Having been brought up in a Confucian background, I had always been ridiculously hard on my son. He was an obedient boy and a good student. But my expectations were outrageous. I wanted him to always be top in class. When I left for work, I expected him to be at the front door to see me off, and when I returned from work, I also wanted him to be there to receive me. I also expected him to be thoughtful in every Confucian way. If he failed to satisfy me in any of these matters, I would give him hell. On the other hand, I was partial to my daughter. But even then, she must have been pretty unhappy with my shouts and screams. My wife tried to moderate me, but when I was angry, she knew it was better for her to leave me alone. But deep inside her, she knew I loved my children deeply.
After their graduation, I became totally non-interventionist. But damage had already been done. My son must have resented me greatly. He got married and had three children. He brought them up his way. We were not particularly close, nonetheless, we cared for each other and he would oblige me always. I guess it was my wife who was instrumental in maintaining the bond.
Relationship with our daughter was smoother. She has an exceptionally good husband who is also a great son-in-law. We spent a great deal of time with her young family.
Relationship with my son took a turn when he had a marital crisis. He then knew our love for him was without boundary.
Reflecting over the whole matter, I have come to realise that there were missing pieces in my family “development” effort.
My parents had to let their oldest child, who was my eldest brother, live with my grandmother – one of those old-fashioned expectations then. They sent him to an English school. And after finishing his school, he left for Singapore and settled down there. He was a very caring brother. I love to visit and stay with him during school holidays. All my older siblings and I were sent to Chinese schools. However, when it became apparent that prospects for Chinese school leavers were not bright, my family decided to switch me to an English school after I completed my Primary Six. I hated the school I was sent to. Even though we had spent only six years in Chinese school, our thinking and values were very much the Confucian type, especially when many of my teachers were very dedicated to Confucian morals. That had probably sealed my concepts of Rights and Wrongs.
My wife was from a Penang Peranakan background. The language they spoke at home was English. Except for the usual cultural celebrations, they hardly knew anything about China, especially its philosophical sages and history.
When it was time to send my children to school, we naturally opted for the national schools. These are basically Malay-medium schools. However, because of the environment, the lingua franca was English. Both my children excelled in school. I arranged for a lady to give them Chinese lessons once a week. But because she was not really trained in teaching, her effectiveness was so-so. And because there was no opportunity for them to use the language, the effort did not bear any fruit.
Devoid of a basic command in the Chinese language and our failure to provide any guidance or compass in Chinese philosophical thinking, they could only grope in the dark when it came to satisfying my cultural expectations of them. That was the GAP, and my frequent outbursts and their subsequent resentment!
But it also boiled down to my impatience!
Had I behaved like a more thoughtful father, outcomes would have been quite different. My wife has a nephew whose son is was slightly autistic. He is so patient with him. His patience put me to shame!
My son survived the ordeal of having an intolerant father when he was young. No amount of love I now shower on him can erase that wound I have inflicted on him. But I take consolation in the fact that he is so ready to forgive!