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happy mother’s day – I’ll tell you why my mother is a remarkable woman by any measure.

It’s Mother’s Day! I’m single-dating her tonight and I hope that she would have enjoyed the food and the company of her favourite son (Ha!). And since I (think I) am a writer, I will of course blog about my mother on this day that rightly belongs to her.

Mummy, I know you’re reading this – I love you and I want you to know that I am immensely proud of you for raising Maisie and me. You have done a remarkable job with your limited resources and no amount of words will do justice to the sacrifice that you have put in. But I do hope that you will be honoured this way – because I respect and love you very much. 放心,我和妹妹会照顾你的!

***

I found the transcript of an email interview my mentor Peter Lim conducted with me. It was part of his article for Motherhood magazine. And I was hoping that this may turn out to be a good read. This document dates back to June 2006 – so what you are about to read is my perspective half a decade ago, when I was still in the Army. And I’d like to think I’ll probably answer these questions in the same way if I am asked again today.

Anyhow, I’m publishing the document as it is. Enjoy the read. (:

1. Do you mind if I title it (the article): “Our mum is a divorcee”? And you can send me a happy smiling picture of yourself and your sister?

>>> Ya, actually I do mind. Because I never saw her as a divorcee. So I don’t want others to think that we think of her that way. In my head and heart she’s one amazing super mother. She’s living proof that you can raise two kids properly without a husband and with income that could only make ends meet. Her sacrifice is second to none. Perhaps you could skew your title to something with sacrifice? I’ll leave the coining of the title to you then.

2. How old were both of you when your parents divorced?

>>> Maisie and I were 5 and 8 years old respectively when our parents officially divorced.

3. Did you know why they divorced?

>>> Over the years, many different reasons have surfaced; some were conventional ones like financial disputes and failure to meet expectations, but there are also a couple of reasons that I cannot share because it’s just too personal. Both our father and mother gave us different perspectives on why the marriage failed; and of course they absolved themselves of any traces of blame. When we were younger we couldn’t understand why, but now that we are older, we see a much clearer picture by piecing all these information together. We’d blame neither of them for what has happened – or we’d blame the both of them.

4. What were your reactions then? (Or were you too young to understand?)

>>> At 5 and 8 years old, I honestly think we were too young to understand. The fact that I existed in a single-parent family only hit me when I was 15 years old. It hit my sister too, but differently. I hated my father for not being around, for not lighting my path to manhood, for not disciplining me etc., etc. Kids who have their fathers by their side through their growing up years will never understand what I went through so I’d say to treasure your father – they are a gift from God to their children. My sister struggled with another set of hurts; once the apple of her father’s eye, she found herself “demoted” to second-best when my father remarried and his wife bore him a son. She was no longer daddy’s girl and not being able to approach our Papa like the loving father that he used to be that hurt her the most.

5. What do you feel is missing (if anything at all) from a single-parent family?

>>> Nothing is missing from a single-parent family. 3 is a whole number and not an odd number. Our mother has done such a remarkable job at playing different roles you couldn’t tell that we were from a single-parent home. It did help that we became Christians; in church, we’ve been blessed to have a lot of brothers and sisters, both young and old, to love and protect us. Our maternal and paternal relatives are also a closely knit group. Maisie and I were never lacking in any area.

6. Do you compare yourselves to friends who have both parents in their growing up years?

>>> Comparisons are inevitable. We look at “complete” families and although we are delighted for them, we also feel a tinge of envy. But we wouldn’t have traded our single-parent upbringing for an “ideal” family (by the world’s standard). Our family background has allowed us to experience things that some kids would never even imagine. It has made us stronger, wiser and certainly more independent than most kids. We are more aware of what’s going on around us and there’s this unmistakable drive that Maisie and I both have; I firmly believe this was birthed out of a unique upbringing.

7. In your parents’ case, was there anything positive in being divorced (from your perspectives, not theirs)?

>>> Our mother married our father when she was 20 years old. She had her firstborn at 22 years old. While it was common for women in the past to marry early, it also meant that she never had the chance to “see the world”, and had to care and provide for her own family at a premature age. The divorce allowed her to expand her horizons, social circle and of course the way she perceives things.

>>> For our father, as he was the initial custodian to us both, his life revolved around us. His first and last thoughts of the day were of and for us. He was quite an extraordinary father. However, due to circumstances, my sister moved in with my mother after a couple of years, and I followed suit after another couple of years. I believe my dad’s life picked up from there. To date, I’m not sure if the path he chose (to start another family) was what he desired, or what he needed to do to feel normal again.

>>> Both of them have become a very different person from who they knew each other to be.

