Walking the line between self and parenthood

I wrote about this same topic two years ago, and I thought it would be a good time to revisit things, seeing as I’ve been through the grind of parenthood for nearly two years now.

To quote myself:

To me, this memory is a reminder of who I want to be.

I want to be someone I’m proud of, someone the younger me can look and marvel at. To be wise, understanding and a ready listener; someone my child would have no problems sharing his joys and fears with. Someone he can respect and look up to as a role model. Someone he would be able to tell his friends about; that his dad is an awesome fellow who lives life doing the things he loves. I want to be the friend, the geek, the basketball fanatic, the gamer, the photographer, the armchair philosopher, the fussy critic and so many other parts that make up the self.

I would really dread the day when I have to tell my kid something to the order of “I used to love doing blahblah before we had you.” Instant confusion (“Why do you not do it now?”) and subsequent guilt trip (“Am I to blame for this?”).

I want to be my own person, and to die doing the things I love. I have never believed that being an employee, a boyfriend, a husband and a father would mean submerging my own persona “for the long term good”, as Stan once said. That’s utter bullshit to me. Everything is but just a facet of the big picture, and a balance.

And to add another quote from my thoughts on parenthood last year:

All too often, parenthood is seen as a burden, and in today’s society it is more than acceptable to outsource the labour, be it to the parents or paid help externally. Being a full-time parent is physically exhausting and mentally unstimulating at times. It is a mundane routine for the most part, but yet filled with unexpected surprises at every turn. It’s no walk in the park, but if you ask me? It is something everyone should get a taste of.

Like I told Stan the other night, parenthood has come to mean an accelerated maturation in one’s life. It’s about learning to take care of another, about being careful not to make mistakes that could prove costly. It’s about being constantly watchful, constantly learning, and staying calm in a crisis. It’s about learning to the virtue of observation over action, about understanding the situation before trying to fix it. Parenthood is about learning to love unconditionally, to give without expecting anything in return and putting the needs of another above yourself. It’s about responsibility, and learning the simple joys of labour that money can never replace.

Is being a parent an absolute choice between the self and the child? Why can’t we work towards our dreams while being parents?

Granted, some goals are tougher than others. For example, entrepeneurship might be a trifle harder to accomplish when you have to hold a day job while tending to a cranky kid at night. So do things like movie marathons, crazy all-night drinking sessions, and a lot of things that involve either spontaneity or extended periods outside the home.

That being said, is it really possible to put opportunity costs into weighing parenthood? How do you measure a mundane goal that might hold its metric in dollars and cents, when the real value of being a parent lies in the intangible satisfaction, joy and contentment that comes out of seeing your child grow every day, and the simple pleasures of interacting and teaching that make little steps so interesting?

How do we factually report and put forth the benefits of being a parent in an objective manner, when relationships and emotions are tenuous things to begin with? I’d like to see someone quantitively measure and compare for example, the thrill of watching a sports game up live, versus the joy of seeing their little one run to them with a welcoming hug and a big smile, after a long hard day of work. Do you record your variances in heartbeat? The amount of endorphins dumped into your bloodstream? Or perhaps, the level of neuron activity even?

To lament the loss of a dream, only speaks volumes about how hard you tried. Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it, and it’s all about what you are willing to invest into achieving that goal you long for. To use parenthood as an pragmatic-sounding excuse is just that – a self-justification made to appease one’s mind, self-psychosis in believing one had no choice in the matter.

“It’s all for the best, because I must be a responsible parent and do what is right.”

The uncontrollable urge to mouth a vile epithet arises whenever I see oh-so-righteous and noble sounding conclusions like these.

There is always a choice. Never shift the blame for your supposed losses in life to the fact of rearing a child. Instead, ask yourself if you had tried enough to make it happen. If you want it badly enough, nothing can stop you from realising your dreams.

Always remember: the only person that can limit you from living your life the way you want, is you. Not your spouse, not your kids, not your parents, not your peers, and most definitely not your boss. It’s all about whether you want it badly enough to make it happen.

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The most important resource in life, and what truly matters.

I used to think that money was pretty important.

After I recovered from my illness though, the perspective changed drastically. Call it an epiphany, maybe.

Time, not money, is both the most valuable and limited resource we possess. Without time, there’s no way we can accomplish anything of worth. Nowadays, I assess potential tasks and projects with two questions:

  1. Can I commit the time necessary to get them done, and
  2. Is the outcome worth my time and effort?

In a way, this loops back to the stuff I learnt from Tim Ferriss and the Four Hour Work Week long ago. Time is precious, free yourself up from things that can be effectively outsourced.

