In celebrating fathers this month, we wanted to take time to appreciate them by sharing stories of fathers who are changing the game for their families everyday. The following conversation is with Joel Wong, husband to Salby and father of two.
Hey Joel, tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
I’m married to Salby and we have two kids: Ethan who is eight this year and Evie who is two this year. I currently work in sales for a tech company and one of the reasons I chose this job is because of its flexibility.
Since being a dad, I’ve always tried to choose a job that gives me flexibility to be involved in my childrens’ lives. Maybe because my dad was like that too. I remember he would get involved in my school’s PTA and things like that. So I wanted to do the same for Ethan.
I send the kids to school and try to be there for their mid-day school activities. My daily schedule is very tiring for sure, but every time I get to reflect, I’m really thankful for this opportunity. It keeps me very involved and close to my childrens’ lives.
In fact, I remember when Ethan first started school, I always wanted to know what his daily interactions were like all the time! I couldn’t really get that of course. I prayed hard that there’ll be a parent teacher committee that I could get involved in, just so I could be involved in Ethan’s daily school life and it would also remind me of my father’s involvement in my school life. Maybe a bit of a helicopter parent! But I just really wanted to experience my kid growing up.
That’s amazing. Do you think being a father changed your perspective on life? Was there a big difference before and after?
Not too much. I always knew I wanted to be a father and I guess being involved in the kids and youth ministry at church also prepared me for fatherhood. Seeing teens who came from troubled backgrounds made me have a better idea of what I should or shouldn’t do. So I felt quite prepared when Ethan came along.
My perspective didn’t change much, but the key thing was knowing I would have to give up my own needs to prioritise the kids. Gaming and such. Especially during their young age, from birth till they’re about 12 years old.
Like right now I’m in this very rewarding job and my boss has talked to me about how I’m a rare man who is very close to his children and the family. We then talked about how this job is also very important and I need to keep having focus. Even then,
I am still quite resolute about putting my kids first. So I find myself thinking of ways to balance and still give my best at work.
Maybe someday when my son is older and more independent I could take him along on work trips with me.
Speaking of which, what are some ways you intentionally bond with your children?
Unfortunately outdoor time isn’t much of an option for me due to the skin condition I’ve had since I was young. Whenever I try to do outdoor activities, the heat affects my eczema quite badly, and I feel extremely itchy, sometimes taking hours to return to normal. At one point I felt really bad that it limited me from giving my kids the outdoor life. So that’s where I got the idea of getting an inflatable pool! It was so cheap: RM200 with a pump. It became a great family activity for us on our porch. During the recent MCO we swam everyday. I also sometimes play Minecraft online with my son after his homework is done or we read books together and I like to talk with him a lot.
Yes! We noticed you’re great at having meaningful conversations with your son. How do you start these conversations?
I really do pray that he will feel comfortable talking to me as he grows up and he’ll ask me anything. Right now he does ask me questions and I always try my best to take time to answer. When I have specific things to talk about with him, I’ll usually invite him to come and sit with me, and we’ll talk about different topics.
Someone once said, “Treat your child like an adult when you talk about things. Try not to belittle them.”
In other words, you don’t need to dumb it down. I agree and so I try to engage with the intellectual part of his mind.
What about when it comes to difficult topics?
Well, one of the more difficult topics is when “mommy and daddy argue”. So I give him an example of how I felt when my own parents argued. I’d tell him how I used to feel like it was only my parents who argued but how I soon realised that disagreements are normal and that life is not perfect because humans are different.
So.. just curious, what are your thoughts about fathers being the main breadwinner of the family vs being at home with the children?
I think it’s just a very traditional upbringing that men are supposed to focus on work, and women stay with children. Through the years we’ve seen a lot of fall outs. Kids who grow up with a hole that’s never really filled because they never really felt close with their fathers. I was close to my father, but never in a “let’s talk about deep emotional stuff” kind of way. So it became very awkward whenever we had to talk about deeper and more emotional subjects.
A few weeks before he passed away, I told him how much I appreciated everything he did for me even though things weren’t always perfect, the mistakes didn’t matter to me anymore, etc. As I said that, with tears in my eyes, he looked at me and said “You’re my son.” I felt emotional that we were having this important conversation at this critical time of his life.
I am so glad that I had that conversation with him and I wish that I had more of these deeper conversations like that with him. I don’t want the same thing to happen with my son. So I want to build this emotional bridge with my children so they can express anything that they want. The only way to do that is to spend time with them and talk to them.
What do you hope your children will learn most from you?
I would like them to model out what love and “spending time” means. I want them to learn from how I respect them as individuals, that they should do the same for others. To learn empathy.
Thanks for sharing so honestly, Joel. Any final thoughts?
I guess I’d also like to say, I am an emotional person so maybe that contributes a bit more to me wanting to spend time with my children. But these years are really precious and as my kids grow up, and want to spend more time doing other things, I’ll fully support them. I can always go make more money then.
For dads who have a different personality, that’s OK but it’s really about a mindset change. Can they realise that these are the most important years of their children’s lives and it will shape how their children become as adults? If they can, then they will do their best. It’s not easy of course, I am still the main breadwinner and also house husband, but I am so glad I am able to do this. It’s a mindset and understanding. Why jeopardise these precious years because of a few more dollars?
Joel Wong is a husband and a father of two who loves gaming, swimming, and music. When he’s not selling cloud tech, you can find him challenging his son to a game of chess or splashing in the pool with his family. He also leads a 25-piece orchestra at the church he attends and can play up to seven instruments!