Being a dad is tough business especially if you have a career to juggle and would still like to have space and time for personal development and pursuits. There is no perfect clockwork formula as we find out from Minister for Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin on how he manages his work, photography passion and his role as a father.
- How would you define your role in the family and does your family time get disrupted because of your work?
As Minister at MSF and MP for my constituency, my long working hours make spending time with my family a real challenge. So I need to deliberately ‘work in’ time at home in my schedule. Preferably, we should not set aside ‘left-over’ time but to actively plan for it. When I am home, I try to devote my time as husband and father as much as I can. I try to send my children to school so that we have some time to chat while in the car. After a long day of work, if I can make it home before they sleep, I make it a point to pop into their rooms to chat. Sometimes I am just there to listen to their daily concerns. Sometimes it is an opportunity to reflect on lessons learnt from things we experience.My wife and I share our parenting roles. It has to be a partnership and we discuss issues so that we can have a shared perspective and approach to it. It doesn’t come naturally because we are all individuals with our views so it is critical that as parents, we work at it. While I may be the head of the family, as someone once said, the wife’s the neck that turns the head!
- What are some of your favourite things to do as a family?
We try and play board games as a family where we can. Sometimes we go out for a jog or swim or cycling. These days, we also spend time sharing our favourite Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live (SNL) episodes as we trawl through YouTube.
- What is the most challenging parenting experience?
I think the most challenging thing about being a parent is not being able to protect my children 24/7. When our children were born, we became parents overnight. It was both exhilarating and frightening. The sleepless nights never really ended, even long after they were sleeping through the night. Worrying about whether they were eating enough, growing well, soon turned into worry about how they were doing in school, whether they were able to socialise well with their peers.
And now that my daughter is about to sit for her ‘A’ Levels, I worry about which university she will eventually choose, whether she will want to study locally, or if we would have to bear the heartache of sending her overseas. All this may sound very clichéd, but it is something every parent feels and has to endure.But in many ways, this is what it means to love someone and it is a tremendous privilege and blessing. I would not trade this for anything else in the world and I cannot imagine our lives without them. As fathers, we cannot absolve our roles as custodians and stewards of the next generation. My father was a role model to me in various ways and had shaped me in terms of my beliefs, especially in terms of public service. However imperfect, I hope that I can also guide my children as they develop.
- What is your definition of a good father?
A good father is one who knows that he is not perfect, but constantly seeks to improve his own parenting skills while consciously setting aside time to spend with the family and bond with the children. Our children learn from what we do, and not just what we say. Teaching of values should not be left to chance. We as parents need to make a conscious effort to be positive role models to inspire our kids on a daily basis.We must realise this. In the history of mankind, I don’t believe our children have ever been so exposed as they are today! With the advent of the internet and smart devices, influences are penetrating, unfiltered, into our children’s consciousness every day. Think about it. Are we there actively playing a role to guide and teach our children or are we ceding that space to strangers out there who are influencing them?
- When did your love for photography start? And how do you find time for photography despite your busy schedule?
Photography is a hobby I picked up when I began my Army career. I use a DSLR, but I also find it convenient and an interesting exercise to take photos with my mobile phone as well. Between meetings and engagements, whenever I spot something worth shooting, or even during my visits to my residents, I take the opportunity to take pictures with them. I am not sure if I qualify as a cool dad. I love my children very much and I know I fall short in many ways but I try and continue to learn. I want to be there for them as they grow up and to be able to share with them, impart what I can so that they can stand up for themselves as they embark on their own journeys. I also want to create shared memories with them along the way. Being able to communicate with them openly comes from continually doing it. It is about habit and practice, for both parent and child. It becomes natural and comfortable so that even as they enter their teens and I hope, into adulthood, we can continue communicating. So we need to put in time to do this. And we need to start from young.
And now that my daughter is about to sit for her ‘A’ Levels, I worry about which university she will eventually choose, whether she will want to study locally, or if we would have to bear the heartache of sending her overseas. All this may sound very clichéd, but it is something every parent feels and has to endure. But in many ways, this is what it means to love someone and it is a tremendous privilege and blessing. I would not trade this for anything else in the world and I cannot imagine our lives without them.
- What is one advice you hope your children will remember as they grow up?
Actually, there are 3 key things I would want them to remember as they grow up. It is to be God-fearing; to always have integrity in all the things they do, and to care for others. My father was a role model to me in various ways and had shaped me in terms of my beliefs, especially in terms of public service. However imperfect, I hope that I can also guide my children as they develop. As fathers, we cannot absolve our roles as custodians and stewards of the next generation.