Thursday, June 29, 2017

5 Lessons on Fatherhood

I had initially planned to write this upon the 1-year anniversary of Baby Michael's birth. But ever since I started the purposeful journey of knowledge sharing, I have decided it is much more beneficial to share as early as possible rather than later.

Baby Michael just became 9-months old. He is a wonderful boy, full of joy and laughter. And the part that I secretly enjoy the most: his unspoken character.

There is very little a 9-month old can do. Michael is not able to walk without assistance. He has barely learnt how to crawl. He has only mastered a couple of words: "Kai kai and 出去" (meaning, to go out for sightseeing), "Nen nen" (milk), "Mama", "Papa", and a few others. And yet, with some honest reflection, this little boy has certainly taught me a few things about life.

1. What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

As an amateur crawler, Michael requires supervision when he crawls as he has yet to experience the dangers the little objects around him can bring. Just the other day, he managed to "quietly" crawl off the edge of the bed, and earned his first bump on the forehead.

The pain and shock caused him to cry, but only for a few minutes. After that, he was back to his usual smiling and laughing nature, almost as if all was forgotten.

The lesson here is quite simply: Life is going to be full of bumps on the forehead. We will fall, inevitably. But with each fall, we become a little bit smarter, a little bit wiser. More importantly, we should focus on the joys that life can bring us. It is easy to dwell on the mistakes that we make. If he was a bit older, perhaps I may have even "blamed" him for behaving so recklessly. But because he quite simply did not understand the consequences of his actions, there was no need for finger-pointing. There is only room to look forward and to reflect on how we can make things better in the future.

2. Dare To Ask For Help

For most of my life, I have lived in a somewhat independent manner, refraining from seeking help for fear of troubling others, and often, for fear of appearing silly. Michael is not a very needy baby. He is almost as independent as I am, but he most certainly isn't afraid to ask (cry) for help when he needs it.

Babies have no imagined fear of troubling others and most certainly do not fear appearing silly. He isn't afraid to ask for a his milk. He isn't afraid to ask to go "kai kai". He isn't afraid to sound the alarm when his diapers need changing.

Michael is a constant reminder that in life, there will definitely be things that are outside of our control. As much as we would like to believe we are in control of our own circumstances, about 80% of the time, we are not in control. We can only control our response to each and every circumstance. We can pretend to be in control of the circumstances, but oftentimes, they are inevitable.

But when things spin out of control, remember that help is around the corner. Pretending to take on the world alone provides a temporary ego boost. But reality will harshly remind us that we need more support than we think. When someone else requests for help, it is very often that we are more than happy to assist. Sometimes it is out of generosity, and others, it is so that we make ourselves feel useful.

By this logic, seeking for assistance ALLOWS others to show their generosity and make themselves useful. This is not to appear self-serving. There is a big difference between feeling entitled to receive help vs. having the courage to seek help when needed. More often than not, we should be more daring when seeking help.

3. Remember To Appreciate

As a consequence of No.2, we must remember to show appreciation when help is given. Michael has yet to learn to verbally show appreciation, but when he is given what he needs, he does not hesitate to share his warm smile and cheeky laugh.

There is no doubt that the last 9 months has been an uphill journey. But it was made so much easier with the support of my family members as well as various fortunate circumstances. Below is a list of things that I am eternally grateful for:

i) Parents and in-laws

While I group our immediate family members together, my mother has played an integral role in supporting Michael's well-being. From the little things like cooking healthy meals to comforting Michael when he refuses to fall asleep. My father is ever-ready to bring Michael on educational expeditions to the park for his evening "stroll". I struggle to imagine how difficult life would have been if we did not have the support of our family members. I attribute the majority of Michael's rapid development in verbal skills to my parents.

ii) My wife

Imagine a good night's sleep. Now, imagine that good sleep being interrupted once every hour. That is what it feels like for the first 3 months for a new mother who is breastfeeding. My wife has persevered through the rough times of hourly wake-up calls of the baby, and we still experience the occasional wake up call as Michael is teething.

Moreover, she has now returned to work and we are continually challenged with interrupted sleep patterns. However, my wife has been solid as a rock and I have to admit that she has done more than her fair share in ensuring that Michael is well taken care of and growing very well!

iii) Pre-loved goods

Everyone knows that raising a baby is expensive. You have to get diapers, the baby cot, stroller, milk bottles, toys, and much much more. Fortunately for us, there is a very supportive community of mothers (and parents) on Facebook that are happy to let go of their pre-loved goodies at a discount from the original retail price. Most of the items that we bought for Michael were pre-loved. Some of the best items that we have were given to us for free! We are still using those items today. Michael really enjoys his walker that was donated by our very kind neighbor.

4. Rome Was Not Built In A Day

I remember the first day when we brought Michael home from Selayang hospital. Within 5 minutes of putting him into the car, he started crying and could not stop. He was crying for help due to the unfamiliar environment. He was a helpless little baby.

Fast-forward to today. Michael is now 9 months old. Usually,  after his nap, he will start crying due to either hunger or just seeking attention. Just the other day, after one of his naps, he woke up but he did not cry. He just kept repeating "抱抱" (Bao bao), which means to carry him.

I also bore witness to his journey of learning how to crawl. He started with supporting himself with his legs, but his arms were not strong enough. Eventually, he could balance himself on all fours, albeit a little wobbly. Then he learnt how to rotate to look around. Subsequently, he started to move, but could only move in reverse. Finally, he actually started moving towards the front. This entire process took almost 2 months.

Something as simple as crawling that we so easily take for granted took us 2 months to learn when we were infants. With that perspective, how long are we prepared to invest to learn the more complex skills in life to succeed? How long are we prepared to invest to learn financial management? How long are we prepared to invest to learn public speaking? Surely, those high-level skills would take more than 2 months.

5. Focus On What Is Important Not Urgent

Going after a crawling infant who is unaware of the dangers surrounding him can lead to a pretty stressful routine. Always chasing after him, panicking unnecessarily. It is also much harder to be punctual for our appointments with friends, families, etc. This is because we are at the mercy of Michael's nap times and we also now have to pack for an extra person before we go out.

Those of you who know me, know that I strive to be punctual for all my meetings/appointments. Having to rely on the readiness of an infant to be on time can be stressful. However, one of the most important lessons that Michael has thought me was to focus on the important things.

For example, it is more important to ensure that we bring his snacks, toys, extra diapers than to be on time for our appointment. It is also more important to ensure that Michael has enough sleep before we go out. Otherwise, he will be very cranky and will end up being very disruptive during our outing.

I have been working on this post for a number of weeks and am finally coming to the end. I am truly appreciative of the opportunity of being a father and a husband. More specifically, I am truly thankful of being Michael's father. While he has certainly added joy to our lives, he has also taught me more than a few lessons. I am really looking forward towards what else he can teach me.

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