8. What’s your advice to parents who are divorcing/divorced, in relation to consideration for their kids?

>>> Regardless of marital status, always be there for your children whenever they need you. Your children belong to both of you, not one of you. It is possible to raise good and sensible kids even if you are divorced, but it requires an intentional and active sacrifice. Time is the greatest gift you can give to your children. Your presence makes a difference in their lives so don’t let your absence become the difference in their lives.

Three is a whole number – still happy and smiling today.
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JAT in a nutshell.

Famous people call it bio and computer programmes call it read-me; I decided against being witty, so off goes “I am not but I know I AM” (it’s the title of LG’s book anyway) and in comes “about JAT” – no frills, no nonsense, no smart-alec terms – just a simple (and severely over-elaborated) self-introduction. I enjoyed writing this – partly because I’m writing about myself (I’m shameless, but honest! Hmm… Shamelessly honest or honestly shameless?), but also because I enjoy writing – it was a creative exercise that I thoroughly reveled in. Normally I’d say to you, “Enjoy!”, but for this one, I’d tell myself – “Enjoyed!” This “about JAT” is now a mainstay on my blog – you can find it amongst the links on top. (You can’t judge me on my blog – I’ve already done that!)

***

I am Joey Asher Tan, a 26-year-old Youth Minister with Grace Assembly of God Church, Singapore, since 15th October 2009.

I gave my life to my Saviour, Jesus Christ, on 28th November 1995, and started to pursue Him as my bullseye in life on 4th June 1997.

I was baptised as “Asher” on 23rd December 2005, and this Hebrew name represents, “Blessed, joyful and happy”, which is a befitting self-description.

I am a Bible-believing Christian who desires to know God more by working excellently and learning earnestly through a balanced lifestyle, for the glory of God.

***

I love God, His Word and His young people; I seek to provoke thoughts, challenge perspectives and pen indelibility through my kaleidoscope of experiences.

I attempt to write daily because I want to capture the sheer plethora of thoughts that flood my mind; I consider it an achievement if I expand on one everyday.

I hope you feel my heart-on-sleeve passion, in-your-face authenticity and how I believe that the greatest gift you could ever give to young people, is to believe in them.

***

I answered God’s call by heading into full-time ministry with my church, which is probably the craziest, but best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I wake up every morning and thank God for allowing me to work in my dream job; I serve with “R-AGE” – it was there, as a 14-year-old, that my life changed.

I am in the business of Redeeming A Generation for Eternity and I pastor around 100 young people in the Grace AG (Bukit Batok) youth community.

I turn 21 every 21st October and I’m getting younger by the day because I hang out with the most awesome bunch of young people in the world.

***

I graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a Diploma in Mass Communication, where I discovered my communication aptitude for writing and orating.

I credit my decade in Anglo-Chinese School for a rudimentary education in confidence; it is stillwhere I’d school my kids, after all, for the best is yet to be.

I am a commissioned officer and a tank platoon commander by training; I was with the Singapore Armed Forces for three years as an Army Regular.

I headed the Marketing Division of Global Beverages Asia and Wine Mall during a fruitful two-year stint in Shanghai, China, where my worldview formed.

I am currently pursuing my Bachelor of Communication with Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and I cannot wait to begin my theological education.

***

I trust that I am an authentic leader, a passionate speaker and a mentor who believes in young people; God engraved this three-fold ministry on my heart.

I am a grateful son and proud brother in a remarkable family that is spilling over with God’s grace, goodness, mercy and favour; I couldn’t ask for more.

I am confident I will be the world’s best father to my children and the best husband my wife could ever dream of; I’ve been blessed, so I shall bless.

I consider myself immensely privileged to be able to say “I love you” to a girlfriend who is a constant reminder of God’s grace to me; I can’t wait to marry her.

***

I started serving in church when I was 15 years old, when God told me that I’d be a worship leader; God anoints those whom He calls – ministry began there.

I know I am built for the stage; I enjoy song-writing, performing and revel in taking the lead vocals – I delight in expressing myself and thrive in the limelight.

I have childhood dreams like everyone, so one day I will study in Fuller Seminary, speak to a million people, travel around the world, meet my heroes, John Piper and Eric Cantona (plus Uzumaki Naruto in my sleep!), and maybe even have a street named after me.

I aspire to be a published author, sought-after speaker and recorded artiste (and of course, life-changer and history-maker) before I depart this earthly body.

***

If I could only say one thing to you, I would look you eyeball-to-eyeball, and say…

“Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing; I am absolutely nothing without Christ.”

a note to those from single-parent families.

