My eldest daughter was born just months before I was promoted to the rank of Captain. I had served the Army for 6 years then and was rather ahead of my cohort.
A day after my promotion, I started my studies in NTI (now known as NTU). My daughter was 6 months old when I went for my first class in July 1984. It was tough; I had to contend with time for studies, for my daughter and for Michelle, who was suffering for postnatal depression after I left to stay at the university hostel. It was by God’s grace and strength that both of us were able to overcome those challenges.
Five years on, my son was born. And in 1990, we were gifted with our youngest daughter, the same year I was promoted to a Major. Girls and promotions seemed to come in pairs. 🙂
As our three children were growing up, my soldiering career was also on the fly. Despite my busyness, we took time to go on short family holidays frequently. Usually three days at a time but four times a year. We did this for many years. We did not go to exotic or faraway destinations; it was Desaru, Malacca and places nearby. But many of our children’s and our fond memories of the family came from those short but wonderful holidays. The family bonded.
Michelle and I truly enjoy our parenthood. We had to go through cycles of tears, joy, hope, disappointment and anger. Nothing unusual; these are normally associated with “provisionally licensed” parents. Parenting is a lifelong learning experience; 24/7 and 365 days non-stop. Along the way we made our mistakes, but did not give up, we recovered and moved on.
Deciding that family comes first
I left the SAF for the industry after 15 years and joined a local listed company. I was responsible for their international business. That meant lots of time spent on planes and hotel rooms. But I made it a point not to travel over weekends. It was another deliberate decision. I wanted to spend family time over the weekend. I told my CEO my position and promised him that my performance would not suffer. It did not and instead, I performed better!
I worked hard. Michelle worked harder as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law and businesswoman.
As parents, both of us had to give up even more “rights” but our family thrived! We decided that our family must come ahead of every other interest. What we did years ago is now commonly referred to as “work-life balance”.
Preparing for our empty nest
Despite spending lots of time on and with our children, Michelle and I did not neglect our relationship. We know for sure that we will be alone again; we consider it our joy to see our children eventually set up their own families. When they do, we will encourage them to spend most of their time with their spouse and children.
As sure as the sun rises every day, our nest will be without the children as they build their own. For this reason, Michelle and I took efforts to prepare for that day, which came sooner than later.
My eldest daughter has been married for more than 2 years now and lives in her own house. My son and youngest daughter are both in their final year in the university and we see little of them as they have projects to finish, friends to meet and a life to live. I don’t think that it will be too long before they get married and move out.
I notice that it is common for children to be the glue to the relationship of aging couples. Without the children, they have nothing more to do together or say to another.
Michelle and I have known each other for almost 40 years now and we still have lots of things that we have joint interest in and to talk about. We are more intimate with each other than when we were first married.
This state of intimacy did not come by itself. We took efforts to develop it. Amongst many other things that fought for our time, Michelle and I chose to spend time to develop our relationship.
We are careful with our communication. We talk about everything that matters to our heart. We learn to say good things about and to one another. We learn not to let our frustrations and anger grow above our love. We learn to forgive and ask for forgiveness.
We constantly enhance our intimacy with activities that we both enjoy doing together; we are into our seventh year of weekly ballroom dancing lessons. Though we still cannot dance well, we enjoy each other when we dance, stepping on each other’s toes and all. We go for Pilates sessions together once a week.
We did and are still doing all we know how to prepare ourselves to turn what others call an “empty nest” to a rejuvenated “love nest”.
Leaving a legacy
When my eldest daughter was dating, she declared that she wanted to marry young and have children, “….just like Mom and you, Dad”, she said.
“Why would you want to do that?” I would ask.
Her answer touched me, “I can see how Mom and you are able to enjoy life now.”
When she finally got married at 26, she said that she was already late. She saw and experienced the joy of family and she desires it for herself.
Many have called it a foolish decision – to marry young and start a family when my career was just taking off, yet Michelle and I would not have wanted it another way.