Perhaps it’s the fact that work keeps me so busy during the day, my personal time has become much more precious. Or maybe, it might be because of the workload that’s forced me to reassess my time versus output ratio. I’m not even going to go into the projects I had on my plate outside work. It’s a good thing quite a few of them ended at the same time for various reasons, otherwise I would honestly be dying right now.

For good or for worse, this shift in mindset is definitely going to change the way I prioritise tasks. I’m viewing it as a “good” for now. The important thing to always remember though, is that two things are always going to be worth our time. Our passions, and the people that matter.

How is life like in Melbourne?

A friend posed this question to me last night, and it got me thinking – how does one describe life over here? A few words come to mind.

Cranky weather
No explanation required.

Artsy
Buskers. Music festivals. Artists. Film festivals. Theatre. Comedy Festival. Theatre. Hell, that’s a lot.

Sporty
You’re talking about the capital of Aussie footy. Every other state has a team, we have teams. Don’t forget cricket, soccer, rugby, basketball, swimming, cycling, marathons. (And there’s this little thing called the Australian Open that’s held in Melbourne.)

To me, the most important word that sums things up is freedom. I feel free to pursue the things I love without pressure. No pressure on the rat race, having the space to live, freedom from all the constant complaints and political dissatisfaction that has been brewing these years. Singapore will always be the hometown where I grew up with all sorts of wonderful memories, but Melbourne is where my life is now.

All of us look for different things in life. Moving out from your hometown is a big step, and it’s something that sounds fun, but actually isn’t. Not everyone is ready for it, and not everyone will go ahead with a drastic life change like this, for various reasons. Among the myriad reasons, the first one is more often than not, relationships. It could be a girlfriend or family or just friends, but there are countless ties that hold the individual back. Not everyone is ready to give everything up and move to a relatively unknown country, much less the logical and pragmatic people us Singaporeans are known as; it’s all about “weighing options” and “keeping options open” and so on.

I’m glad I moved to Melbourne back then. It wasn’t exactly an informed choice, but that’s how my life rolls – I go with destiny’s plan and it’s usually a damn good one. At this point in my life, there’s not much to regret. Outside of not getting enough sleep, life is good.

How do you rate your life?

Learning to unlearn.

Growing up in Singapore somehow taught me to cultivate a careful mask of indifference to things around me. Life in a friendlier and more open culture over here, has been a welcome change.

For example:

Back in Singapore, I would mind my own business on the MRT, and look forward to getting to my destination, period.

Over here, there have been days when I actually strike up conversations with totally random folks on the train. It’s interesting how much more open people are here, in contrast to the aura of defensive wariness that a lot of Singaporean commuters display. It’s not anyone’s fault, I guess that’s just the way things work and that’s how everyone learns to act.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m trying. Is it not interesting, that I am actually learning to unlearn social habits from good old home. Granted I’m still a bit of a doofus when it comes to trusting people, but it still feels like I am relearning what I had forgotten after my childhood days – to forget the cynicism, to stay open, friendly and to trust more.

This feels like a reminder of the countless, but subtle changes that life over here has wrought.

And yes, trust is a valuable commodity these days, isn’t it so?

健康就好

The mantra that I hear from fellow parents, is always one and the same.

“健康就好.” Translated: So long as he/she (the kid) is healthy, that’s good enough.

In this modern society where parents are labelled as competitive, wanting the best for their children and relentlessly cramming lessons of every variety into their precocious children, this phrase is actually an honest strike at the root of what it means to be a parent.

What else matters, if your kid is unwell? Nothing else matters, really.

And if we take it a step further, what else matters for us, if not health? All the money in the world would not be of use, and barter trading life energy for money has never worked out really well.

Moral of the story, take a step back and rest, spend your time well because the rat race never ends. Nothing beats the currency of health, and richness of relationships.

Of politics and loving life.

The Kindle is always a blessing, especially on the daily train commute when I have nothing else to do but to either snooze, or read. And over the years, the hour or so spent on the train has been so valuable on my readings.

So, I’m on this current trend where the daily reading matter consists of nothing but biographies, one after another. And I’ve chewed through quite a few of them, check out the list (not in order):

  • Steve Jobs
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Paul Allen
  • Steve Wozniak
  • Ronald Reagan
  • And it’s on to Barack Obama now.

