The Dad Who Wasn’t There

I got so caught up in enforcing curfews that I missed a chance to encourage my daughter

tree8MY THREE children came back from a youth camp once, exhausted but happy. Marcus, went on about the fun he had had and the new good friends he had made during the five-day camp held in our church in Woodlands.

Shaun loved it because he was one of the committee members. That the whole programme ran without a hitch gave him a deep sense of satisfaction. But it was my daughter Natasha for whom the camp’s success was especially meaningful. She was ‘Food IC’ for the more than 100 teens and a handful of adult supervisors attending it.

She had to see that everyone at the camp got their breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, and on time – no easy task. She had a limited budget. She had to work out the menu, look for caterers and bargain with them. And to keep her costs low, she decided to persuade some of the women in the church to volunteer to cook some of the meals.

Having been away for our family holiday until just a week before the camp, she was also tight for time to tie up loose ends. On top of that, she had to contend with some of the teens who reputedly had fearsome appetites – there was the youth leader who could polish off six packets of chicken rice at one go, a teen for whom seven pratas for breakfast was standard fare, and a girl who could fit in a half tray of fried beehoon despite her slim frame.  In spite of these challenges, she did a good job as Food IC, so I was told.

Several youths came up to tell me that they were well fed and that they had enjoyed their meals. Even Marcus, my youngest son who usually has nothing good to say about his sister, was full of praise for the camp cuisine.

Feeling proud that she had done so well, I sat down to ask her about her role and her first comment was: ‘You were not at all supportive when I was doing this, unlike other times when you were very encouraging.’ (Not true, I thought.)

‘Just ask Shaun,’ she continued. ‘The week before the camp, when I had to go for the meetings, your first question was: ‘What time will you be back? It was never – how is it going, or is your planning going on alright.’

‘And at the end of the day after the meetings to sort out the food, the first thing you said to me when I got home was – “Why are you back so late?”’

‘Oh yes, one night you said – Even those planning the National Day Parade don’t have such long meetings’.’

For good measure, she added: ‘This was the toughest thing I had ever taken on, it was so stressful and you were playing time-keeper and just adding on to the pressure. And you were so rigid.’

She started to sob.

Initially, I dismissed her reaction. I attributed her cranky mood to the stress of being Food IC, her tiredness, all the late nights of games and Bible study – or maybe even the camp food. But on reflection, I did put a lot of pressure on her and Shaun for coming back late almost daily in the week before the camp.

While Shaun is the sort who goes off on his own to work out what he wants to do, Natasha likes talking about her plans, getting feedback, suggestions and comments. But coming back late every time meant they spent a lot of their time explaining to me why they got home so late and usually no one was in the mood to discuss anything else after that.

I tried to reason with my daughter on why I wasn’t more supportive earlier, and reminded her about my attempts to try to help.

I had volunteered, together with my wife, to cook Swedish meatball pasta for the youths’ dinner one night. And to help her keep her costs down, I told her I would make the meat balls. I did try, really. Getting them into a ball shape was tricky. But she rejected my meat cuboids and insisted on paying more for ‘quality meatballs’.

I have no misgivings about the time-curfew and my insistence that both Shaun and she kept to it, but I did feel disappointed that their busting curfew had made me lose sight of how I could have played a bigger part in helping them. For me, it was a lost opportunity to have worked with Natasha. She was right – I was blinkered by my obsession to time-keeping and had missed the big picture.

I am sure she is going to remember the stress and the hard work she had to put in for the church camp as Food IC. I do hope she remembers what a good job she did – and not the fact that I was not behind her when she needed support, or my nagging, or the meat cuboids. Like kids, parents make mistakes, too.

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.

Categories: Dad's Journey, Matthew Pereira

Tags: , , , , ,

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