Celeb dad Lance Alexander: Sometimes, your kids know better

In a rare interview, the low-profile Channel NewsAsia presenter opens up about making a long-distance marriage work and raising teen boys.

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The only thing that makes weekday mornings more bearable ― besides a strong coffee ― is watching Lance Alexander, 54, dish out breaking news on First Look Asia

Indeed, when you tune in to Alexander’s daily breakfast show, which he currently co-anchors with presenter Yvonne Chan, you’ll notice how effortlessly he brings everyday news to life with his casual charm.

There’s no room to fumble during this fast-paced two-hour live show that’s on from 7am to 9am every weekday. But it’s not an issue for cool-as-cucumber Alexander, since the veteran journalist has been honing his craft for decades.

Married to Angeline (Angie), 45, a bank executive who is working in Perth, Western Australia ― Alexander is dad to Christian, 14, and Dylan, 18. The TV personality reminisces about how he kick-started his broadcast journalism career in radio back in the early 1990s.

“I had a degree in social work, but the first few jobs I applied for in social work, they rejected me,” Alexander recalls. “Then a friend told me 98.7FM was looking for ‘pilots of the airways’. That’s what they called it that at that time. I went for the audition and was selected. I saw it as something fun ― we were playing music and got paid for it.”

Loving what he did made Alexander stand out from the rest. So much so that within a few years, he was offered a reporter position on a breakfast show called AM Singapore. He was initially asked to be a reporter, but ended up being the second chair. Alexander did entertainment, sports, traffic and weather news, plus, the occasional serious interview.

There’s not a problem that can’t be solved, especially when it comes to parenting and teaching a child.”

Alexander returned “home” to MediaCorp in 2012 after having lived in New Zealand for 10 years, fronting Channel NewsAsia’s weekly sports programme, SportsWorld Weekend. Two years ago, he started on FirstLook Asia and notes that it feels like he has come full circle in his career.

Today, besides his morning gig, Alexander also hosts a special series called Coffee with the Boss, where he speaks to various captains of industry. Through his intuitive and hard-hitting questions, Alexander takes a deeper look into their personalities and what drives them to be who they are.

SmartParents turns the tables on this newsman and has a sit-down with the low-profile presenter. Read on to get insights on know more about the man, whom many Singaporeans have come to associate with solid news reporting over the years…

Hi, Lance! So, you’ve been in the business for almost three decades now. Still loving the job?
The good thing about doing what we do is that it’s always different every single day. Somedays, it may not be the best news that we have to talk about, but it’s always something different. And that’s the best thing about the job.

What was the best interview you’ve ever done?
I’ve interviewed Sting, Janet Jackson, Patrick Stewart, Cesar Millan, Jackie Chan and some top CEOs on Coffee with the Boss. So, I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to getting advice on a string of different things. But I’ll tell you one thing that Boris Becker, the former Grand Slam tennis player, said to me.

We were doing an interview at the Intercontinental Hotel and I thought that I was interviewing him, but he was interviewing me at the same time. He asked me how many kids I had and I said two, and he said you know, the thing about being a parent is you think you are teaching your kids, but in the end, your kids are the ones teaching you.

Which is so true ― you learn so much from your kids. You learn about being more patient, you learn about unconditional love, you learn about encouraging your kids ― which also links back to how you encourage your colleagues ― and you learn about being altruistic. You learn more from your kids than teach them. I’m not sure whether that learning ever stops.

So what is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far as a parent?
Kids will always frustrate you, kids will disappoint you. It’s pointless getting riled up because it’s part of a phase of being a parent ― you just have to get on with it. Hopefully they will learn and come back to you one day and say, “Yeah you were right, dad”.

Also, always have a sense of humour, because as long as you have one, it will calm things down. It can be a situation that is very tense, so take a few minutes to just step back and don’t be impulsive rushing through a decision. And even joke around it, not to a huge extent, but enough to know that everything can be solved. There’s not a problem that can’t be solved, especially when it comes to parenting and teaching a child.

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So, is it true? Are the teenage years the worst time in parenting?
I agree 100 per cent that the teenage years might be the hardest. Every phase a child goes through it brings on a different set of problems. When the child takes her first steps, you think, “Oh my god, is my child going to fall?”. When the child learns how to speak you worry if your child is going to be articulate. Then, when your child takes part in sports and you think ― is the child going to be someone that scores the goals or lets in the goals!

As they become teenagers, they will go through puberty and ask a different set of questions. They will want to explore their sexuality, they’ll be wanting to be asking questions like is this right, is this wrong? Dylan is reaching the age where I can advise him on something, but he has more or less figured it out. He knows what he wants. He knows the answers already. I can’t tell them otherwise. Christian is 14, so I can still offer him some advice, but they will need to figure things out. You can only facilitate, you can only guide them, but sometimes they need to get “burnt”, if you can say that, and hopefully, that will teach them as well.

“You’ve got to realise that, sometimes, as a parent, you don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, your kids have better answers.”

