My Uncle Ann passed away last week. He was 63. If you were a casual visitor to his wake, and listened to all the eulogies by his mother, siblings, children and friends, one word would echo about Joe Tan Kim Ann - "generous". A man of very few words, Uncle Ann went out of his way to help others, quite often at his own personal expense. Many a story was told of how Uncle Ann would take in a person on the street and invited him to work at his cleaning company - "just because". And there were the times when he loaned out money to those in need, sometimes without them ever returning him the cash.

I was a recepient of this generosity as well - many a time I would ask him for help to move furniture from one location to another, and he would always comply, offering his men and his van to help me transport the items. And when I asked how much I should pay, all he said was, "Just give the men coffee money - that's enough." On the last occassion almost five years ago, he showed up at my in-laws' place to supervise the moving of my wife's items to our marital home. "When Uncle Ann wants to do something, he will make sure he gets it right." That was his explanation to justify his personal appearance at the site.

And then there was that difficult time in my life during my parents' separation. Uncle Ann's home was a shelter for us in our moment of need. Even then I hardly remember speaking much to him, but his actions spoke far more than anything he could ever say.

In the minutes just after Uncle Ann left us at the hospital, my grandma was in tears as she said the final prayer. At first Amah lamented why God allowed her son to be taken away before her eyes; but as she continued her prayer, she expressed relief that he was now in a better place and no longer had to suffer. She then thanked God for providing him with a wonderful wife and three children who loved him dearly.

That was his greatest legacy.

The deep bond between my cousins and their father is something I never had. Having lived with them for a while, I saw the day-to-day goings on of a family closely knitted by the love of the father. It was not the loud type of love - my uncle hardly spoke much - but it was a quiet and special kind of love; he spent many weekends taking them swimming and eating at the club, and they spent many holidays together in locations as exotic as New Zealand and Alaska.

I'm thinking about what kind of legacy I will leave behind for my children.

It's not easy being the parent of two young children. Since the arrival of E slightly more than a month ago, our life has been turned upside down. We had a nice routine going before E arrived, with both our parents taking care of Z during the two days that Sue works, a play group for Z, as well as somewhat of a home school curriculum for him during his other days with Sue. But all that went out of the window the moment E arrived - with 3-hour night feeds and pre-dawn nappy changes the least of the transition. 

What has been trying has been how Z has been reacting to the arrival of his younger brother. To date we cannot count the number of times he has hit E, nor the number of scratches he has inflicted on E. We know that Z's response is a classic case of sibling rivalry; although knowing the facts don't always help us to feel better about the situation. We were, however, comforted when we visited our friends and we observed that their children were also engaged in intense physical sibling rivalry - even among sisters! In addition, our pediatrician has been a source of encouragement. She characterised the behaviour as normal and shared that older children can sometimes take up to three months to adjust to their new sibling's arrival. It's so far only been about one month, so I suppose our case can be classified as "normal".

Another difficult realisation is that we have not been bonding with E as much as we did when we first had Z. Perhaps it could be characterised as a "second child syndrome" in that the needs of the younger child tend to be neglected in favour of the older toddler, the elder generally being more vocal about what he or she wants. In that respect we have not been spending as much time bonding with E in the manner with which we bonded with Z; focussing more on our older son's tangibly louder demands instead of the younger's silent needs. There just didn't seem to be that many hours in a day - especially given the other constraints such as my work commitments and the need to support my uncle's family during their time of grief.

We have, however, been learning how to cope in small ways. For instance, an elder lady from church, whom we greatly respect, shared with Sue that when her second child was born, she too experienced a similar situation. Her solution was to spend an exclusive one hour a day with the older child so he would feel special. Sue has since been creating special intentional moments with Z, and he seems to be responding well to them.

With regards to E, I have been learning to respond to his emotional and social needs more. It is easy to feed him and simply put him down in his cot to sleep. But I remembered the times when Z was still a baby, when I used to sing to him and hold him close to comfort him. I have since resumed a similar posture with E, singing to him during the times when he is fretful and letting him rest snugly on my chest; and that instead of simply stuffing the soother into his mouth and hoping he would sleep.

Despite the difficulties, parenting does have its precious moments. For instance there are times in the morning when Z comes to our room and goes straight to E's cot, gently stroking him and gesturing, "Didi... Nice!". Then there are the moments when Z tries to hold E's milk bottle and positions it near his mouth in an attempt to feed him. These moments remind us that our older child is still young, and that in time his bond with his brother will be a close and deep one.

The last stanza of the poem New Beginnings by author Gertrude B. McClain reads:
Although the cares of life are great
And hands are bowed so low
The storms of life will leave behind
The wonder of a rainbow.

Uncle Ann's life truly reminds me of a rainbow - the myriad of colours glimmering in the wake of a storm. What I remember most about my uncle was his deep devotion to God. He would wake up about 4 each morning to pray, and spend many waking hours reading the Bible. Towards the end of his life, he opted for surgery despite the 30% odds that he would survive. "What's the use if my quality of life is so low," he said, "I rather go back to meet my maker."
In echoing the words of a great man so many years ago, "To live is Christ and to die is gain," my uncle left behind his greatest legacy - his deep love and longing for God. That's what I want to share with my children. It doesn't matter what I may do in the community and in the world; but if what I do directs them towards an intimate relationship with God, that's enough for me.


  1. Thanks for sharing your heart, Mark... I felt that I almost knew your Uncle Ann.
    Sorry that we hadn't been able to visit you guys. Unfortunate timing when the girl came down with, the first ever, bad cough that lasted for more than 3 weeks. And I think the last thing you'd need was to have someone come over and pass the germs to baby E.
    If it's of any encouragement to you, my boy loves his sister very much, now. Took him a very long while to get used to having a sibling around. It got extremely challenging when S was about 7-8 months and highly mobile and not yet receptive to instructions or anything like playing with rules. Practically damaged every effort of J, then. But she learned and he learned to love her and enjoy her company. Now they scream the whole house down. :P
    When E is older, you can have an exclusive hour with him too. I do that with S now when J naps or has his QT. We'd go for short walks or spend time just reading and I think she knows it's her special time. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing Elaine :) It's really so heartening to see how much J and S love each other now. I'm sure it must have been very frustrating for J when S tore apart his things. Well, I'm glad that things are now restored :)

    Yes I am looking forward to the exclusive time with E when he's older - just as I try to carve out time with Z. At this moment I'm just content to have E rest on me when he's feeding or trying to sleep - really precious moments :)


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