“My late wife always had a huge influence on my parenting philosophy as a dad, which helped me enjoy an extremely close relationship with our three girls. One of the earlier things she advised me to do — when the girls were in their teens — was to ‘date’ my daughters individually.
I was hesitant at first because it would mean having to spend thrice the amount of time with them — precious time I didn’t have as I needed to focus on my business to support the family. But after hearing my own responses to several questions my wife asked, I realised I only knew my daughters superficially. I didn’t know who their teacher was or what their favourite books were.
So, I started doing simple things together with each of my girls. It could be taking walks in the park, watching movies and eating dinner together. As time wore on, I realised all that mattered to them was that I was available for them — my kids equated love with TIME.
Now that I’m 60, each of them are taking turns to ‘date’ me. A couple of months ago, my youngest daughter, Eve, told me to clear my schedule for my birthday because she was taking me out. For over 12 hours, we had lunch, watched a movie and had a candlelit dinner with a bottle of wine and just chatted. I was touched that she had applied leave to spend a day with her dad! Parents also equate love with TIME, too!
In early 2016, my wife was really ill with breast cancer for six months. Because she was going in and out of the hospital, we decided to bring her home, as we didn’t want her to be stuck in the hospital environment. So, we converted the family room into a fully air-conditioned room on the ground floor of our home to accommodate her hospital bed.
“As time wore on, I realised all that mattered to them was that I was available for them — my kids equated love with TIME.”
My two elder girls quit their jobs and moved back home — my eldest daughter was in Melbourne, while my second daughter was based in Sweden at that time — to care for their mother full time. When I saw my three girls in the room with her, I thought, life has reached a full-circle. There they were in the room, cuddling their mother as she lay on the bed totally dependent on their loving care.
My wife, who had lost all her hair by then, had to be intubated so that she could breathe because of her deteriorating condition. Her cancer had metastasised to her skin, so she had bandages all over her body and she had to wear diapers. Oftentimes, the girls would climb into her bed, sit next to her and hug her like she used to with them when they were babies. She had looked after them and tended to all their needs, and now, the roles were reversed because they had now become her caregivers. What a glorious sight to behold!
All three girls received training as caregivers, so that they would know how to inject medication and feed their mother. Each took turns to feed her, change her soiled diapers and wash her around the clock. I saw their unconditional love for their mum and I told my wife, even though she couldn’t speak, that she had raised her children right. She smiled!
At around the time we moved my wife back home, my eldest daughter accepted a proposal of marriage from her Canadian boyfriend. Because of my wife’s condition, they decided to solemnise the marriage in our home. We managed to hold the ceremony just a few weeks before she passed away. It was a simple ceremony attended by only immediate family and a small group of very close friends. We turned the living room into a chapel of sorts and got the bishop from our Methodist church to officiate at the wedding.
“I saw their unconditional love for their mum and I told my wife, even though she couldn’t speak, that she had raised her children right. She smiled!”
I remembered that at one point, the bishop was reading out the marriage rites, “in sickness and in health, to have and to hold”. Right before he uttered the words “till death do us part”, he glanced over at my wife and me. He then told my daughter, “This is what it means. This is your commitment to each other.” My wife and I had been married for 36 years.
After the ceremony, they all surrounded and kneeled in front of their mum, kissing and hugging her. At the tea ceremony, my Canadian son-in-law called my wife “mum” for the first time. She actually could not drink the tea because she was intubated, but she did so because she was so happy and grateful that she could be present for the occasion.
Shortly after the wedding, we held a small party for about 30 guests in the house. My wife was tired, so she went back to her room. At my wife’s funeral, my son-in-law revealed in his eulogy that she had called him into her room during the party.
He said the first question she asked was if he was happy. He said that moved him to tears because he knew that she was in great pain and the first thing she cared about was, if he was happy. That, he felt, was the mark of a parent’s selfless love.
Now that she is no longer with us, there are times when I miss our banter. Without my spouse, I do recognise now that I may sometimes feel inadequate as a parent. After all, parenting is a team effort.
But I’m grateful for all the good and bad times we got to spend with our kids and as a family. I know that if I were to falter now with my adult children ― they would be okay as their foundation had been well laid.
I’m happy that in this life, I didn’t have to do many parenting retakes. At its defining moments, I had generally made the right calls. Can I still do better as a father? Certainly and I hope to! Am I happy with what I’ve done? Seeing the results so far, yes….I have no regrets!”
Richard Hoon, 60, chairman of the Centre for Fathering, is father to Eve, 25, Ethel, 27, and Elizabeth, 29.
Photos: Richard Hoon
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