I grew up in a traditional merchant class family. My grandfather migrated from China, and worked very hard to establish his own TCM business in Singapore.
After secondary school, my father became an apprentice. This business demanded credibility, so he made up for his lack of formal education by spending long hours practicing the trade, frequently coming home late at night.
In the 70s and 80s, the rapid expansion of Singapore’s economy put a lot of pressure on traditional businesses, and my dad pushed himself even harder to overcome the new market forces.
I loved and respected my father deeply, but I did not like his constant absence in my life. I filled that void with father figures and role models, like comic book and Hollywood heroes before adolescence beckoned, then replaced by scientists, tycoons and corporate honchos.
The Traditional Model
This family background influenced my narratives for manhood and fathering; work hard and play hard, climb as high as you can in the ladders of your chosen trade, and make as much money as you can.
If doing so doesn’t hurt you and your family, you are not working hard enough.
Looking back, my past reminds me of the narrative in 1 Kings 12 — King Jeroboam built shrines in high places and sacrificed to the golden calves he made. How can one please the gods of the high places without sacrifices?
I deeply valued my faith and family, and wanted to give my best to them, yet my concept of success seemed to fight against that, and the appeal of the corporate world prevailed.
The corporate jungle welcomed me and I raced up their ladders. I compromised on my relationships at home to win the graces of the corporate gods; my bond with my wife and children was strained from my frequent travels and absenteeism. Even when I was home, I continued to work.
Spiritual, mental and physical strains gradually emerged, manifesting in my poor temper, patience and lack of concentration. I experienced extreme stress and a serious deterioration in my health; I even contemplated suicide.
The Kingdom Model
Thankfully, even as I pursued corporate success, the ultimate Father figure began to rouse me from my spiritual slumber. Our Abba Father countered my wrong beliefs, and slowly opened the eyes of my heart.
Through His providence, I was privy to the private lives of some key business leaders, learning about their regrets and struggles with their families, and I even grieved the passing of some; these experiences shook me to my core and revealed how I had failed in my role as the head of the household, and especially as a father to my sons. I realised that I was replicating my father’s example, as much as I didn’t like it as a child.
I sought God for a change in my life.
Jeremiah 6:16 records the Lord saying, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it...” So in 2010, when God offered me the opportunity to leave the corporate world, I took that step of faith.
The adjustment was difficult. Akin to a drug addict, I experienced withdrawal symptoms and a strong urge to return to the corporate power and privileges I once enjoyed. However, He reached through my haze to show me tender mercies, providing spiritual mentors and fellow brethren who journeyed with me.
Today, I continue to endeavour giving my best to God and my family. I carry a resolve to spend more time with my sons in order to inculcate godly attitudes, beliefs and commitments, including living out and showing them that Christ is the best role model they will ever find.
…these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
Besides family holidays, I also bring each son on one-on-one trips where we can bond over camping, fishing or serving God together on mission trips. I am dedicated to building a stronger fathering relationship with each of my sons, and understanding each one individually.
We often aim for worldly success, but God wants to bring us on a journey of finding kingdom significance. Genesis 18:19 says, “For I have chosen him (Abraham), that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice…”
Work may be important, but my prayer is that I will lead my household to go against worldly culture and tradition, bringing kingdom fruitfulness to worldly prosperity, kingdom agenda into personal goals, and finding our ultimate identity in God alone.
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Being a great dad can be challenging. From providing for the family to being a pillar of emotional support – our fathers are irreplaceable. Join us this Father's Day to celebrate Dad – Our Everyday Hero and encourage them to persevere in being an involved dad!