tan-gee-paw

Tan Gee Paw recalls how, as a young child, he learnt about love from his father who "was always working hard as money was hard to come by". Photo from psd.gov.sg.

“My father was always working hard as money was hard to come by. One day, we were walking along Waterloo Street (where we had a rented room) to look for supper. For the first time, my father put his hand behind my head and led me along the way, with the rest of the family walking behind. At that moment I learnt to distinguish a father’s love versus a father’s duty.”

Tan Gee Paw, a father and grandfather in his 70s, learnt this fathering lesson at the tender age of 7. Gee Paw is the chairman of Changi Airport Group.

He and two other dads – connected by the baton of mentorship – shared their fathering experiences during an online event under the umbrella of The Methodist Church in Singapore. Gee Paw was Sunday School teacher of Peter Tan (now in his 50s), who in turn mentored John Wu (in his 40s) when the two educators worked at the same school.

Fathers (L-R) Tan Gee Paw, Peter Tan and John Wu share their secrets to fatherhood at a webinar by the newly minted Methodist Fathers movement. Screengrab of webinar Methodist Fathers: Passing on a Godly Legacy.

They also shared lessons learnt from their children, and inspiration from their relationship with their guide and heavenly Father. 

The seminar on October 17 – Methodist Fathers: Passing On A Godly Legacy – was the first organised by a newly-formed movement known as Methodist Fathers. The group aims to support fathers in building and passing on a Godly legacy to their children. 

Below are highlights: 

Always be a best friend: Tan Gee Paw

Tan Gee Paw, in his 70s, is a father of three and a grandfather. The engineer by training is currently chairman of Changi Airport Group, and board member of Surbana Jurong, an engineering and architectural consultancy under Temasek. He stepped down as head of the Public Utilities Board a few years ago, but remains as advisor to its current chairman. 

When Gee Paw’s elder daughter was in primary school, she unexpectedly called him saying “I forgot my Chinese textbook” before hanging up. He could sense the anxiety in her voice. Despite being busy in the office, he made the effort to drive home, collect whatever Chinese books he could find and brought them to her school. As he arrived, he saw her waiting for him at the school gate. At that moment, God revealed to him what trust meant.

“I was so touched because of the way she looked up to me, I restrained myself from saying ‘I told you so’.”

“In the panic of life, you can trust your Heavenly Father. He will never betray the deep trust of His children. In times of hardship, we can turn to him.” Just as his daughter trusted him without question and believed that he would show up with her textbook, our Heavenly Father wants us to trust Him to solve our problems in times of difficulty, he said.

From that day onwards, he resolved to never betray the deep trust of his daughters. He would be a father who can be trusted to see his children through the difficulties they faced. He emphasised: “Our children must trust 100% that we will take care of them.”

Another incident taught him that an earthly father should be a best friend to his children.

Children often teach us more than we teach them, says Tan Gee Paw. Photo courtesy of Tan Gee Paw.

He recalled how his younger daughter was quieter than usual after school one day and expressed his concern. She had accidentally broken her classmate’s watch while trying it on. He said: “I was so touched because of the way she looked up to me, I restrained myself from saying ‘I told you so’ even though it was on the tip of my tongue.” Instead, he gave her the money to pay her classmate for the damage, and used the opportunity to teach her about responsibility when the time was right.

“We cannot choose to ‘un-father’ ourselves whether our children are prodigal or not.”

After this incident, father and daughter became best friends. To this day, his daughter readily confides in him. “Just as Jesus is our best friend, as earthly fathers we should strive to be the best friends of our children so that they can share their deepest fears with us especially during their teenage years,” he said.

“Once you become a father, fathering is no longer an option. Our creator God made us to be like Him in fathering a child. We cannot choose to ‘un-father’ ourselves whether our children are prodigal or not. In fact, the more prodigal they are, the more fathering is required.

“It is important for fathers to express love to their children in a personal way. Children expect fathers to provide as their duty, but what they yearn is to feel the love of their father.”   

Love their mothers: Peter Tan

Peter Tan, in his 60s, grew up with an absent father. But was blessed to have Gee Paw as his Sunday School teacher at Barker Road Methodist Church; Gee Paw’s sharing and example made him think what kind of father he wanted to be. Peter is the principal of Queensway Secondary School. 

The seasoned school principal of more than 20 years shares the same message to fathers every year: He reminds them that the greatest thing they can do for their children – besides teaching them to love God – is to love their mothers.

