“Daddy…look! Mushrooms!’ My daughter exclaimed as she caught sight of multiple little fungi which mushroomed next to an old tree root along the foot path. We stopped and observed them for awhile before moving on. I was in no hurry, really.
“Today is Daddy’s last day walking you home this year ok?” I asked, with a slight hint of reluctance.
“Emmm….ok.” was her reply. Her Primary 2 self not fully comprehending the fact that it has been a luxury for her Daddy to be walking her to and back from school daily this past year.
2016 is a year I will always remember. It was the year I decided to pursue my post-graduate studies full-time and with that, a year of privilege to be more present for the family as a part-time ‘Stay-home Dad’ of sorts.
Moments I Savour:
I love the fact that I could be there to witness moments first hand as they unfold. These daily moments would begin with me walking the daughter to school then sending the wife and son to work and childcare respectively. These moments became opportunities for me to touch-base with my daughter’s inner thoughts and feelings that gave me a glimpse into her daily struggles and her victories.
As for my two year-old, I got to experience first hand his speech growth – from baby talk to actual speech. From incoherent syllabus to words like ‘cats’ and ‘excavator’. It may seem insignificant but for me, I felt an immense sense of privilege to witness his milestones.
Those car trips were precious times for me to catch up with my wife. I would arrange the journey such that we would drop the kids first and then spend some alone time together. Our daily breakfast sessions were something I truly relished. It was just the two of us, conversing within the close confines of the car. Sometimes talking functional stuff, other times, just being close to each other in quietness and far from the distractions of the adult world. It was nice.
We had a change of maid in March and for the 4 months after, in addition to being the driver, I was also the ‘maid’ while we search for a suitable helper. From washing and sterilizing Buddy’s milk bottles to doing the laundry; from buying groceries, prepping dinner to tucking the kids to bed, I had to look into minute details to keep the household running. Though it was tiring, it was strangely satisfying as it felt good to be in control of these important details of our home and free the wife from these worries as she transited back to full time work.
I looked into the ‘larger details’ too. The two most significant ones were getting a Will done and getting myself certified being a trained First-Aider. There were important parts of life that I would normally not have the energy (and time) to pursue due to the demands of my work.
But my short stint as a ‘Stay-home Dad’ was not a bed of roses.
Moments I Struggle:
My post-grad lessons were held mainly at night. On one such night while I was in class, Buddy had climbed onto my chair and uttered, “I check Email”. He was merely emulating his Daddy – always at the laptop either completing an assignment or typing notes from my readings. I felt sad to hear that.
While being a ‘Stay-home Dad’ endowed me with greater control and presence in my family , sometimes my mind became so bombarded with the minute details of every day life (trying to multitask constantly in managing my studies, planning the routes to drive the kids and wife around, picking this, fetching that etc.) that I wasn’t able to think and see larger perspectives in relation to my coursework and life in general. My mind was preoccupied with the petty that it actually felt intellectually debilitating on some days.
Back to Reality:
The 12 months of studies sometimes seemed long drawn but it has sped past in a blink. Now I’m back at work. Having to negotiate with the bosses to get leave approval, having my energy drained by the work I do, having to hear my daughter’s account of her day long after the enthusiasm has waned and having only to see my son only for a few hours in the evenings before he goes to bed. So, do I miss being a ‘Stay-Home Dad’?
I do enjoy my work. I enjoy the professional interactions with my colleague. To be current and relevant in the larger, broader sphere of things particularly in one’s vocation. However, I miss having the flexibility to spend time with my family. I miss the chance to hear about their feelings and thoughts fresh from their minds and hearts. I miss being the ability to build our relationship on the small but significant details of our lives instead of broad general feel of the day, at the end of the day.
To be a Stay-home dad or not, at the end of the day, is a highly personal decision. Truth is that whether I’m a Stay-home Parent or otherwise I’m keenly aware that each day that passes draws our eldest closer to the teenage-hood, our toddler towards more independence. And for us, we are also not getting any younger. As parents, we just have to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to make those meaningful connections with our kids and spouse, whether you’re a working parent or a Stay-home parent. Make every moment meaningful.
Seizing the Moment:
To ‘commemorate’ this special year of my life as a full time student and part-time ‘Stay-home Dad’, we engaged one of our trusted photographers – Natsuki, for a family photo-shoot in December. Those who know us know that I’m an avid photographer and while I love taking photos of my kids, I am seldom in the photos. For this year, I wanted a special set of photos of us – my own unique way to remember my family as they are, in the special year of 2016.
I’m naturally ‘picky’ with the photographers I appoint to take portraits of my family. In my experience, there are only a handful of family photographers in Singapore who can capture the essence of a family well. Natsuki is one whom we have come to trust and love (this would be our 3rd photo-shoot with her in 4 years!). To be a effective family photographer, you must have the ability to make that connection with the kids and the intuition to ‘click’ at the right moment. Natsuki not only does those well, she utilizes natural light beautifully. The photo sessions with Natsuki are always relaxed and unhurried. Natsuki and her fiancé Francis (who usually doubles up as her photography assistant) have this innate ability to make their subjects feel so ease and comfortable in front of the camera. We love her style of post-editing too. Simple but classy, with all softcopies returned at no extra cost.
To top it off, the kids are dressed in clothes from Chateau de Sable which are not only comfy (you need to in humid Singapore!) but exude so much timeless elegance and innocent charm. Our photos speak for themselves.