Monday, June 6, 2011

A kiasu/kiasi father and proud of it

Jun 5, 2011
By Andy Chen

The personal never got so political for me until this year's General Election, my first as a father.

It has been a harrowing time watching the numerous assaults on the status quo, from all too many peers harbouring grievances, some of which were real, many exaggerated and quite a number imagined.

Perhaps even worse were the slings from idealists whose agitation for change stemmed from philosophical arguments.

I'm a father of two young daughters, I have no time for airy-fairy talk. 'First World parliament'? To that I say, 'Eh sai jiak buay?', to borrow a Hokkien phrase from a friend whose cheeky retort to needless profound talk is to ask if that profound thing can be eaten.

More than just thinking about my stomach to fill, I now worry about my daughters' future. In such a frame of mind, I do not take kindly to rally speeches that cry out for the country's billions of dollars in reserves to be released.

That reminds me of the prodigal son in the Bible who demanded that his father give him his inheritance immediately and in entirety. Gratification now, privation later.

And I would hate to see my generation's wants - not needs - fulfilled at the expense of economic stability when my daughters grow up.

In the midst of election fever, a colleague of mine had written in this newspaper an eloquent letter to her infant child, wishing for the little one to grow up in a country and society without fear.

I happen to think that fear is not such a bad thing to teach my daughters. Not the kind of fear that paralyses, of course, but the kind that counsels caution.

Not too long ago at a playground, I said many things to my elder girl, like: 'Be careful, Faith, don't run so fast', 'Watch those steps' and 'Please climb slowly, you don't want to trip and fall. It's painful.'

On and on I nagged gently.

A genial elderly man taking his dog for a walk overheard me and told Faith sweetly: 'Don't worry, all children will fall and grow up and learn.'

Because he meant well, I did not rebut him even though the thought of allowing Faith the freedom to fall was so alien as to be repugnant to me.

I know I can't prevent accidents and falls from occurring. But if I can anticipate a possible danger, I will not let it happen just to let her learn a life lesson. Not only will I prevent it, but I will also teach her to avoid it.

Most likely a few cuts and bruises would teach that lesson better. But when a child goes splat on the ground, it is not just minor cuts and bruises he suffers. Sometimes, it could be a serious head injury.

Parents these days have precious few kids to test the truth of the old folk saying: to let one's children grow up in a rough, tough and dirty environment so that they would be tough adults in mind and body, with robust immunity against germs and viruses.

According to doctors, that is correct. The greater the exposure to nasty stuff, the better the body has a chance to develop defences to fight it off. But this battle, Man Vs Germs, claims many casualties along the way.

It is why impoverished children in Third World countries can eat scraps from garbage and still seem fine, while children in the United States are developing food allergies at a fast rate. The hidden picture is one of high infant mortality rates in poorer countries.

Sorry, I don't have 10 children for Nature to select only the fittest to survive.

I very much long to see both Faith and Sarah grow up, get married and give me grandchildren to spoil. And that they do this in a country that is not living a hand-to-mouth existence after squandering the wealth our forefathers have accumulated.

I have every intention of guarding their every step at the playground, nagging them and warning them of potential danger spots for as long as I live.

My tone may not always be pleasant and I will make mistakes, but have no doubt that it is for their own good that I do what I do.

A more laissez-faire father will nag less and perhaps grant them more room to fall and fail. I do not know how to be that father. If they are not grateful for my more kiasu and kiasi ways when they grow up, I hope that at least they understand my heart.

Can someone tell me again why the adjective 'paternalistic' is used as a pejorative when describing governments?

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