||Sunday, April 16th, 2000
Alone, you don't get to grow up
By remaining single, you don't learn to live your life for another person, to care for that person fully and unconditionally.
MY OLD friend, WC, was in a philosophical mood.
He had had a good dinner with my other old friend, KC, at the Five Foot Way in Pagoda Street, and was drinking his third mug of beer when I joined them, after the paper had been put to bed.
""Richard, do you feel you're missing something, not being married and not having children?'' he asked me.
""Oh, come on,'' KC chipped in. ""Why does he want to get married? He wants a life of solitude and quiet and reflection. He wants to read his books, with no one to disturb him. Andhe's obviously made all the financial plans to live out his life on his own.''
KC was right, the vague plans I had been making did not factor in a wife or children. As the title of a self-help book suggests, I was planning to Live Rich, Die Broke.
But was I missing out on anything? Yes, I told WC.
It's strange how a certain realisation hits you when you least expect it. But, at a work process session recently, when the professor who was conducting it related how he could not read The Straits Times at home in the morning, because he had to drive his son to school every day at 7 am, it hit me that I never had to do such a thing for anyone.
Coincidentally, in the following week, over lunch with some senior colleagues from the other divisions, a manager remarked about how he had to get up very early to drive his children to school, before going for his daily run at the Botanic Gardens.
I told WC about these two gentlemen, and said: "I realise that not being a parent, I've not learned to live my life for another person, to care for that person fully and unconditionally.'
It must sound so adolescent of me, to realise this at my age. But that's part of the problem of being single you don't get to grow up.
WC said: ""Yes, you'll never know altruistic love until you become a parent. Only a parent can love his child unconditionally. All other types of love are conditional,whether we want to admit it or not.''
WC has a son in boarding school in England and a daughter in school here.
He is an architect turned businessman based in Kuala Lumpur. When the children were small, he made sure he attended every function of theirs, no matter how busy he was. ""My son is my joy,'' he said.
KC teased him: ""If your son is your joy, then what's your daughter?''
""She's my life,'' he said with no hesitation.
KC, also an architect, has two children too. His elder daughter wants to go to the London School of Economics, but he's encouraging her to do her first degree in Leeds, so that she will get to experience life in a university town. His younger son is still in school here.
My two friends are no paragons of virtue, but they are good fathers. So is LS, who was late, as always, joining us just before the pub was closing. He wasted no time in tossing back a couple of glasses of whisky.
LS is someone who has lived life on the edge, with abandon, and there have been times when he was in danger of falling down into a black hole. But his is an abundant life, because he lives so generously.
His two children, now studying in America, have always looked to him as both father and friend. And, at home, he's just become the father of a fourth child.
""Bumi,'' ? that's my nickname ? ""you must have children,'' LS always tells me. ""Don't worry about the money, you will find a way.''
Money, or the lack of it, has always been my excuse for not getting married and having children. But, like all the other excuses, it's a lame one. I've always admired people who say they will zuo niu zuo ma (literally, be an ox or a horse, to slog) just to bring up their children.
As WC, whose business was hit badly by the recent economic crisis, told me: ""I used to take home more than $30,000 a month. Now I take home about $5,000 a month. But my children don't love me any less.''
And zuo niu zuo ma, he's going to see his son through Stanford University, where the boy has already won a place.
To live my life for another person I saw that as such a burden. I wanted to be free and not be held ransom by any tie. ""For he who forms a tie is lost, the germ of corruption has entered his soul'', was my handy line of defence, from Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, which Graham Greene used as the epigraph to his novel, The Human Factor.
But, as I have found out, this kind of psychic self-preservation doesn't make you a freer man than those who dare to be tied down.
At least, I don't see myself as being any freer than my three good friends.