Celeb dad Ben Yeo: Whatever my sons want to do, I will support them

The Mediacorp artiste and dad of two reveals his down-to-earth parenting philosophy in a heart-to-heart with SmartParents.

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Ben Yeo certainly needs no introduction. You could even say this actor-host is a veteran of the local entertainment industry. Having been on local TV for more than 15 years, he has hosted more than 50 shows and starred in over 16 TV dramas.

His latest drama, “Babies on Board”, premieres on Monday, 7 May! Ben, 39, will play a completely different role in this drama series about a female gynaecologist who cannot conceive.

“This role is actually a very challenging role for me. In fact, it’s the first time I’m acting as a very, very, very bad guy”, he laughs. Ben plays the husband of a character on the show and cheats on her by having a mistress.

Ben, who won 2017’s Top Ten Most Popular Male Artistes at the Star Awards and is the founder of Play Kitchen, stalls in food courts, has also written two cookbooks (Cooking for Kids and Healthy Meals for Kids).

“I always tell my sons as long as they work hard, even if they don’t get good results, I’m fine with it.”

You can also catch the Shatec-trained host on his Facebook page on weekends as he live streams while he cooks! He is also working on a kids programme on how to understand your brain more and improve it, he says.

Despite his busy schedule, Ben, who is married to Claudia Cheong, 38, is a hands-on dad to his two adorable sons Jarius, 6, and Javier, 9. Though he has worked almost daily since November, he’ll “try to rush home for them”.

Despite his packed schedule, he makes it a point to be there for his kids’ important dates ― from birthdays to graduation. Nor does this supportive dad push his sons to live up to a certain grade, saying that “I always tell my sons as long as they work hard, even if they don’t get good results, I’m fine with it”.

Read on to find out what Ben has to say about being a father.

You’re a dad, actor, host, cook what’s your secret to managing it all?

Sleep less, lah. Sleep less and plan your schedule well. Yeah, sacrifice some of your time and things that you like to do lah.

What are yours and Claudia’s parenting styles like ― similar or is one of you the stricter one/disciplinarian, while the other the cool parent?

We’re actually very different, lah, totally different. She’s a more of an academic person, whereas for me I’m not so, because I think nowadays, studying is not easy. So to me, I don’t want to stress them. I mean like one person to stress is more than enough. So, I try to keep it that way lah, to me it’s more about moral education.

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So, it doesn’t matter to you as much if your kids do well in school?

I always tell my sons as long as they work hard, even if they don’t get good results, I’m fine with it. But if they can get good results, of course it’s a bonus lah.

Javier is already in Primary Three, how is he coping in school?

He’s okay! But of course boys are boys. Maybe he’s sometimes playful or mischievous. And he tends to be a bit more lazy, yeah [laughs]. When it’s time to do homework, he’ll try to “siam” (get out of the way) sometimes [laughs].

Does Javier have a lot of tuition/enrichment classes?

Not really, so far, Javier and Jarius only have tuition for two subjects ― Chinese and English.

I rather that they have a full rest day on weekends. They used to have tuition on Saturdays ― it’s a bit unfair because it seems like they have to study six days a week instead of five. I think they deserve two days off ― so, we changed their tuition to weekdays. It’s a bit “siong” (tough) lah, after coming back from school have tuition.

Your kids are older now and must have formed more distinct personalities. What are they like?

The two of them are actually very different ― they have very different characters.

For gor gor… Javier is a sensible boy. Recently, I took part in "Ride for Rainbows" ― cycling 60 kilometres to raise funds for children suffering from chronic illnesses. The flag-off was at 12:30am, so it was an overnight thing and I cycled for about five hours in total. I reached home it was about 6+am and heard someone opening the door. I thought it was my wife, but it was Javier. The moment he saw me, he came and hugged me and said, “daddy, you’re back!” I think he had been waiting for me, so it’s quite touching.

Jarius is a very easy-going person ― he’s the happy-go-lucky kind, so all his classmates love him, all his teachers, because he’s got a very, very nice character.

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Is it hard for you and Claudia to spend couple time with each other?

My job is very irregular, but she’s doing part-time work, so, her time is very manageable but it’s more challenging for me. So, when I know that I have free time, we try to meet up in the morning after we send the boys to school. We’ll have breakfast or even a brunch before the boys return from school.

What about family time ― what do you like to do as a family ― and how often do you go out together?

Actually we do a lot of things, like scootering, swimming, we also spend time at home watching some movies from Netflix. Also, sometimes we do some outdoor sports like playing soccer. We also like to go on picnics.

So, I just let them quarrel lah, actually they can settle by themselves, and they will learn something from there, too.”

What about family travel?

We try to make it once a year at least ― maybe a long trip and a short trip. In December, we went to Thailand. We went to Khao Yai and Bangkok ― Khao Yai is a very nice “nature place” that I like. My wife is more of a city person while I’m more to a nature person, so we strike a balance lah. This is the first overseas trip that we went to that is more “nature”.

On your Instagram, you always have pictures of Javier and Jarius in matching clothes and they look so cute! How is their sibling relationship?

They’re okay. Of course, boys always fight and quarrel amongst themselves, but I try not to interfere if there’s no danger involved. So, I just let them quarrel lah, actually they can settle by themselves, and they will learn something from there, too.