What’s the best advice you can give parents on managing the tumultuous teenage years?
When they hit 16, 17, 18, years old, the role their friends play is so vital. The dynamic changes, because they will listen to their parents, but their friends are a stronger influence. Obviously, you are hoping what their friends advise them and what you advise them will run in a parallel. So it’s good to meet their friends. I’ve met my sons’ friends, I know them and their parents. It’s important to know who the parents are and to know if they’re like-minded.

But like I said, sometimes they will want to do things differently and you will just to have accept it. But if they want to do something, I expect a certain level of maturity as well. It’s a different age of parenting so you just have to accept it. The more you tell them not to do something, the more they will probably do it. You just hope they will be honest enough to tell you what they’re up to. You want to have an open relationship, but you can only hope they are willing to share.

Also, you’ve got to realise that, sometimes, as a parent, you don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, your kids have better answers. You’ve just got to play it their way ― and who knows, it might turn out better than you expected!

Which one of your sons reminds you more of yourself at their age?
Wow, they are so different. There are certain traits you see in Dylan, and you go, that’s like me. Then you see certain things in Christian, and you think, oh, that’s so like me as well. But obviously you always want to claim the best qualities and everything else they learn from their mum [laughs]! But with both boys , there have been moments when I’ve gone, okay, that’s how I would have played it as well…and you feel proud.

Tell us more about your time in New Zealand…
Dylan was 4 and Christian was just a few months old, when we moved. We wanted a fresh start and moved with no jobs. We just wanted to try something different, a different lifestyle. It was a bit of a struggle for me because it was difficult to get broadcasting work. I actually worked in a department store, literally stocking shelves. But I told my kids there’s no shame in that because it was good, honest work. Angie ended up getting a job at the Bank of New Zealand and was helping support the family while I looked after the kids. So, I became a house husband. It was great, because I looked after the kids well, they spent a lot of time with me. The roles were reversed, but it worked.


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What was it like being a stay-at-home dad at that time?
In New Zealand, solo parenting was as not uncommon as it would have been here at that time. Angie would go to work, I would wake the kids up, make sure their breakfast was all sorted, send them to school, pick them up and organise their afternoon tea. Then I will look over their homework, take them to playgroup or other activities. By 7pm, I would have a meal ready for the family. Then, Angie and I would get the kids ready for bed. You just have to readjust, that’s the whole thing about being a parent. There are no fixed roles ― you just have to take on whatever role that’s needed to parent.

What about now, how do you spend time with the boys?
I do more of dropping them off at activities. Christian’s learning how to fly, he’s in the junior flying club and, hopefully by 18, he will get his private pilot’s licence, which will be just amazing. Dylan is 18, he’s watching a lot of stuff online. He’s on the IB programme and he’s got exams in a couple of weeks. If he’s not studying, he watching House of Cards and Game of Thrones. He’s watching shows with adult themes and it’s incredible. He’s discussing plots and themes with us and its mind-blowing. I don’t work most weekends and it’s nice for me to have my time as well, because the boys are not young kids and have their own stuff going on, so I don’t have to babysit them.

"You learn more from your kids than teach them. I’m not sure whether that learning ever stops.”

What else do you get up to during your free time?
I probably try to catch up with my favourite shows, meet up with my friends or basically relax. Since we don’t have a helper, I also do the laundry, the cooking, cleaning and ironing.

Do the boys help out?
They’re not as helpful as I’d like them to be! They can polish a plate, but I’ll be happy if they just do their own dishes ― which they do ― and help with bringing the trash out. I ask them for very simple things, keep their rooms clean, which rarely happens, but I don’t sweat the small stuff. I will ask them a few times to keep their rooms clean or else their nana will have to do it for them, which is disappointing because she’s 83 years old! But the kids are appreciative. They always thank us after a meal and I really do appreciate that. So, I think they’ve got good social etiquette, which is really nice. They know that Angie is in Perth, so they will have to pull their weight.

Having a long-distance marriage can’t be easy. How do you and Angie keep things going?
It’s not easy, but it’s all about keeping the lines of communication open. Angie and I Skype every night and WhatsApp throughout the day. We share our day with each other, get each other’s opinions on our work. The great thing about modern technology is that you can take a picture and send it and say, look, I did this and she will send me back another pic and say, look I did that. The good thing is that it’s the same time zone and she’s back at home in five hours maybe six. It would have been much taxing if the kids were younger.

What about you? If you could have anyone on your show next, who would it be?
Probably former president Barack Obama, because I’m full of admiration for someone who led the most powerful country in the world. I’d like to know how he did that while being a parent. For an actor, I would love to interview Robert De Niro or Al Pacino, because I’m a big fan. I think they are fabulous actors and just want to sit down and learn more about their acting craft and how they fully immerse themselves in a role.

What’s the next milestone you’re looking forward to as a parent?
Dylan going to National Service! He’s not going to be able to say, I’m just going to leave my bunk the way it is. He’s going to learn how to tidy up. He’s going to learn that you can’t just leave things as they are and go to bed, because the army does not function on your clock. It’s a different watch entirely. So, I’m waiting to see how he handles that. I’m waiting to see how he’s going to come out and behave after his basic military training. Like I said, you can teach your kids, but whether they listen or not, they will learn on a different platform. And the army is a different platform. I think it’s going to be really good for him.

*This interview was edited for clarity.

Photos: Lance Alexander

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