Of Yellow Ribbons & Fathers for Life - the Legacy of Jason Wong

Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the ole oak tree
It's been three long years
Do ya still want me
If I don't see a ribbon 'round the ole oak tree
I'll stay on the bus
Forget about us
Put the blame on me
If I don't see a yellow ribbon 'round the ole oak tree

The old folk song Tie A Yellow Ribbon is based on a delightful American story that tells of an ex-convict who returns home to his loved one after serving time in prison. Prior to his release, he had requested for her to tie a yellow ribbon around a tree outside of the town where she lived. And if there was no ribbon there, he would simply go on his way, understanding that she might never forgive him. However, when he passed by the tree, there were 100 yellow ribbons, symbolising that his sweetheart had forgiven him, and that he would be welcomed home.
Learning to love and accept one another.
The popular Yellow Ribbon Project is based on this premise. Founded in 2004 by Senior Prisons Officer Jason Wong, the campaign hopes to provide a greater awareness of the societal discrimination that ex-offenders face. It intends to get Singaporeans to support ex-offenders by providing encouragement and employment for them. Jason Wong, the Former Chief of Staff of the Singapore Prisons Services, shared that after working with prisoners for 17 years, he felt it was not enough to teach career skills to convicts.

“Even if we give a prisoner a skill, he might not get a job; even if we put him through anger management program, his wife might not forgive him; even if he is willing to leave his gang, he might not find new friends because of his tattooed body.”

What was needed was for society to give the ex-offender a second chance, in order to unlock the “second prison” of the mind. This metaphorical prison is not one with bars, but one filled with suspicion, mistrust and discrimination. And according to data from the Yellow Ribbon Project, more than 9,000 ex-offenders have to seek release from this “second prison” after their physical release from the various detention centres.

Jason Wong is not only known as the person who started the Yellow Ribbon Project. He is also credited with initiating the Dads for Life Movement. A former Senior Director at the then Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports, Jason was deeply troubled by the brokenness of families in Singapore society. He noted that if the “hearts of fathers” were turned back to their children, that families would be strengthened; and that would in turn make Singapore strong.

Jason stressed that children need both fathers and mothers, and that most of the at-risk young people he had worked with did not have a father figure in their lives. This was either because they were absent or uninvolved; or that they had been abusive or violent. He therefore set up the Dads for Life Movement to get more fathers involved in the lives of their children.
Fathers need to play a more active role in the lives of their children from young.
That's how the relationship is built over time.
Why are fathers so important for the health of a family? It is because fathers and mothers play different roles in the family.

“Fathers are wired differently. Mothers buy toys for their children; fathers can act as toys – as a plane, horse, monster or Superman. Research shows children need such physical play. “

Jason suggested that while mothers protect their children by preventing them from getting hurt, fathers protect by preparing their children in order that they would not get hurt in the future.

What can fathers do if they want to be more involved? Jason advised for them to act as role models for their children, and to focus on character and values more than academic achievements. He also emphasised the importance of relationships, saying that the home is where children learn about relationships.
Fathers are key role models for their children. How they live their lives in the future
is often premised on how they see the way you live your life now.
“How you relate to your wife, and to your child, will determine how your child relates to you and others in future. Relationships are vital to influencing behaviour. Rules + Relationships = Response; Rules – Relationships = Rebellion.”

Jason is now Director of a new Non-Profit Organisation Honour (Singapore), set up to seek the wellbeing of Singapore by promoting a culture of honour and honouring. He shared in a recent interview three convictions that has guided his life:

  1.  Family is important. There is absolutely no point being a hero outside and a zero at home. 
  2. We have only one life to live. Live it well and make it count. 
  3. Give yourself to the next generation. Seek to leave behind a Singapore that is better than the one that we inherited from our fathers.
This article was shared with the Horizon magazine, which is intended to help young people develop a positive outlook in life.

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