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We heard that you cook for your family whenever you are free! What dishes do they like?

I will cook every week because I’m doing this Facebook Live show. So, every Saturday or Sunday, I will do Facebook Live. So, this is the time I will cook for them, and Javier and Jarius will come into the live show just to have some fun and help out.

As a cook and food lover, a healthy diet must be a top priority in your family. How do you ensure your family eats healthily?

Of course, if you cook at home you can control what you cook. You know what you put in, how much seasoning you add, so that’s the best way to control the healthiness of the food.

But outside, most of the time, we will get soupy stuff for my boys. Sometimes, of course, they will ask for fried stuff ― but this is all childhood, I don’t think it’s fair to take away all these from them, so I’ll still give them.

I don’t force, I always use this magic word ‘try’, “If you don’t like it then it’s okay, I won’t force you, daddy won’t force you to eat””

Do Javier and Jarius have similar taste buds ― are they easy eaters?

I think all kids are very picky. Maybe only two out of 10 are easy and eat everything [laughs]. My boys have their own likes and dislikes. For Javier, he likes things that are very ― “weird” for a kid [laughs]. Because he has liked sour stuff since very young, like tomatoes, and lemons, when he got older, he now likes herbs, spring onions and things that kids don’t take. So, when we’re in public ,my friends are like “whoa, he’s so brave ah, you dare to eat all these things ― even adults don’t dare to take these such strong flavoured herbs.”

As for Jarius, he doesn’t really take much vegetables, only some like broccoli, carrots ― so he’s a bit pickier than Javier.

Do you try to expand their taste buds or expose them to a lot of different cuisines?

I always advise people and my own boys, I say, “It’s okay, just try”, I don’t force, I always use this magic word “try”. I tell them, “If you don’t like it then it’s okay, I won’t force you, daddy won’t force you to eat”. Because if you force, in the end it becomes a phobia, and you will dislike this taste forever. And this experience will follow you all the way till you grow up, this is something I learned as a child ― because my mum forced me to eat very fishy fish. So, until now, I dare not eat any fishy fish – even if it’s a bit fishy, I can’t take. That’s why I won’t force my boys to eat anything that they don’t like, but I will let them try.

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Being an actor isn’t the easiest job – if Javier or Jarius want to pursue this ― would you support them?

I will not stop them from doing anything because to me, it’s up to them. Whatever they want to do, I will just support, and of course, if I see the talent in them, I will try to groom them that way. So to me, there’s no you have to be a doctor, you have to be a scientist, you have to be a teacher, you have to be so-and-so…Then, in the end, the whole of Singapore only has doctors or scientists and nothing else. So, I’ll just ask them what they want to do, and they’ll tell me and I’ll say “oh, good, good!”

Do you have any plans to release a third cookbook?

I seriously don’t have a plan at the moment, but I am planning a book of my Facebook Live recipes because I am actually sharing all my recipes ― maybe gather about 100 recipes, then turn that into a cookbook.

To me, I think as a parent, we shouldn’t stress our kids so much lah. Because at the end of the day, do you want a happy kid? Or do you want a stressed kid?”

Any advice for other parents with kids in school?

It’s a very challenging era ― for both parents, kids and teachers. For the kids, to be frank, Singapore education is very challenging. Their bags are getting heavier and heavier every day. That’s the challenging part for the kids. To me, I think as a parent, we shouldn’t stress our kids so much lah. Because at the end of the day, do you want a happy kid? Or do you want a stressed kid? Of course, if they can cope within the stress level, are happy and can get good results, then, that’s the best. If they can’t, I think only you yourself know what’s best for them. They may not be good at studies, but they could be good at something else. They might have talent for something ― so just look out for it, just observe, then just support them within the talent that they have. I think that’s more important.

Working mothers always feel guilt, do you feel any?

Of course. I don’t have much time for them, but I can say I am proud that I’ve never missed their graduation day or their birthdays. I’m a very hands-on father, I’ve taken care of them together with my wife since birth –― changing their diapers, making milk for them and bathing them.

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Ever considered what you’ll like to do after u leave showbiz? Do you think you’ll still continue in the food business?

The food business will always be there. But I always have a dream lah ― to retire on a beach. Because I’m very into nature ― either a beach or somewhere in the countryside. Of course, it’s good to stay in a city, but if you want to retire and be more stress-free? I think It’s better to stay on a beach, own a beach house, sell some alcohol or beer, sell some snacks and talk to my customers, enjoy the breeze, listen to the waves…that’s my dream retirement plan.

Please fill in the blanks…

* The invention I wish I could create to make my life easier is… A teleporter.

* The greatest investment I am making for my kids is… Music lessons ― Javier is leaning the piano while Jarius is learning the violin.

* If I could change one thing about my personality, it would be… To be more patient with my kids.

* When I have to tarpau, I order... Hokkien mee.

* My favourite cuisine/dish is… Local food ― Hokkien mee, chicken rice, char kway teow and chai tow kway.

Ben is also on “I Love You Mum Challenge ― A Gift For Mum Season 2” (大声说出我爱你 ― 妈妈的礼物2).

Photos: Instagram/Ben Yeo

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