I believe children need two things from their parents — unconditional love, and encouragement to excel. I believe our heavenly Parent, Abba Father, gives us both: He loves us unconditionally, yet He wants us to maximise whatever talents He has entrusted to us. As I said when I spoke at my mum's wake recently, in my case, my parents divided the duties. Dad gave me unconditional love. He wasn’t ambitious; well, except maybe in sports where he excelled. But not in studies or in careers. He himself only went as high as ‘O’ levels and he worked as a clerk in the school system. He was an excellent clerk and all his headmasters respected and trusted him, but he had no ambitions to go beyond that. He could leave work at 5pm every day and be home for family. That was most important to him. Often he was the one who put me to bed; his favourite lullaby, 500 miles. At the first sign of illness, he would rush me to the doctor and make sure I was ok. No pressure to perform in school, his basic slogan was “I want you to be happy”. He had a great sense of humour and made people laugh. People liked him. I liked him, though I was terrified of his quick temper. But that went down as fast as it came up. Still, scared the heck out of me, though. But his anger was not related to my performance.
Mum was cut from a different cloth. She travelled by boat from Hong Kong to Penang as a teenager after the war (WW2). Nothing came easy for her. This beauty with a strong faith in Christ had to work hard for everything in life. She wanted her son to excel in life because she knew life was hard. She used the usual methods. She would be so proud of me when I did well, but she would clearly be upset when my grades dropped. She would invest in books for me to read to better my general knowledge. (Dad invested in comics, which were important too.) She would sit with me and go through some of the magazines she got me, like Finding Out. She invested in experiences, taking me on my first trips on a train and on an airplane. She tried to get me to play the piano but gave up after I showed more interest in football. She also nurtured my faith and, like everything else, wanted me to excel in that too, though dad and mum may have thought I learnt too well when I chose to be a pastor even after I had qualified as a dentist. But that one is on God, I think.
It wasn’t always easy having dad and mum giving me different life lessons — dad, unconditional love; mum, encouragement to excel. In my younger days, I found the two philosophies clashing within me. I had great difficulty trying to reconcile these two approaches to life. Sometimes one approach would sabotage the other. But in time I learned to appreciate both these influences. I am very much a product of these two forces and am still trying to integrate them because they are both important. In other words, I am very much a product of my father and my mother. So I try to love people unconditionally while encouraging them to grow to fulfil their potential. Often I fail, but thank God He loves me unconditionally and is helping me to be better.
Growing up, you realise that your parents are not perfect. In fact they may have made major mistakes. In my ministry to young adults I will say that one thing they need to do is to forgive their parents for their mistakes. I know this all too well because I am aware of my many failures as a father and how much I need my children’s forgiveness.
So, parents, how do you give your children unconditional love and also encourage them to be their best? And I think it is best if both parents do this! For example, how do we do this in the midst of a season of exam results? How do we show our children we love them no matter what their results, but also help them learn from the ups and downs of life so they can be better? Not easy, I know. But we can’t lose the tension if we are also wanting our children to get a glimpse of the living God through their parents.
I lost daddy in 2003. I lost mummy on October 20, 2021, a day after her 94th birthday. I miss you guys so much. Ya, I know we will meet again, but I still miss you. In a sense, dad and mum you are in me. I am your product in so many ways. Thank you for nurturing me. My mistakes are my own. The best parts of me, well, that’s on you.