In celebration of Father’s Day, we learn from three extraordinarily special dads the meaning of sacrifice, true love and the belief that a deaf father can do a great job like any other father, with the help of a loving mother. At the same time, these dads readily attribute their family successes to their wives, without whom they would not have enjoyed fatherhood so much.
It was once said, “Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad”. Fathers are very special people to their children. Often seen as less hands-on parents than mothers, fathers, however, play an important role in their children’s development. Children look up to their fathers for guidance and mothers also rely on fathers as a stronger authority in the home. Fathers can be just as loving and supportive as mothers – they can invest a lot of time, effort and love in nurturing their children to be the best they can be.
Love knows no boundaries
Tan Buey Choon, 43 and Kong Guat Lay, 44 giggle together when they are asked about how they first met. Tan tenderly wraps Kong’s hands around his and makes hand-signs to prompt her memory; Kong laughingly reminds Tan that they met in YMCA KL and dated for four years and got married in 1990. Kong is both blind and deaf, having lost her sight to progressive blindness in 2000.
In fact, when Kong became fully blind, Tan never thought of leaving her; during the interview, he even asked Kong if she still loved him and she smiled with a hand-sign of ‘Yes’. It is this strong love for each other that enabled them to enjoy parenthood despite Kong’s gradually failing eyesight and both of them being deaf.
“When my son was born, I was very happy. I cried,” Tan recalls about his first-time experience as a father. Tan was working as a labourer in Malacca at that time and after their son’s birth, Kong became a housewife.
As a new father, Tan found out it was difficult and slow communicating with his son. Kong, who could partially see, decided to teach her son Sign Language (SL) when he was two years old; his younger sister also learnt SL from a young age. This allowed Tan to form a rapport with his two children, even though he had to work long hours.
Tan’s mother helped with the looking after of both children together with Kong. In 2000 after becoming blind, Kong moved in KL with her mother to learn to adjust to a ‘dark’ world. Her moving to KL meant having to leave behind her children back in Malacca with Tan’s mother. It was a very painful time for the whole family because Tan had to travel up and down from Malacca to KL once in a few weeks to meet Kong and the children often missed Kong.
“I really missed having my children with me,” Kong remembers, adding that whenever her children managed to meet her in KL, they would ask her to come home. It was only after some time and Tan’s constant encouragement that Kong decided to bravely resume caring for her children in Malacca, something that she is very proud of.
Today, their son is in Form Five while their daughter is in Form Four. The family resides in Selayang and Tan works for an auto-car business, after his own company folded last year.
“We are very proud of our children and of course, we would like them to study whatever they want,” Tan and Kong similarly hand-signed in enthusiasm when asked how they feel as parents and what they want for their children.
My soul-mate, my best friend
Freddy Yong Yit Sin, 45 and Alvina Yong Kit Mun, 35 see each other as soul-mates and best friends. As parents to two young boys, they understand the challenge of raising normal-hearing children and often consult each other on discipline and everyday tasks of caring for their family. Both are deaf; Alvina, however, knows how to speak.
When they first met in 1998 at YMCA KL, they did not develop feelings for each other straightaway but over the next two years, love blossomed between them and they got married. Despite their sizeable age gap, they think they have very good communication with each other, which is very evident during the interview; they even complete each other’s sentences!
Upon being pregnant with her first son, Shan Jie, Alvina was scared of what to expect from parenthood and so was Freddy. Both parents were unsure how to communicate with Shan Jie as they were first-time parents. When Shan Jie was two years old, Alvina, being a full-time home-maker taught him SL while Freddy worked as a storekeeper.
“Our children need not be shy about being from a deaf family,” Alvina explained, adding that even their sons’ classmates understand that both Alvina and Freddy are deaf.
Today, Shan Jie, eight years old, is proficient in SL and Freddy is happy because his son can hear and interpret for him on the phone. Shan Jie can draw very well, while his younger brother, Shan Ze, who is five years old, is also good in SL and can read storybooks on his own and can think fast.
“Whenever I am stressed from work, Alvina helps me de-stress with jokes – that calms me down,” Freddy signed, pointing out that he “loves her” because Alvina has been taking very good care of the whole family. In fact, her day starts at 7am when she wakes up; she sends Freddy to work and drops Shan Ze at school by 8am. At 12pm, she sends Shan Jie to school and by 4pm, Shan Ze would be home. An hour later, Alvina would drive Freddy home and finally at 7pm, she picks up Shan Jie from his school. That is why Freddy appreciates her so much!
