MARCUS, the youngest of my three kids, has talked about moving to Japan to work and live there. When I heard this, I thought it was a fantastic idea. This boy who is all of 16 has dreams and ambition. He wants to be in Japan – the seat of the world’s cutting edge technology, the leading country in robotics, I marvelled.
That was until he told me he wanted to be there so that he could have ready access to quality Japanese food – every day. He is a big foodie, but Japanese takes the cake, well, sushi, for him. It had nothing to do with career or anything more ‘serious’.
He is quite unlike a classmate of mine, Paul, who sat next to me during our final exams in secondary school. He was one of the smart kids in class and about Marcus’ age at that time.
While waiting for the paper to end, Paul turned to me with his usual smug look and said: ‘I want to be a doctor.’ I replied: ‘I want to pass my science paper.’ Today, that show-off is a successful gynaecologist. He was the first guy in my schooldays to ever mention career or ambition and, boy, was he spot on.
I often cite Paul’s focus and ambition to my kids to try and motivate them on the need to think about their future early in life. I have been nagging them about it even more this year because Marcus is sitting for his O-level exams and my daughter Natasha for her A levels. But they seem more fascinated by intriguing jobs than serious vocations.
Just last week, Marcus, who is fairly buff for his age because of the gym-work he puts in for his rugby, asked: ‘Dad, how does one become a bodyguard?’ ‘What a cool job,’ he added.
‘You have to build up your body and be brain-dead,’ I told him. ‘There isn’t a high demand for bodyguards in Singapore so jobs would be hard to come by. But vacancies for security guards there are plenty,’ I said agitatedly.
It sparked a heated discussion. ‘Dad, did I say I wanted to be a bodyguard?’
Maybe he was just curious but any father would empathise with me that at a time when one is trying to nudge them into the ‘right’ career, questions like, ‘What kind of qualifications do undertakers need?’ or ‘What is a day of a train driver like?’ would send many Dads ballistic.
I know there is pride in honest labour and I salute all the bodyguards, undertakers and train drivers out there, but surely youngsters should aim higher? Today’s competitive world, I feel, demands them to think and plan more than we ever had to at their age.
But the environment has changed so much that talking to kids these days about their career is a lot tougher now. Previously, what we wanted to do was determined by what careers were available in Singapore. Not so today.
Anyone looking for a job today can look overseas, too. My brother-in-law looked for job openings in New York, where he works now, and London when he left his last job. Many of the younger generation go into university with a view to a job abroad.
Last year, I had a chat with a parent whose son was pursuing geology in a university in the United States. Geology? What on earth is he going to do in Singapore, I thought. Maybe they are required for the underground MRT projects. But obviously that young man was thinking beyond Singapore.
Parents who travel abroad often have a different worldview, too. Over the weekend, a friend who had spent several years working in the US, Australia, Malaysia and now here, said he has been telling his two sons to look not only at Singapore but also the rest of the world for job opportunities.
‘Too many doctors in Singapore? OK. Check out the medical scene in Australia or the US to see if there are vacancies there,’ he said.
He might be doing it consciously, but the exposure our kids get these days subconsciously makes them think that way too. Seeing the number of Singaporeans working abroad reinforces this kind of thinking. Gone are the days when a parent could look purely at his kid’s strengths and strongly urge him to pursue something.
When my elder son Shaun was applying for a place in the university last year, I took the old fashioned route and suggested he pursue areas which would allow him to capitalise on his flair for mathematics. So it was accountancy, engineering, architecture.
He opted for law instead, not something a hardcore science student would do during my time.
I think what would work with my kids would be to try to ask the right questions about what they are interested in to make sure they know what they are getting into because, at the end of the day, it is about them pursuing what they like.
I am sure I will continue to subtly knock the jobs I don’t approve of and promote other vocations, but if Marcus wants to be a bodyguard, reluctantly, I would say ‘okay’.
Though I have to confess, if he talks about being an undertaker, my response is still likely to be ‘over my dead body’.
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.