Standing behind the girls, I held my breath as they stepped into the room where their dads – the inmates – were waiting. Would the dads be hostile? Would some girls refuse to talk to their dads? With these questions running through my mind, I peered cautiously into the room… and relaxed. I saw dads break into huge smiles, daughters hug their dads, tears being shed as they embraced each other. Which other event would bring tears right at the start? But this was IT – the first Date with Dad event held at the prisons had begun.
When the idea was birthed some months ago, I wasn’t sure if it was really going to happen. There were many more restrictions compared to the community event that took place on 11 February 2012. We were clueless about prison protocol and the logistics involved seemed daunting.
Yet now here we were. Ask me which the most memorable moment was for me, I would say the first ice-breaker. When the emcee announced that the daughters were going to help the dads tie a neck-tie, everyone let out an excited ‘Ooh!’ I remember laughing and tearing at the same time as I watched them play – laughing because I was so happy they were truly enjoying themselves, and tearing because my heart was warmed by their sincere enthusiasm.
As the event progressed, I witnessed many more tears. Tears as the dads and daughters shared from their hearts, using our little conversation starters to talk about topics they probably have never discussed before. Tears as they wrote letters to each other and shared them out loud on stage. Tears even from the staff and volunteers, who were so touched by all that they saw. And finally, tears as the father-daughter pairs hugged, and said their goodbyes.
There was one big difference between this and the community event. And no, I’m not talking about the venue. After the community event, the dads and their daughters went home together, some hand-in-hand. This time round, however, it made my heart ache to realize that the girls would be going home – alone.
The bus ride back to the visitor centre was a quiet one, as the girls stared out of the windows, deep in thought. Having talked to the girls before the event, I knew many were hurt and saddened by what their dads had done. Yet reflecting on all that had taken place that day, I felt that things were changing; it was as if restoration had begun.
I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving, trusting that this date would be a special memory in their hearts for a very long time to come.
This week’s guest writer is Ms Samantha Chin, Administrator (Research & Development), Focus on the Family Singapore. Sam was involved in the Date with Dad event held at the prisons last month.