My wife and I gave each other mental high fives as we’d just completed a no-big-deal, drama-free flight with our 8-month-old son, Dhilan. We’d flown from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (KL) to attend the wedding of a university mate.
Content to admire a photo of a girl in a motor-lubricant ad, Dhilan had been a dream to fly with. Having witnessed infants and toddlers baring their fangs and going on kicking-and-screaming rampages on planes in the past — much to the anguish of their parents and fellow travellers — I was heartened that my son was not one of those villainous infants.
I even looked forward to the flight home. “That was easy! What’s the big fuss about travelling with an infant?” I thought, blissfully ignorant of what was to come.
Fast forward and we were back at KL International Airport. The gravity of our situation dawned on me when I realised that Dhilan was all excited and not about to sleep anytime. Nor was the ad with the motor-lubricant-selling pop artist anywhere to be found on our airplane.
That's when all hell broke loose. Oh, the kicks and screams! Since Dhilan had never liked the pacifier, I could only offer my fingers for Dhilan to chomp on. Trapped in my seat with a manic baby and battling a migraine, embarrassment and anger, I felt helpless and clueless.
What is more important is that fathers should always be involved, engaged and try our best to support our wives.
Having assured my exasperated wife that I could handle Dhilan, I limply held out toys to my son but he would not be swayed, not even by my usual award-winning tricks that usually soothed him. He cried, climbed and clawed at me relentlessly. In the end, my wife had to do the lion’s share of appeasing our angry baby.
Though it wasn’t an easy 45 minutes, there were several bright sparks in a flight that seemed to go on for an eternity. While there were passengers who stared nastily at us, we mostly only saw goodness in others.
Noticing our distress, a Caucasian lady offered to exchange seats with us as no one was occupying the seats near her. The man in front of me — whose seat Dhilan was punching into submission — asked knowingly if I was a first-time father and shared how he’d give his kids lollipops on flights.
When the teenagers whose seats we had taken suddenly appeared, a kind flight attendant whisked them elsewhere. Several people helped to pick up the toys my little Prince had thrown, while others gave us sympathetic “this too shall pass” pats on the back as the plane came to a stop. Did I mention that Dhilan graciously fell asleep on the plane five minutes before we landed?
I can’t express the tremendous relief I felt when we deplaned. Not only was it a humbling experience, I’d also learnt a valuable lesson. Fathers aren’t always powerful — we don’t always have logical solutions (and sometimes, we are really clueless) — but we don’t need to be.
What is more important is that we should always be involved, engaged and try our best to support our wives. And while we’ll be tested continuously on our journey, we should also feel reassured by all the goodness in this world.
Kelvin Caleb, 35, a civil servant, is dad to Dhilan, 22 months.
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