Needless to say, my reading pace slowed down considerably the moment I got to Reagan and Obama, the main contributing factor being the amount of understanding required on digesting political content. Have since concluded that politics is just too convoluted for normal people. There’s no way you can represent your own unique stance on every issue, seeing as you have to align yourself with the party stance. This means a stance on every debatable topic under the sun from education to abortion to taxes to gay marriage to religion; like seriously, there is just no way anyone would not be offended by the perspective announced, since everyone is entitled to their own views to begin with. And you being tied up by the party liners, might end up representing something you do not believe in, which means you might trust in the main article but not the smaller ones.

And when we get to all the debates that run through the government, all the red tape, the debates and special interest group lobbies, constant polling and speeches, public scrutiny, it just eats away at you. Democracy is a wonderful thing, but the government mechanism needed to run it just feels like an organism with multiple brains co-ordinating the limbs all at the same time – it is difficult to even walk straight. Concluded politics as deeply satisfying, but too draining to fight against the bulk of resistance to do the right thing.

All these being said, I really loved this excerpt about Obama’s mother, so much that I felt I had to share it with you:

Religion was an expression of human culture, she would explain, not its wellspring, just one of the many ways—and not necessarily the best way—that man attempted to control the unknowable and understand the deeper truths about our lives. In sum, my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist that she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well.

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

An interesting perspective on the concept of religion. As an atheist, I view it objectively as a pillar of faith that many people subscribe to, and a means to living one’s life in a kinder manner. Not something to scorn at, but simply an ideal that requires a necessary leap of faith that the realist in me finds disturbing, and unnecessary in my own life. I believe in destiny and possibly a higher existence that has planned our lives, but nothing more than that.

And yet for all her professed secularism, my mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I’ve ever known. She had an unswerving instinct for kindness, charity, and love, and spent much of her life acting on that instinct, sometimes to her detriment. Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, she worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. She raged at poverty and injustice, and scorned those who were indifferent to both.

Most of all, she possessed an abiding sense of wonder, a reverence for life and its precious, transitory nature that could properly be described as devotional. During the course of the day, she might come across a painting, read a line of poetry, or hear a piece of music, and I would see tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes, as I was growing up, she would wake me up in the middle of the night to have me gaze at a particularly spectacular moon, or she would have me close my eyes as we walked together at twilight to listen to the rustle of leaves. She loved to take children—any child—and sit them in her lap and tickle them or play games with them or examine their hands, tracing out the miracle of bone and tendon and skin and delighting at the truths to be found there. She saw mysteries everywhere and took joy in the sheer strangeness of life.

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

The way it was penned, is just beautiful. I love the way it sounds, the way his mother was represented. Hopefully I will get to the same stage of love and appreciation for life that she had; it feels like another level of spiritual awareness altogether, to be able to marvel at the brilliance of nature and the miracles it weaves every day, every moment.

The passage of time.

It’s funny how you look back, and something that seemed like yesterday has become a fond old memory.

On our way home, I was describing her old workplace at a factory (she was a seamstress); the shophouse-like exterior, the green grass slopes outside, the big drain that lined the walkway. It was probably just a normal drain, but everything takes on gigantic proportions in the eyes of a toddler.

(Hell, that might be why I always remember the MacDonald’s of yesteryear being absolutely massive.)

And fondly remembering the trips of recent years.

2008, the year when I had so many wonderful friends visiting, and their virgin ski trip to Falls Creek. The road trip to Puffing Billy, to Mornington, and Nanzhen’s proposal to Meishan at St Kilda beach.

2010, with the memorable trip to Bali with the same bunch. Shipwreck diving, setting off fireworks at the beach, endless car rides, boozing in the pool. A trip to my favourite Bangkok with the FG, endless chomping and sightseeing.

2011, an unforgettable trip to the States with the brother.

It just makes me happy to have experienced all these in the years before Elly was born. And that reminds me of our plunge into the unknowns of Melbourne back in 2007, forsaking the comforting familiarity of good old Singapore. Armed with nothing but a vague idea of staying on after a mere semester’s worth of studies, impossible by anyone’s calculations. After five years of building our lives over here, I’m still surprised that time has gone by so quickly. And with residency so close at last, it’s yet another step forward.

And of course, counting myself blessed with every day of my life here; the place where I’m free to live my life the way I want it to, not the way it is “because everyone does it”.

Five years since I left Singapore, and it’s been missing five years of frequent conversation, suppers and bullshit with my beloved friends back there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. But one takes the good with the bad, and life is never perfect. So this is dedicated to the friends who still care enough to stay in touch – love you guys, definitely awesome in my list.