My parents have been divorced since I was 8 years old – that’s 19 years now. Within two decades, I’ve moved from Ghim Moh, to Jalan Besar, back to Ghim Moh, to Bishan Street 13, then to Bishan Street 11 and finally, I’m back at Ghim Moh (same block, same storey, just seven units away). Just as I’ve changed addresses, my mentality towards this increasingly common social phenomenon has also shifted as I matured in age, wisdom and spirituality. Did I ever wish that I came from a “normal” family? Yeah, of course I did – why not? But would I trade my family and upbringing for a “normal” one? Not a chance.

There are many things I’ve learnt in these years and over time I’ll share my insights. But tonight, I felt led to share about an often misunderstood subject – roles – especially the roles of a son and a brother, for that’s what I’m most familiar with. (This post is not a testimony of my journey as a single-parent kid for if I were to document God’s grace and goodness to my family, it could only be contained in a book.)

Two of God’s greatest gifts in my life reside with me – my mother and sister. I’d be the first to admit that we’re a dysfunctional family – try removing a pivotal figure (i.e. a father) from a family cluster, and see if this family can function normally; I am confident that their definition of “normal” would be rewritten many times over, just like mine was. And so I’ve already grown accustomed to how life would be “unfair”. I’ve stopped lamenting a while ago and I’ve gotten over my emo days as a rebellious teenager who got angry at just about anything and everything. Each of you are at a different stage of your journey in a single-parent family and the sooner you realise that life is (or will be) different, and the sooner you come to terms with the “what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this” phase, the lighter your load becomes.

First up, to the sons (or daughters):

Are you playing “husband” to your mother? Do you sometimes catch yourself sitting beside her to listen to her woes like a caring husband would? Do you spend time with her hoping that you’d fill the void that was created by your father? Do you spoil her with gifts in hope that she’d feel pampered like an adored wife? May I humbly request, from experience, that you stop role-playing? Let me explain.

For the longest time, I found myself (subconsciously or consciously) playing the role of a husband to my mother. Sometimes out of responsibility and sometimes out of sympathy. I felt like it was my duty as the son who bears the surname of her husband to fill the void in her life created by my father; I simply wanted to replace a husband’s absence. I won’t share why their marriage didn’t work out, but I have learnt to accept that their failure had nothing to do with me. Similarly, I’d say the same thing to you – you had nothing to do with your parents’ divorce – so stop blaming yourself and stop doing things out of obligation or duty. It’s an unwarranted burden to shoulder and you’d be better off not carrying it. Remember, like it or not, no matter what you do, you will never fill the void in her life that was vacated by her husband. Simply put, you will never become her husband. Case closed. So stop trying.

Next, to the brothers (or sisters), especially those who are firstborns:

Are you trying to “father” your younger sibling? Do you sometimes find yourself scolding and disciplining your sister, like strict and stern father would? Do you dispense advice to her, like a wise father would? Do you get riled up whenever she gets bullied, like a protective father would? Do you shower her with presents, like a doting father would? Do you act fatherly so that she could experience what it feels like to be “Daddy’s girl”? Again, if I may humbly request, for her good and for your own good, please stop role-playing. Let me explain.

I found myself playing the role of a father to my younger sister. I would chide her harshly when she made mistakes and I’d demand respect from her just like my father would. When we were younger, I imposed restrictions on her and curtailed some of her activities because I felt that it was my duty to playing the role of the missing father at home. Before she started earning her own income, I would, from time to time, bring her out on shopping sprees because I didn’t want her to feel like she had no one to dote on or spend lavishly on her. But I realised that no matter what I did, I could never become my sister’s “Papa”. I could never pinch her cheeks or rub her face against my bearded face, like my father could. I could never give her that nod of approval, like my father could. And no matter how many times I told her that I was proud of her, I could never make her feel the pride of a father.

And so, whether I liked it or not, no matter what I did, I could never fill the void in her life that was vacated by my father. Simply put, I could never become her father. Case closed. So I stopped trying. And you should too, if you are still at it. You have limitations – learn to accept them.

Freedom comes when you realise that you need not play more than what your role demands of you to do. Many years ago, I arrived at the tipping point of frustration in my family. It was over a casual lunch at IKEA that the Holy Spirit spoke through CX and that caused a breakthrough in my roles in the family. I remember to this day her golden words. She simply said (with that legendary CX-stare), “Joey, I want you to stop playing the role of a husband and a father.” It was an epiphany of sorts for me. I began to relinquish these roles that I’ve been unnecessarily playing over the past decade. And after a month of letting go, I felt lighter and less frustrated.