On occasions when Alvina falls sick, Freddy takes time off work to look after his children. Both feel that parenthood is like a partnership where both take equal discipline and care of their children.
“Fathers, with mothers, must learn how to be responsible looking after their children,” Freddy advised, to which Alvina nodded in agreement. They admitted that their tempers flare sometimesbut they are “quick to accept and forgive each other”.
Both sons have been giving Freddy Father’s Day cards since kindergarten. Shan Jie gave his first such card to Freddy when he was two years old and Freddy was so happy about it.
“We are very proud that our sons can talk with us in SL,” both parents look on their sons with pride. They hope their sons will become lawyers or doctors when they grow up!
Sacrifice all for the sake of family
Danny Lee, 47, from Kedah wooed Monica Soong, 45 for ten years before they got married. They first knew each other in 1979 at Federal School for the Deaf in Penang when Danny was in Form Five and Monica in Form Three. After he graduated, he worked in KL while Monica stayed back in Penang to complete her vocational school education. Monica then went back to her hometown, Negri Sembilan and Danny would often visit her on weekends.
However, after marriage, they had problems conceiving for some time. They even went to University Malaya Hospital for professional advice but the doctor said there was nothing wrong with them. So when Amos was finally born in 1993, both parents were very happy and scared at the same time.
“During Monica’s pregnancy, I was very worried that my son would become deaf,” Danny signed. His eldest sister, Betty Lee, was born deaf, and so was Danny, so the chance of his children getting hereditary deafness was very high. Fortunately, Amos is hearing and both parents were not so worried when Monica got pregnant with Febian, also hearing.
Danny recalled that Amos could not talk up to age five because he only “talked” in SL with his parents so when Amos was four years old, Monica’s mother brought Amos back to Negri Sembilan to teach him how to talk. Every two weeks, Danny would go back and visit Amos, together with Monica and Febian. Amos only came back to Puchong when he was six years old because he missed his parents very much. By that time, Amos could speak well.
Danny strikes me as a very dedicated father. From Puchong, he had to endure long traffic jams along Jalan Tun Razak every Saturday to pick up Amos (up till age four) and Febian from a babysitter in Wangsa Maju. Both Danny and Monica were working so they had no choice but to leave their sons in the babysitter’s care. So weekends were very precious family time for the Lees where they would go out shopping or visiting places of interest together. On Sundays, he would make the arduous drive to fetch his sons to Wangsa Maju and drive back to Puchong again! It was a huge sacrifice for both Danny and Monica but they never regretted it.
The Lee family still remains very close today.
“Parents must teach children SL as young/early as possible,” Danny shared his parenting philosophy.
He explained that it is the American Deaf culture in which “most deaf parents teach SL to children as the children can pick up hearing and talking later on”.
He feels that it is easier when the child has an early knowledge of SL so that when the child grows up, it will be easier to communicate in SL. From his experiences teaching his sons SL, Danny observed that SL is “an easier communication of showing what is good or bad” to his children. In fact, his sons understand Danny’s emotions conveyed through SL more quickly!
“I strongly encourage deaf parents to bond with children through SL,” Danny advised, also emphasising on the need for parents to teach their children not to be afraid of having deaf parents.
Even during their sons’ birthdays, their classmates were aware about Danny and Monica being deaf and respected them.
Amos also told his teachers about his deaf parents so whenever the teachers had anything to say about Amos and Febian, the messages would be written down and brought home so that both parents could read the teachers’ handwritten notes.
Amos, who likes sports, is now 15 while Febian, three years younger than Amos, is more into computer games. Amos has expressed his desire to become a hairdresser and while his extended family is supportive, Danny is a little reserved about Amos’ career choice. However, Danny smilingly said he will “see how it goes”!
His greatest wish is to see his sons remain good children.
Dad, you are the champion of the world
In Roald Dahl’s book, “Danny, the champion of the world”, Danny admires his father’s ingenious wit in trapping pheasants with sleeping-drug laced raisins. Worldwide, children admire fathers for their ability to be smart, witty, clever with their hands and of course, great parents. In spite of their heavy workloads and demanding careers, the fathers will make time to spend special moments with their children who regard them as the champions of their worlds.
CHALLENGES MAGAZINE VOL2 ISSUE 2 2009 (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)