Phew! The holiday season has ended, and so has that time of year for intense family bonding. The Christmas period has always been that way for me – a season when the whole family makes a special effort to take time off from our many other activities to be together and to do things together.
It is when the children get a break from their school activities, and when my wife and I try to synchronise our annual leave. We usually manage to get two, sometimes even three weeks together, like in December.
It was the same when I was growing up – Dad on leave, the Christmas tree lights flickering in the hall, lots of goodies to eat and the family sitting around playing card games. The big difference is that, unlike then, my family now usually tries to take a short holiday abroad.
It used to be fairly easy when the kids were young, but time just grows tighter each year. This time, two of my children sat for important exams – Shaun for his A levels and Natasha her Os – which ended only in late November. Much of their time in the months prior to that had been spent studying, so it was understandable when my two socially deprived children came out of their reclusion wanting to do some serious fraternising after their exams. Besides catching up with their friends, they had other activities lined up including a youth camp which ran for a few days, and a leadership camp.
When I suggested that we go on a family holiday, my three teenagers had requests – they wanted to be in Singapore in the days leading up to Dec 25 because they wanted to stroll down Orchard Road, take in the Christmas spirit, admire the decorations, listen to carols and shop for gifts.
Shaun had a band performance which fell on the first day of our trip, Marcus had a rugby game scheduled for that day and Natasha had to be back early to change for a Christmas dinner on the night we were supposed to return. Trying to accommodate everyone’s plans was near impossible.
Reasoning with the older two kids that they need not attend every single Christmas party they were invited to left me flustered. I snapped when my youngest, 14-year-old Marcus, strolled in and said he, too, had a Christmas party to attend.
‘You,’’ I said, ‘are a small fry. People your age do not be going to parties.’
We decided then to visit Cameron Highlands, but just three days before we left, Shaun pulled out to perform with his band which was involved in some Christmas carolling along Orchard Road. It was our first holiday with a family member missing, and with Shaun scheduled to enter national service soon, his absence was even more disappointing.
I could also sense the reluctance in the other two about having to go for the trip. They kept muttering about how they would miss their friends, and complaining about the itinerary even before they knew the details.
But a few hours of the winding drive up Cameron Highlands and the 16 deg C temperature at the top put paid to all that. They actually had a good time during the four days there. On the drive back, I thought that my push for family time had not been in vain when I heard Marcus say: “Yay! My brother is waiting at home for me.” Wow, the little guy misses his brother.
I found out later that what he had actually said was: ‘My burger is waiting at home for me.’ He had asked Shaun to buy him his favourite Carl’s Jr burger so that he could have it for dinner when we got back that night. Sigh.
I am by now quite accustomed to my children struggling to divide their time between family and their close friends. I have always encouraged their friendships because I know that most of the kids they hang out with are sensible and steer clear of smoking, drinking and sex.
Still, they are competition for my family time. My children had so many outings planned during December that I had to remind them several times: ‘I am on leave, and I would like all of you to spend some time at home.’ It inevitably led to my son asking me one day: ‘Dad, when do you go back to work?’
In comparison, my Dad had it easy pulling off family time. Back when I was a kid, we had little pocket money on schooldays, and none during the holidays. We just stayed at home, and I remember protesting about the amount of time we were stuck in the house.
My Dad never did explain why he wanted us around him when he took leave, he just insisted on it. I’m now back at work and I still have not got around to explaining to my kids this fixation I have with family time.
I want to tell them that family time can build ties, though the downside is that it can also very easily get on the nerves of some in the family. But, like my Dad, I am going to continue to insist on it. Hopefully, my kids, too, will understand – if not now, maybe when they become parents themselves one day.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 16-01-2012.