So I’d encourage you to relate to your single-parent or your sibling like a son or brother would. Make your mother feel like a 世上只有妈妈好 mother. Make your sister feel like a sister that everyone is proud of. Of course you can love them to the best of your abilities, but I’m telling you to care for your mother as a son would, buy gifts for your sister as a brother would, spend time with and listen to your mother’s complaints as a son would, and dispense advice and counsel to your sister as a brother would – you get the idea.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you should tell your mother about your weekly victories and defeats – for that is something a son does. Be a “Mama’s boy”. Tell her about the people who treated you well and badly at work and proudly show off to her your accomplishments in the workplace and ministry. Allow her to share your burdens, even though you may think that she’s already heavy-laden and overloaded. She’s your mother and she will always care for and love you no matter how tough it gets for her, and nothing’s ever going to change her sacrificial behaviour. Your role then, if I could put it this way, is to reinforce her role as a mother and not substitute yourself as her husband. Make her feel like she’s the best mother in the world – make that your priority.

And for your sister, I’d also go as far as to say that you guide and advise her, and give her a platform to share her life with you – for that is something a brother does. Captivate her with your life stories, inspire her with your exemplary behaviour and make her laugh with your silly mistakes. Become the man that she’d benchmark her future boyfriend against. Be the brother that all younger sisters look up to and respect. In fact, you should also annoy and irritate her – for most brothers do that! It’s all part of being a brother! Your role then, if I could phrase it this way, is to reinforce her role as a sister and not substitute yourself as her father. Make her feel like she’s the best sister a brother could ever have or dream of – make that your priority.

In a day and age where marriages are wrecked by infidelity and financial woes, I can’t help but to believe that more and more of my youths will struggle with their parents being separated or divorced. My heart goes out to them, but I will say that it is not the end of the road – it wasn’t for me. Our God is a good God and His sovereign plan is something that we should come to love and trust. Let me set the record straight – a single-parent family is NOT the passport or excuse to a messed-up life; similarly, a normal family is also NOT the passport to a blessed life. My friend, your destiny is in your hands; it’s got nothing to do with your parents’ successes or failures. Now, get that in your head and start living your life for the glory of God – that’s my current and biggest priority.

all of us are gifted.

Recently I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend and he shared with me how he rejoiced with his wife when his son finally uttered, “Mama”. I rejoiced with him for it was a breakthrough for their family and when he shared it with me, he communicated a gratitude to God that nothing in the world could manufacture.

I juxtaposed it with parents who constantly berate their child for not doing better than their cousins, classmates, neighbours and whoever they could conveniently use to destroy their kid’s self-confidence and beliefs system. I remember telling HY that we’ve gotten it all wrong and have become complacent for the things that we ought to be thankful for. The more I hear it, the more I find “better than” a repulsive phrase.

That one-worded “Mama” was a gift from God to his child; as he shared his delight with me, I couldn’t help but to thank God for giving us speech – and I told HY that all these seemingly basic functions are truly gifts from God. I told her that in the future when we do have children of our own, we should be thankful for everything that the child has – speech, sight, hearing, limb movement, cognition, health and even something as taken-for-granted as daily breath! And not wish that our child is a pianist prodigy, artistic phenom, mathematics maestro or a kid with elephant memory (or not). Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to think that that’s being gifted, but we have forgotten that everyone is gifted – your ability to inhale and exhale is the gift of life from the Giver of life. Let’s not fight the wrong battles.

It wrenches my heart when I find out how my youths struggle with their (“inadequate”) academic achievements, because most times they’ve gotten it all wrong – they seek the result instead of the process; they seek a resume instead of academic returns; they seek worldly covetousness (wanting to be better than someone else) instead of godly contentment (wanting to be the best that God has designed them to be). I believe that our mentality is messed up because of the way we have been brought up (and this is no fault of ours). However, we should be careful not to pay it forward to the next generation.

At the end of the day, these pursuits amount to nothing all that significant. I so wished that I could hold their faces in my hands, look at them in the eye and tell them, “Come on, do you REALLY think that a C grade or a ‘regular’ CV could stop God from fulfilling His purpose in your life?” Oh, we of little faith; we ought to be dismissed for thinking that our destiny is determined by our downfalls. When will we finally learn that the sovereignty of God far exceeds earthly meritocracy?

Let us all take a step back to recalibrate our compasses, unless of course you have already decided to raise your child in the exact same manner that you have been raised. Let us remember that life in itself is the greatest gift and that we ought to be thankful for it. Let us not go overboard in seeking additional gifts instead of the Giver Himself. Don’t get caught in the world’s definition of “gifted”!

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