Cast Away

Daddy Writes: A special on “Daddy Matters”

The sound of the blades spinning was deafening, whipping the morning clouds. As the black hawk approached the drop off point at the top of the mountain, towering grass were being blown to the sides forming a circular ripple in a vast ocean of green waves. I stepped off, onto unfamiliar terrain, and waved goodbye to the other band of brothers on board who were still waiting to be heli-inserted at other locations. I was alone, slightly older than 19 and in a foreign land far away from home. At a tender young age, we were the chosen few – we were newly minted officers who had to go through a survival course that was only open to army regulars at that time. The next 10 days was spent surviving off the virgin land, constantly lamenting why we were so lucky to be deployed in an area never inhabited before by mankind. It rained constantly for 9 out of the 10 days and finding food was a rare occurrence. I lost about 11 kgs as a result.

The countless wartime drama that happened throughout my time there in the jungle would make a great “Saving Private Ryan” movie sequel. But telling that story is not the purpose of my guest blog post today. My wife had approached me to write something on her blog in conjunction with Father’s Day. Surely I can’t be writing about my favourite war stories when this blog is supposed to be about being a family man? I thought long and hard and decided to come up with a list of why I think being a dad is more difficult than surviving alone in the jungle. So here it goes.

1. Leadership – When you are alone in the jungle, you get to decide what you want to do first. Perhaps you can build an elevated A-frame shelter, set a trap, and collect dry wood and tinder for fire. If I am alone at home with my 2 boys, I would try to make sure the little baby is fed, burped and changed. I would then have some quality time with the older son at his play corner. But does it usually turn out that way? Nope. The baby would be crying and I would be carrying him around the living trying to soothe him. The older boy would be clinging on to my leg and screaming for attention at the same time. The scene, although comparable to carrying combat load in the jungle, is much louder than the solitude I get during survival training.

2. Discipline – It gets dark very early in the jungle and it is usually pitch black to the extent that you cannot see your hands even if you place it at arm’s-length from your eyes. So I would sing myself to sleep and by 7pm, I would be in dreamland. The next morning, the birds and other weird animals would wake me up by 6am. Life was pretty routine. Contrast that to my life now. You try singing to your baby and he ends up singing back to you – for hours – in the middle of the night! But I must say that his cooing is pretty melodic at times. The older son also never fails to jump onto our bed to physically peel open my eyes on weekends to say “Daddy, whatcha doin?” And those 2 precious days are the only days in the week that I am supposed to be allowed to sleep in. But so I thought.

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3. Professionalism – When you set an animal trap, whether it is for a bird or iguana, everything is done step by step, with the most natural ingredients that you can find from the jungle. Otherwise, it would not work well. When you try to set up a “Thomas the train” toy, you end up getting bits and pieces that you put together being ripped out and sometimes broken by the little boy. Then we would use the most natural ingredient that we can find at home to put it back together – masking tape.

4. Fighting Spirit – After lasting the first day of survival, you get really hungry from the second day onwards. But you persevere and complete the mission even if the stomach growls like a lion and you never give up. When feeding my older son, he would be running around trying to avoid you like a plague. But then you start roaring at him to stop and he still never gives up.

5. Ethics – During the survival training, you are told certain rules that you are supposed to abide by such as not sneaking in any food or bringing any civilian electronic devices. And we would respect the rules and comply. With the older son, we would tell him the rule was that he can play with the iPad for 15 mins before going to take a shower. When the time is up, he would ask for 5 more mins. And then 1 more min. And this conversation just goes on and on.

6. Care for Soldiers – I would often go to the river to collect water for water parade to prevent dehydration or heat stroke in the jungle. We were taught well by the army in this aspect. At the playground, I would be running after the older son trying to get him to drink a sip of water. If it is a hot afternoon, I may just get a heat stroke in the process of getting him to hydrate himself. Oh the irony!

7. Loyalty to Country – What more can I say. We have produced 2 sons to defend the nation, when the time comes. And boy is it challenging to raise them.

If you haven’t already guessed, the main points above are the 7 core values of the SAF. Yes, I know. It’s a bit cheesy to use it. But I didn’t have any original idea of my own so I decided to borrow it.

On hindsight, my NS experience, though tough when you’re going through it, seems so sweet when you remember it. And it was only 2.5 yrs of active service, and 10 yrs of reservist. Taking care of our kids is a lifetime thing. You don’t ever really ORD or ROD from it. And at times, it is really tougher than surviving alone in the jungle. Although I may not get a confidence badge at the end of the daddy course, I think I should deserve a courage badge for trying my best. And I’m sure years down the road, I will remember these experiences ever so fondly, on hindsight.

Eve’s note: Wishing my sons’ Daddy a Happy Father’s Day! Thank you for all the sacrifices; lack of sleep and sometimes “physical abuses”. You are their rocker, their plane, their stability and their HERO! I am sure it’s easier than jungle training lah… or definitely it’s more worth than that! 😛

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