When Our Children Dies

When Our Children Dies

Dear Boys,

There’re 2 recent cases of deaths in Singapore that has attracted quite a large audience and attention.

One of them is a soldier Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron, who die in training when his superiors used more smoke grenade than needed back in 2012.

Another one was a youth, Benjamin Lim, who jumped to his death recently.

There is a lot of attention drawn to these 2 cases, as they are particularly sensitive, involving 2 uniformed services of Singapore. I’m telling the both you as my capacity as your parent, as a parent and hopefully, it’ll make sense to you,or help you make sense if you become a parent yourself.

Death is life’s only guarantee

While I don’t want to sound too philosophical; there is no escaping it. But we want to make sense of the circumstances around the cause of death. This is all the more pressing for parents. Look, your mum and I raise the both of you through sweat, blood, tears, poop, piss and all. We as parents sacrificed a lot of resources to bring our children up, so that we can see the fruition of our labour. When this process is unceremoniously interrupted, it hurts, a lot. And we want to find the person, event or whatever it is that caused the immense hurt, we want to lash out at someone, anyone, anything which is responsible for our children’s demise.

But death is inevitable. As much as I want the both of you to live as long as possible, sure as hell longer than me, at the back of my head, I’m constantly prepared for your deaths, under any, and all circumstances. Pull that back a bit, I’m prepared for the both of you to get hurt, maimed, under any and all circumstances. Its a psychological insurance I have to have, some dark parenting doomsday plan I keep deep in the abyss of my psyche. You both will die, hopefully long after I’m dead, and after you boys have lived a full and rewarding life.

But there is no guarantee in life, sometimes shit happens and we are left to pick up the pieces. This is particularly painful for parents, and when there is someone who is responsible for our children’s death, we want them to pay price for that, we want them to suffer the same pain we do.

But we can’t.

The pain is for us parents to bear.

Death can come anytime, boys. And death can cause much pain and anguish for me, but the pain cannot take away the joy, memories I already had. These happy moments will help me in my times of anguish.

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The case with Singapore Armed Forces.

Our country works in a conscript type model for military defense, which means like it or not, you boys will have to go through military life. Things in camp is very different from things outside camp. The military or SAF in specific, works in a very different way from how other organizations work. The job can be dangerous, stressful and very unpredictable, and people do die doing what they do.

While there are already tonnes of procedures in place in the SAF to ensure the safety and well being of the servicemen, how these procedures are interpreted and practiced are still up to individuals. And despite of all these red tapes and bureaucracies to make sure all servicemen lives through military life, sometimes they don’t.

Was it wrong for them to use more smoke grenades than necessary? We can all argue on hindsight, but in the SAF there are other ‘applied practices’ happening that is not in those procedures, safe or not? It sometimes doesn’t matter, the ends justifies the means. for this case, both officers are found to have screwed up and they have and will be dealt with. But is it suffice?

As a parent, I don’t think it ever will. But I have to continue to live on, these 2 men, soldiers themselves of the same uniform, made a mistake. They have to live with the history of killing a person with their negligent, while they are men who are responsible for their men, I cannot hold them solely responsible had it been my son’s death. Shit happens.

Life’s like that, procedures are not life. Life (and death) has a funny way of f**king up the best laid procedures. Humans must understand that Murphy’s Law is omnipresent and ever more stronger in the military.

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The Singapore Police Force

In January 26 this year, a 14 year old boy jumped to his death, his name was Benjamin Lim.

Period.

What complicates the matter was that he was questioned by the police prior to that, for a molestation case. And this got everyone riled up. People started accusing the police of having a hand in the boy’s death.

The bottom line is, boys, for whatever reason life throws a wrench at you, please do not kill yourself.

If anyone of you do that, I cannot blame anyone else other than my failure as your dad to bring you up robust to deal with any shit that has been thrown your way in such a manner where your best response was to terminate your own life.

Nothing in life is that bad until there becomes a need for you to invite death as a form of self destruction. Stay positive and resilient.

If you have committed a crime, own up face the consequences. Real courage comes from making a mistake, admitting and have the courage to correct it so that it does not happen again. Life is full of ups and downs, when you’re down, stay down and have faith that things will turn out right. As long as your parents are there, we will go through this with you.

We want you boys to know that, death by self does not absolve you from all guilt, it never does, in fact, stay, fight to clear your name. Life is not a one way street, you can change, we all can, although some of the things done wrong are irreversible, as long as we are alive, we can fix it, but we cannot fix anything when we are dead.

The bottom line is the irony of these 2 cases. both the SAF and SPF are organizations that protect life, the other irony, is sometimes in doing their job to protect life, lives are lost. The people in both organizations are, people, just like you and me, some of them are parents, and they too have fears like mine, of losing their children before their time is up. These people want nothing other than to be part of something great, and sometime when they don’t they have to live with the dark history in their lives that they had a part in another person’s death.

