Sunday, 18 June 2017

Father's Day - Lessons from our founding father.

Father's Day ironically comes smacked in  the middle of  a family saga that has captured the wildest imagination of a nation.

It has been a social media war, and there seems to be no closure to the family feud. In fact, as I write this post this morning, one of the siblings and his wife have plans to pack up and leave Singapore. Even the Deputy PM and the  Law Minister have been roped in with their political pyjamas still on.

Things have sadly come to a point where not only dirty linens are left hanging and swaying  in public, it has also attracted international attention and risks discrediting a nation's standing in the eyes of the world at large.

Their late father, LKY,  often talked about knocking some sense into stubborn heads, but the only problem is that he is no longer around to do it. Neither is his wife around to stanch the bleeding.

Alas, at this point, it is hope that passing time and good sense will ultimately prevail to bring about some closure to an otherwise  uncomplicated testamentary request that has unexpectedly rocked the whole nation and broken the peace (and legacy) of those who have passed on. 

But feud or not, this morning is Father's Day and it is a good time to reflect about what fatherhood means in the midst of what is happening locally and the world, especially the increasing divorce and delinquency rates and the new  spin on marriage where same-sex couples are making fatherhood optional in some cases.

Being a father of three, the Lee saga and the way the world is changing has taught me to never lose sight of what is important in a family.

Here, I take my lessons from the founding father of our nation.

LKY is not only a consummate statesman, he also has some sound advice on family and marriage. Notwithstanding the current sibling rivalry, LKY has set a good example when it comes to fatherhood, consistent love and covenantal commitment to his wife and children.

Now, in some political corners of Singapore, his authoritarian rule may have given his critics some causes for discontent. But when it comes to his marriage, the same critics would be hard pressed to disagree with me that theirs had been a resilient, loving and enduring union for more than six decades.

And the first lesson I learn from LKY about fatherhood is captured in these words.

"There's a Chinese phrase which goes: if you look after yourself, you look after the family...the first thing to do is to look after yourself and be a gentleman. That's the basic requirement. Every individual should try to aspire to be a gentleman."

A good father is a gentleman, and Confucius once told his student that "the proper gentlemen is just like beautiful flowers hidden in deep forest. That no one is there to smell them does not take away their fragrance. The same applies to the learning of a gentleman; he does not learn in order to be known (or be famous). Thus, in extreme straits, he will not be vexed; in times of anxiety, his purpose will not diminish."

Taking from the sages' cue, a father like a gentleman never does anything to put himself first. His family always comes first and his priorities are aligned to advance, protect and nurture their interests.

He is the head of the household not as a dictator or overlord, but as a wise servant, a vigilant gatekeeper, who is constantly learning along the way because he can never be fully prepared for fatherhood. Every child that comes his way will stretch him in different ways and teach him different lessons. 

A father is thus never vexed or troubled by the feeling that he is not getting enough credit for his contribution because the happiness of his family as a whole is what keeps him going and going with purpose and a quiet sense of fulfillment.

His personal feelings are dealt with by looking at the larger scheme of things over the long arc of time, which he knows with deep assurance that it eventually bends towards flourishing relationships.

The second lesson I learn about fatherhood is when LKY was asked in an interview for his book, "What would you say is the secret to a long and happy marriage?"

To which, he replied, "First of all, we accommodated each other. There was nothing we fundamentally disagreed on. She knew my quirks and I knew her eccentricities."

This is the best gift we can give to our children - that is, our marriage. For this reason, Father's Day should more appropriately be called "Marriage Day."  

And mind you, our children are not blind to our domestic quarrels, cold wars and hostile body language. They happen to live a significant (growing) part of their lives under our roof, remember? As such, they are often affected by what they see around them - the good, the bad and the ugly.

So, as fathers, we must not allow the sun to go down on our anger, ego and stubbornness. We are called the man of the house because we take the initiative to resolve an argument, offer an apology and heal the wounds of the heart (not just bring the bacon home). When the occasion calls for it, we man up by putting our pride aside for the sake of family, for the sake of harmony. 

LKY once said that he never believed in love at first sight because appearances are superficial. It is what a person conscientiously cultivates from within him/her that makes the enduring difference. And it takes the institution of marriage to process, nurture and grow the fruits of our character as we learn to love and treasure our wife through understanding, patience and sacrifice.

So, a happy and resilient marriage does not happen overnight or by the sway of emotional might or under the hypnotism of love at first sight.

A good marriage - as a priceless gift and legacy to our children - comes about through sticking together as lovers, partners and parents even in the toughest of times like LKY and his wife did for theirs. And in the process where iron sharpens iron, the couple grow stronger together over the years. 

Needless to say, the father takes the lead here to do everything within his power, maturity and integrity to preserve and protect the sanctity of marriage.

That's what Father's Day is all about, that is, always taking the initiative to advance the goals of the marriage covenant  because it is this timeless covenant that breathes joy and meaning into the roles and purposes of Fatherhood.

My third and last lesson on fatherhood is again taken from the reply of LKY in the same interview. He was asked, "When you look over your life, your political life and your personal life, what gives you the greatest sense of satisfaction?"

He said, "That I've lived my life to the fullest. Given the circumstances, I did my best in politics. I did my best to bring up a family, which I could not have done alone. My wife did most of the nurturing...My children were brought up as normal ordinary children."

We fathers must never forget that we are not called to be perfect, or more appropriately, to be perceived by our children as such. Whatever image we are desirous to project to our children, they will one day realize that we are just as flawed and broken as them. The truth may hurt first, before it sets us free.

The best we can do as fathers is to live our life in all areas to the fullest. And living to the fullest here doesn't necessarily mean that we will end up wealthy or famous. If anything, living to the fullest is primarily relational and not material.

Alas, it is never easy to be the good dad at all times. We may lose our composure, overreact over the smallest infraction, take our children for granted, say things we regret, preach more than we practise, slack on some values we demand without compromise from them, occasionally break our promises and magnify their faults more than is necessary.  

However, notwithstanding the errors of our ways as fathers, we must never forget that fatherhood is a learning journey, and we learn as much from our children as they are learning from us. The student-teacher's role is never so clear cut. 

And at the end of the day, if we live our life in such a way that our children are assured that we  will always be dependable and responsible and that we will always be there for them when they need us, we will then have done our best in this transforming journey called fatherhood. Cheerz.

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