I had an interesting conversation with my daughter, JJ, in the car recently on our way home from her maths tuition. The conversations I have with JJ are different from the conversations that I used to have with my late father as a teenager. In those good old days, a conversation with my dad amounted to him telling me what's good and bad—according to his views of the world, and it's always a one-way-street. I had no choice but to accept his views.
Therefore, for example, running as a routine, according to dad, is a stupid hobby. To him, fishing and playing with slingshots, and playing games with friends are more sensible hobbies. Singing in the choir and joining the Red Crescent are sissy and a total waste of time; joining the Boys Scouts is more suitable for a boy. Neither explanations nor justifications were given for his opinions; and my opinions didn't matter at all. Whatever he said was the gospel truth, as simple as that.
My conversations with JJ are a lot different in that I'm always keen to know her opinions. What are her explanations and justifications for her decisions. But of course in the end, I have the final say, though I try very, very hard to refrain from using that authority.
JJ is now in form four, and next year she will be sitting for the SPM exams. Right now she has no clue of what she wants to do when she grows up. She knows for certain that she doesn't want to be a lawyer or a doctor. She explained to me why, and I can accept her reasons. I'm not a parent who will force my child to take up a career that she's not interest in, just because I'm convinced that it's good for her. She said she feels like she can be good in handling animals; yet she doesn't see herself as a veterinarian. I'm not sure if she is influenced by the movie Jurassic Park, the sequel of which she's eagerly waiting for now.
I told JJ that I will try my best to support her in whatever way I can to achieve her dreams. But sometimes in life we must face reality. There will be times when doing the things we like doing would mean that we won't be able to bring 3 meals a day to the table. Therefore, sometimes we may have to do the things that we don't really like doing for the sake of survival. We have to set our priorities right, because one of these days she will have a family of her own, and children to feed. Worse, there will come the responsibility to give them proper education.
I cast my mind back to when I was a young man, when I was as poor as a church mouse. I was earning about RM500 a month as a maths teacher in one of the private colleges in KK, plus about RM200 from giving private tuition in the evenings. From that, I had to pay the rent for a miserably small house in a flood-prone neighbourhood which I was sharing with my sister; RM175 for my motorbike installment, several other expenses which I couldn't escape from, as well as a small fixed amount which I paid as "income tax" to my dad. As you can probably imagine, there was hardly anything left after all those.
Those who know me well would know that I'm a person of many hobbies. If I could afford it, I would play, play and play all the time. But I had to set my priorities right. I had to work hard for a better future. My then girlfriend used to grumble a lot for not spending enough "quality time" with her because I had to work. She said I did not spare enough time for her; she was expecting me to take her to the movies more frequently, for example.
My priority was to work, save money if I could, and then hopefully have enough savings to pay for further education. I had no idea what's gonna happen in the future, but I just had to try doing something. I must admit that back then, I seemed destined to be that hopeless "church mouse" for the rest of my life. That's why I can't blame my girlfriend for choosing greener pasture elsewhere for a brighter future. How the heck would I know that I would end up where I am today? I mean, if my daughter falls in love with a very poor man, I'd probably try my best to talk her out of it too, although of course it's her life, and she has the final decision.
I'm sometimes worried that JJ is having troubles setting her priorities right. She's a reasonably bright kid, but looking around me now, I dread the thought of her having to compete in such a competitive environment when she's an adult. Mom and dad won't be around forever to rescue her when she's in trouble. But at the end of it all, with a little bit of discipline and getting her priorities right, the end results are always positive.
I hope for her sake, she heeds her daddy's advice.