Other links:

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nsf-death-high-court/2571680.html

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/dead-soldiers-family-sues-singapore-armed-forces-two-officers

http://mothership.sg/2016/03/mother-pens-letter-to-late-son-who-died-during-national-service-in-2012-for-failing-him/

http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/press_room/official_releases/ps/2012/14nov12_ps2.html#.VtweHfl97cs

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/the-benjamin-lim-case-a-timeline-of-what-happened

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/the-benjamin-lim-case/2559674.html

http://mothership.sg/2016/03/police-asked-14-year-old-benjamin-lim-to-assist-in-investigations-after-he-was-identified-via-cctv-footage/

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Our Chat-Integrity, Mistakes and Corrections

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Dear Ian,

We had a bit of a spelling test a couple of days back and you wanted to check your own work on your own. Unbeknownst to me, you have decided to take it upon yourself to check your own work but I took your work over and check, and as your father, you protested, I ignored.

And not only did I go through your current spelling work, I went through your previous week’s spelling work too. And that too you protested. I can see that it was also ‘self marked’ and you marked everything as correct. That is where I knew it was an opportunity for a parenting lesson.

While I dig into your past week’s work, I found more spelling mistakes from those you marked with a ‘tick’. Some words are obviously wrong. ‘intolarable‘, ‘whimppered‘, ‘inauidible‘, which you marked as correct. There was also problems with your dictation, some sentences are missing entirely.

…trust yourself by not trusting yourself

You started to cry, and I wondered why? There was a huge egotistical defense mechanism coming up from you. You couldn’t really tell me why you cried and actually do not want me to check on your past week’s work. Your explanation was that it is already over, so we don’t have to go back to it to check.

That is a mindset I needed to address.

I brought to your attention why there is a need to let others check your work, and be brave to own up to your mistakes, present or past. I told you that we cannot hide from our mistakes, especially those that we put pen to paper. We have to have the courage to go back into the past to fix them, correct them, so that they will not come back to haunt us in the future. And we need to fix those mistakes, because mistakes not fixed in the past will eventually become the ‘truth’ we take as real in the future. One example was ‘harvsack’, you wrote that once in your dictation, and you didn’t pick it up as a mistake, it turned up on your second dictation as, guess what? ‘harvsack’. A wrong is a wrong, and too many wrongs will cause one to assumed it to be right, and I’m sure you are not out to change the word ‘haversack’ to ‘harvsack’ right? If you are on that quest, then good luck to you.

Integrity

More importantly, through our conversation, you said that you knew that some of the word is wrong and you have ‘mentally corrected them’. And you put a ‘tick’ over it.

That is where I pointed out to you the value of integrity. You need to be honest to yourself, a tick means right, a cross means wrong, and if you put a tick over a wrong, but mentally corrected the wrong, who is to know that you’ve actually corrected the wrong? And 2 years later, when we look back at the same page, will we still remember that you actually ‘mentally corrected it’? On top of that you put ’15/15′ when it should be ’12/15′ irrespective the ‘mental corrections’, a wrong means a wrong.

Your school have 4 ‘houses’ R.I.C.E- Respect, Integrity, Compassion, Excellence

It gave me a good opportunity to tell you about ‘integrity’. Which means you need to be brutally honest with yourself and when you found yourself with a ‘wrong’, you must do what is right and make a wrong, wrong. Only then the corrections can start and have a meaning.

Smart people seek help

Like I said it, always look for people to help you with your work, with your marking. it is an irony, trust yourself by not trusting yourself. Always knows that we humans are prone to errors. I also pointed out to you in so many of the ‘Air Crash Investigations‘ documentary we watch on TV, so many of the Pilots and their First Officers, failed to check on one another and resulted in deadly, tragic events. The problem is, even after one crash, after all the investigations and corrective, improvements made, decades later, similar crashes still happen. And even with 2 very smart, competent people, such errors still happen, so for us, we need to check and double check, enlist the help of others so that we can be doubly sure.

Always look to work with people smarter than you, so that you can learn. Never mind that some of these smart people might belittle you, mock you. Then  just walk away, with a lesson learned that some smart people you’ve approached are actually not that smart. Keep looking to challenge yourself by working with smart people, getting smart people to check your work.

Not looking back

And if you have given your all, your 110%, you would not need to worry about people checking back on you. You do not need to look over your shoulders. You can let people check your work from Primary 1 to now, and you’d be satisfied that you’ve done your best. Then you will no fear of the past, no fear of regrets. You are only 11, you’ll go 20, 30, 40 and more, doing many, many things that will come back and bite you if you are not giving your all.

I hope you can learn from this as this is a very important lesson in getting the right attitude in life, and I’m glad I was at home to talk to you about this.

The Burden of Being Right

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The Truth Monkey

Dear Ian,

You came home yesterday and told me that Caelan grabbed your shirt and pushed you from behind, resulting in you banging into 2 younger kids in school. You even go on to say that you have your friends as witnesses. I decided to let your mum talk to Caelan’s mum to clarify the matter.

