I am 47 going on 48.
Meanwhile, my daughter – my first-born and only child – is a mere three years old.
Which means that on top of all the usual things that cause parental consternation in the world today (e.g., HFMD; PSLE; and scantily clad teenage influencers on social media), I am also worried that I’m so old that I might die, like, very soon.
As a father to a young child, it is important that I live a long and healthy life. I want to be right there in the audience, clapping and cheering heartily when they announce that my daughter, Professor J.J. Goh, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for curing the three most terrible cancers plaguing mankind, namely, breast cancer, leukaemia and Instagram wefies. I intend to be alive and very, very proud.
But even if I do stay alive long enough to reclaim my CPF monies and then some, would I have been hale enough to do all the things that a new 30-year-old father might have done with her? Let’s face it – I am not 46 anymore. My knees are worn, my stamina, shot; and if my metabolism were any slower, it’d be going backwards.
When J.J. was born three years ago, my buddies asked me: How is fatherhood? What these well-meaning friends were really asking is: How is fatherhood, grandpa? Lol. (Note to J.J.: Please also do your best to banish the malady that is Internet acronyms.)
They constantly remind me about how difficult it will be for a 62-year-old retiree to put his daughter through seven years of med school.
Or that by the time I carry my first grandchild, we might very well both be in diapers.
All these sobering reminders played repeatedly in my head, even before J.J. was born. But as soon as she burst forth unto the world that fateful day in May 2017, those fears were swiftly decimated.
Sure, I’d like to say that the fears of being a 45-year-old first-time father were decimated by that sense of utter tenderness when first I held this hapless cherub in my arms. But here’s what it really was: When you are confronted with a newborn who is always either crying, feeding or pooping (sometimes all at once), there simply isn’t time to ponder your own mortality.
And I suspect this to be true for fathers of all ages who might question their own capacity to raise a child – don’t worry, you will have absolutely no time nor energy for second-guessing and self-doubt in those first few months. And if you do have time for any of that, I’d suggest you use that time more productively: take a nap before the baby wakes up. It will likely be one of the best 12 minutes of your life.
Thankfully, I survived those initial few months relatively unscathed (which means I didn’t drop the baby on her head, and thus gave my wife no occasion to stab me in the eye with a rusty spoon). As Baby J.J. settled into a routine, I found some time to sleep and nurse my aching back (by sleeping some more on said back) and eventually resumed parts of my former life. This included a return to social media where I would scroll through photo feeds of my friends and their babies (So cuuuuute! So chubbyyyyyy! Eww so humblebrag…)
And that’s when I realised the scariest part about raising a child today: How on earth does one even begin to nurture and protect your own child in this world so completely screwed by the Internet?
Perhaps a new father who was born more recently in the 90s might feel decidedly more native to all this newfangled interwebs and whatnots, but I can’t imagine that this same millennial father would be any wiser when eventually tasked to teach his young progeny about the complex and nuanced trappings of the Internet.
For example: Who decides what is fake news and what is real news?
Why do Internet trolls exist (and why can’t we punch them in the gonads)??
What is it about mind-numbingly stupid Facebook comments that always seem to draw you in even though you know that reading them will just piss you off??!!
And why are there scantily clad teenage influencers with leaked homemade porn?!??!?! Are their fathers also on Instagram watching this????!??!
You think being assaulted by projectile vomit and ambushed by explosive bowel movements (simultaneously!) is the most horrifying adventure you’ll experience as a parent? That’s nothing. Once your kid gets an Internet connection, you’re pretty much at Parenting Level: Mordor.
What’s even more frightening is that by the time J.J. is old enough to ask me tough questions about trolls and teenage influencers, the problems and issues would be decidedly different – and maybe much worse – than what we’re trying to navigate today.
The Internet-steeped world moves so quickly and affects so many aspects of our lives. They say the jobs that our children will take up as adults aren’t even invented yet. So I really have no idea what skills would be important for J.J.’s elusive and non-existent future job description. And in a few years time, when I do get to ask her what she’d like to be when she grows up, hopefully, the playful art of aspiring would be alive and well and she might reply: “Astronaut.” Or, “Oncology research professor” (hey, those Instagram wefies aren’t going to cure themselves, you know).
Whatever she chooses (#coughcough #oncologyresearchprofessor), I will gently encourage and assure her as any father would, and remind her that the most important thing to remember is that as long as she sets her heart and her mind to it, she can be anything and everything she wants to be.
Except a scantily clad teenage influencer – that’s where Daddy draws the line.