On Being A Father

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Many of us, no doubt, seize the occasion to reflect on the challenges and joy of fatherhood. I posted on my Facebook that I am a proud and happy father and I thank God for all my three children. On my Instagram I posted a picture with my three children, Li-Ann (42), Li-Lynn (39) and my son (35) with these words, “Only yesterday, we were huddled on one couch…”

Li-Ann posted on her Facebook a set of my pictures with the following remarks, “Happy Father’s Day to a real Renaissance man, though you will always be “Dad” to me. xoxo”.

Li-Lynn posted on hers:

My son and I talked on our facetime.

42 years have passed since I became a dad for the first time. How did I manage as a father? I guess, their messages answered my questions in part. Strange that none of us went to school to learn how to be a father, but somehow we managed.

I grew up with an absentee father for the most part. He was, from my recollection, a friendly sort of chap, but I cannot recall being hugged or embraced by him growing up as his son. I do not recall having any meaningful conversation or seeing much of him. He left parenting to my mother.

When I decided to have children, I was determined to be what my father was not. Hugging and cuddling our children when they were young became a ritual. It was my fatherly duty to put them to bed and to read and pray with them in the evenings, unless I was not in town or had late night meetings. I believe that in their formative years, these “presence” time with them would lay the foundation for stronger bonding between us.

I became aware that all of them are alike and yet different because I was able to spend time with them individually and collectively. It was tempting to treat them as if they were identical because they are siblings, but I resisted that convenient approach. Each has a different temperament and personality and I learned to respect them for who they are and not for what I wish they were.

Li-Ann, the eldest is more like her mother. Li-Lynn is more like me and my son is a hybrid of both his parents.

In being a father, I grew in my understanding of fatherhood and its onerous responsibilities. There were counselling moments when Li-Ann wanted to quit university more than once. I happened to be a visiting professor at her university and was able to spend time affirming her. She completed her school with an excellent result in her final year, and went on to graduate school at Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia.

There were anxious moments when Li-Lynn rebelled and dropped out of school at 16. Her mom and I were so helpless we could only pray and love her unconditionally. She went on to earn her PhD from Dalhousie University in Halifax (read her story here).

And we left my son, who was only 14, in a boarding school because of my work. In retrospect, it was not the wisest thing to do in the circumstances. We were uncertain how he was going to fare in a school where he was only one of two Asians. Thankfully, he more than survived it, became a valedictorian and eventually earned both his PhD and MD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Looking back, I am grateful for the way all the kids turned out. I am no tiger-father and their mom was no tiger-mother. As a dad, I did what I thought was best for them. I made my share of mistakes, and what they are today is truly by the grace of God.

Being a father is not at all easy as this unknown author seeks to express in What Makes a DAD”:

Today as a father, I enjoy our adult children in a relationship much akin to being good friends. I am, of course, their father, and nothing will ever change that. But we communicate things of mutual interest – from books to movies, from philosophy to faith and from careers to major decisions. And we do not always agree with each other. This is also the joy of fatherhood at a different level.

If you asked me what I expect or hope to hear from my children, it will simply be an affirmation that I have not failed in doing my best to be a responsible and kind dad, and that I am loved for just doing that. And I believe they have done that in so many ways over the years – not in the exact words expressed in this letter from an adult son, but in spirit and substance very much like them:

A Letter of Thanks from a Son. 

There are so many things I’d like
To tell you face to face;
I either lack the words or fail
To find the time and place.

But in this special letter, Dad,
You’ll find, at least in part,
The feelings that the passing years
Have left within my heart.

The memories of childhood days
And all that you have done,
To make our home a happy place
And growing up such fun!

I still recall the walks we took,
The games we often played;
Those confidential chats we had
While resting in the shade.

This letter comes to thank you, and,
For needed words of praise;
The counsel and the guidance, too,
That shaped my grown-up days.

No words of mine can tell you, Dad,
The things I really feel;
But you must know my love for you
Is lasting, warm and real.

You made my world a better place,
And through the coming years;
I’ll keep these memories of you
As cherished souvenirs.”


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