What auntie Eliz (Caelan’s mum) told us was her son said you poked him with your water bottle, which he respond pushing you to the boys. Only then, you told me you were playing with him, using the bottle as a light saber.

What bothers us was that you didn’t tell us (you claimed that you did) that you did that to Caelan. You were quite adamant to tears that you did told me, and you did tell you mum, when she came home. Both of us never heard you said that. Never mind, given the benefit of the doubt, we will take it that you did, and we didn’t hear it.

The next matter is, I’ve already told you the cardinal rule, if you want to get into a fight, I’d better find out that you did not start it. And if you did, woe to you when you come home. Frankly what happened between you and Caelan wasn’t amounting to any ‘fight’ per se, but the point is you started it. Had you not poked Caelan with the bottle, he will not pushed you. You ‘whitewashed’ the ‘you started it’ part and made it look as if you were the victim and you were right.

The Right might not be True, and the Truth might not be Right.

We decided to punish you, for starting it the whole thing, as well as a lie you told me in the morning, which I decided not to pursue, but you mum did. Smacking you on your hand with a ruler as a punishment brought tears to your eyes. But I can tell the lesson hadn’t sunk in. You walked away feeling the pain on your hand but not learning the values and the responsibilities of telling what actually happened, instead of feeding us your story of you being right. It did not sink in.

The 7.5kg Truth Monkey

So I devised a sinister punishment. I have weights, I have chains. I took a 5kg weight, put it on chain and sling it around your neck. You have to carry that until you learn your lesson.

You didn’t and decided to sulk.

So I added a 1.25kg ‘sulking’ weight.

You struggled with it, obviously. And for the later part of the day, I changed the weight from a total of 6.25kg to 7.5kg, and put it on a longer chain. It is long enough for you to alternative between the shoulders, yet not long enough to rest your weights on the floor.

Tell the truth

This give you a physical burden of wanting to be right. To experience how difficult it can be, weighing the Truth and the Right.  We all yearn to be right, and sometimes, at the expense of telling the truth.  There is a difference between the Right and the Truth. The Right might not be True, and the Truth might not be right. This is the lesson I want you to learn carrying 7.5kg weight and chain. You want to be right or you want to be truthful. The burden is very real and for your case, no longer metaphorical, the weight on your shoulders is real, you have to think, critically, what you want to say, and what you want others to hear.

You came to me a few times, dragging that physical burden trying to explain it. You said your account of what happened might cause some strain between us and Caelan’s parents. To which I told you, ‘Don’t worry about that, we have a good level of trust between the parents. No damage.’

With that burden getting heavier by the minute, I could have just told you what we wanted you to tell us, but I want you to think on your feet, (literally as you are not allowed to sit down) what you did and how can we work our way around that. It is also a way of stress testing you, to make you think and work under a terribly uncomfortable situation to see if you break or not.

Truth will set you free

If you tell the truth, there is no fear of you being right, chances are you probably are. But if you are focused in telling what is right, for you, then you might miss the truth. You see, there are things you might not be sure of, your job is to investigate them, find out the truth. The truth can be relative, so your job is to twist it, turn it, look at it analyze it, upside, downside, inside out, outside in, 360 degrees, test the truth and no matter how you test it, if the conclusion is still the same, you probably have come closer to the truth than anyone else.

And if you tell the truth, people will fear you, respect you and follow you. Many people want to be right, but not many people can handle the truth. Not many people wants to tell the truth. They only want to tell their version of the truth, which is what they think is the Right. Chances are, the truth might proved that you are wrong. If you are relentless in pursuing the truth, you will not care if you’re wrong. You can be wrong about something, but at least you’re truthful about it and will naturally find the courage to act and correct your mistakes.

Chasing the truth will indeed set you free. You do not need to construct the story, and let your ego be in the centre of your drama. The Truth, and those who pursue it will be very courageous, humble without the need for limelight.

But if you are focused in telling what is right, for you, then you might miss the truth.

People will die for you

You have to understand the gravity (pun intended) of the matter on hand, DO NOT LIE TO US. DO NOT LIE TO YOURSELF, just so that you can be right. If the whole world accuses you of being a thief, when you stole so that someone can be saved; you are still wrong, but you knew the true reason for that, we will back you up and ignore all others who thought you were wrong. You need to face that stress, the burden of responsibility of telling nothing else but the truth. And as long as I can look into your eyes and you are telling the truth, we will back you up to the end of the world, against all odds, just as long as you are true to yourself.

There are people who love you unconditionally and will come to your aid, no matter what; they are your grandparents. They will do whatever it takes to protect both you and your little brother, and the last thing I want you to have on your life is that they are sacrificed just so for you to be right. I do not want that on your conscience.

Eventually, I want you to see that you have to feel and have that etched in your mind, have to courage to face the reality of things, find out the truth, tell the truth and indeed, the truth will set you free, otherwise, you will be burdened by the weight of always wanting to be right.