The Commander and Teacher
From my infancy to age 12, Dad was both Commander and Teacher.
As a Commander, he made decisions for us. This ranged from the superficial like choosing venues for weekend family dinners, to the more serious like deciding on our primary schools. While we were more concerned with having fun, Dad was already preparing us for life. And, where discipline was needed, he stepped in.
As a Teacher, it was not so much the academic tutoring, but inculcating of values that was paramount. In particular, fighting spirit, humility, and a sense of purpose of why we work so hard in our education system.
His modus operandi?
Leading by example.
I witnessed humility in the way he treated others. He was frugal to himself, yet generous to the family. He would actively share his life stories to illustrate certain values. While as young kids we found those stories boring and repetitive, on hindsight they were gems.
Overall, Dad acted as a “benevolent authoritarian”, steering the ship while we mostly watched on-deck. He was sowing the seeds for our future, and forming a solid base before the impending challenge: Puberty.
As I stepped onto the tortuous pathway of adolescence, Dad morphed into a Mentor figure. His main course of action was to draw boundaries.
With the onset of testosterone and the greater pursuit of my self-identity, the father-son relationship changed drastically. I remember being rebellious and engaging Dad in heated debates, with the sole motivation of proving that “I am right.”
But, boundaries were not meant to stifle my life, as much as they were intended to protect me. For example, Dad warned me about the perils of committing to a romantic relationship, with possible ramifications on my studies and future. He knew this all too well from individuals he counselled as an associate professor.
Yet, he always encouraged me to socialise because “the best friends in life are made at this juncture.” So, the challenge for the Mentor Dad is to give his children enough autonomy to grow, whilst reminding us about the importance of values so as not lose ourselves to raging hormones, rash decisions and peer pressure.
Today we appreciate that the rules and regulations were sincerely “for our own good”. A football game without a responsible referee and well-marked boundaries inadvertently results in chaos, and ultimately injured players.
There is no “fun” in that.
Now in my second year of University, Dad has gradually become a Friend to me. We enjoy discussing current affairs and outlooks in life over kopi*. I think Dad is genuinely interested to learn about my views because this stimulates his own thinking. And, I am more willing to share my troubles and thoughts with my “buddy” these days.
Dad respects that I am capable of forming my own rational arguments, and is nonetheless able to offer guidance sensitively. We have reached a milestone where he is comfortable enough to point out things that may be “hard to listen to, but must be said”; while I am mature enough to receive his comments openly in the right spirit, yet not blindly.
These days, I have taken greater ownership over my life but, still heavily rely on Dad’s wisdom in advising my decisions.
In our Asian context, it is not intuitive for Singaporean fathers to wear the Friend hat. And, it may seem awkward at first for children to treat dads as friends while observing the necessary respect and authority. This requires two hands to clap, but has potential for a blossoming relationship.
My friend shared that after my graduation, Dad will become a Follower.
Initially I found this peculiar, but it eventually made sense. When I was younger, it was Dad who made the decisions and drove the family to East Coast Park on the weekends. I envision the day I drive my old folks to treat Dad to his favourite chilli crab by the east coast. I am sure Dad will happily follow along.
Different Roles, Unwavering Principles
Even as Dad continues wearing different hats, what underlies his actions and decisions remain constant –the responsibility he willingly undertakes as head of the household, in having a vision for a better future for my sister, Karen and I.
Due to his past struggles, where his father passed on at the tender age of 7, Dad finds great strength in the Chinese proverb “长江后浪推前浪，江山代有人才出”(Translation: Just as the impending waves of the Yangtze River drive the waves ahead, each new generation excels the last one).
He pushes us to our limits because of his personal conviction to give us of his best. He wants to spare us the harsh suffering he endured as a fatherless child. The basis of Dad’s commitment is an unwavering principle: simply his unfailing love for his family and children.
About the Author: Paul Sim Ruiqi is 22 year old Dentistry undergraduate student at the National University of Singapore. He contributed this article Dad’s Changing Hats –A Son Reflects to describe the different roles his father took up at different phases in his growing up years as Commander and Teacher, Mentor, Friend, and Follower. He thinks most fathers and their children will be able to relate to this and wants to inspire readers to reflect upon the father-child relationship he or she is part of, in order to strengthen it further.
Also read: Of Dad and Home-cooked Dinners
Categories: Dads' Stories