Fatherhood with the Chens

Being a parent is never easy. With Father’s Day upon us, we wanted to find out what fatherhood means to our community. We caught up with the Chens, a four-generational family with three generations of fathers, and spent a Sunday with them to explore the different relationships they have with their own fathers and sons.

Meet the Chen Family

How old were you when you had your first child?

Tan Lian Kiat (TLK): 26.
Tan Peng Chuan (TPC): 27.
Chen Wei’an (CW): 30.

Best part about being a dad?

TPC: It's a bit hard to answer that question because all my children are now grown up. Nowadays, I think more about my wife. We've been together for a long time but we never had a lot of quality time together. I'm now 61 so I only have about 10 or so good years to really spend with my wife.

I am very proud of my kids. When they were young, they used to perform some songs together for my wife and I. They would act, sing, dance, and put together a little performance for us. We kept many of the presents the children gave us: drawings, t-shirts, art pieces, and photos. My wife and I sometimes look through these items and one item is enough to keep us talking for hours. It’s really nice to see our children bond. Even now, I still see them look out for each other and to me, that's the most important thing. I'm happy when I see them love one another.

CW: Seeing your child respond to you as he grew. Mathias used to be 49cm and now he’s 81cm, almost double in size! He favours his mum, which is quite irritating, but I try not to show it (laughs). A family is a cohesive unit and everyone has a part to play. My wife is definitely the glue that binds us all. I hope to be more involved in my kids’ life: bring them swimming and teach them life skills like how to fix stuff.

Favourite moment with your dad?

TPC: I used to spend more time with my mum because my dad had to work a lot. He worked in a travel company so he would always come back very late. Now, I have five grandchildren, one of them in primary one. My wife always reminds me to treasure the moments I have with them. We hope that by spending time with our grandchildren, they will remember us forever. It's just like how my children are very close to my father. My father used to take care of my children and now my children take care of him. They know how to talk to him even when I'm not around.

CW: The fondest memory I have of my dad was when I was really young … not to say I didn't have good memories with him since! It's just that when I have to think of my favourite moment with my dad, I'm always transported to the time when I was younger and could trust him with my life.

My fondest memory with him was during a game day at church. I was in kindergarten and there was a father and son's three-legged race. When the ball rang, the other teams immediately ran off. It was more like the dads ran off and the son got dragged along! I didn't run and just walked. At that moment, my dad didn't rush me and just walked with me. He followed my pace and made sure I enjoyed myself as opposed to winning the prize. He can be strict but moments like that made me realise how much he cared for me.

Complete the sentence: I love my dad because …

CW: We use the word 'love' quite liberally so we don't really think about it. But, when it's time for me to ponder about what kind of love I have for my dad ... to be honest, I've never thought about it. Growing up in a traditional family, I love you is mostly shown in a non-verbal way. It was definitely tough love. A lot of scolding and canings. We thought it was my dad who was a fierce parent but we eventually found out my mum was the mastermind. My dad is the jovial sort and likes to crack jokes, he doesn't like saying mushy stuff. On the other hand, my mom is a Peranakan and she's quite emotive. She likes to express her thoughts and her emotions. They both worked together to parent us.

TPC: It's hard for me say that I love my father. Rather than love, I think I prefer to use the word thankful. I'm thankful for what he has done for me. I'm part of the Merdeka generation ... at that time, a lot of people wanted to study but they didn't have the opportunity. There weren't that many people who actually studied all the way to university. Most had to work to support themselves and their family.

My father knew education is very important, so he encouraged me to pursue my studies. As the sole breadwinner, my father often had to pick up extra shifts and work till very late. He even picked up smoking to help him stay alert. Because of that, I rarely got to see him. But, I'm thankful because he gave me practical advice. He was the one who urged me to apply for scholarships that enabled me to attend university.

Pillow Talk is an interview series done in collaboration with Public Culture, an editorial experience studio that believes in connection over communication.