“When wives are loved, they feel emotional warmth and psychological support. When a mother feels comfortable, the home is more stable.”   

“To be called ‘father’ – just as God is called – is a tremendous honour and responsibility,” says Peter Tan (left) and family at wedding of daughter Samantha. Photo courtesy of the Tan family.

“Besides loving their wives, fathers should treat every child just as he or she is. That is, not having expectations or comparing them with other children. We should accept and love our children just as God made them to be.”

To be called “father” – just as God is called – is a tremendous honour and responsibility to the extent that “when fathers fail in their responsibility as a father, they actually betray God”.

Provide a safe space to share: John Wu

John Wu, who in his 40s, also grew up without a father. He was mentored by Peter who guided and counselled him. Peter was a “safe place” where he could be vulnerable, seek help and be allowed to make mistakes. John is the vice-principal of Anglican High School.

“Our children want to follow our footsteps. But if we do something bad, they will follow as well,” reminds John Wu (pictured with his family). Photo courtesy of John Wu.

John recalled a photograph, taken by his wife, when their daughter was a toddler. He was walking with his hands behind his back and she followed a few steps behind, mimicking her father’s action. The picture reminded him about how fathers are role models.  

“It is important to surround ourselves with godly men and brothers who do not judge, and can listen and pray with you.”

“Our children want to follow our footsteps. They respect and admire us. But if we do something bad, they will follow as well”.

Fathers need to look to God as their model and guide so that they can show their children the right way.

“Fathering is humbling and we must recognise our need for help. It is important to surround ourselves with godly men and brothers who do not judge, and can listen and pray with you. We will also make mistakes as we raise our children, but God is gracious and forgives.”

John struggled with his identity as father until he became a Christian. As he grew to know and experience love from his Heavenly Father, his wounds slowly healed. 

He recalled a difficult time when his daughter was in primary school. During that period, he felt that his bond with her was broken. He said: “Fathers long to communicate with our children but must learn how to do so. Often, it means putting away pride, fear, worry and anger and controlling our tongues. When our children move away from us, it is similar to how we move away from God. There is pain in our Father’s heart … we break his heart when we move away”. 

“Organisations can find someone else to replace a job but the role of a father is irreplaceable.”

His relationship with his daughter began to mend when he realised that he needed to provide a safe place for her to share her heart. Years later, God also spoke to her and she began to change. Just as God speaks to us, He can also speak to our children. 

“Our neighbours can hear our shouting. But not the quiet moments when we apologise to one another. In this shared moment, we recognise that we need God. We can change when we seek Him and rely on Him to help us grow. We must learn to say sorry to our children so they can understand God’s grace.

“Organisations can find someone else to replace a job but the role of a father is irreplaceable,” John said. 

Pass down a Godly legacy: Jason Wong

The three fathers also reflected on what they would change, if they could, in their fathering journeys.

Peter shared that he would have spent more time with his children. His work as an educator and commitments in church took up a lot of time. But thankfully, God and his children have forgiven him. Today, he has a wonderful relationship with his family.

Jason Wong shares a powerful photo of fathers praying at 5am at Kum Yan Methodist Church (pre-Covid). On one occasion, so many fathers showed up that they ran out of space and had to adjourn to the basketball court to pray. Screengrab of webinar Methodist Fathers: Passing on a Godly Legacy.

John wished he had taken more time to be with his children when they felt vulnerable. Given another chance, he would put them to bed and put down everything to listen to them.

The first prerequisite in fathering is to love God. So live life, enjoy your children and relax.

Gee Paw encouraged all by saying: “Despite our failures and imperfections, God is faithful. We may have failed to be the best fathers, but we should never live in regret because whatever the circumstances, all things work for good for those who love God”. (Romans 8:28).

“God’s love is large enough to circumscribe all events in life such that all things will work out well in the end. The first prerequisite in fathering is to love God. So live life, enjoy your children and relax. Your life as a father will never be a life of regret.”

Gee Paw also used the analogy of the child as an empty vessel waiting to be filled. 

“Every child comes to his or her parents with a vessel that is empty for you to fill with unconditional love. Parents need to take time and effort to fill these vessels up. Any vacant spaces left behind will be filled by the world with hatred, jealousy and strife.”

Happy, well-adjusted kids who play and share together have empty vessels that are filled with love till overflowing. When a family constantly quarrels, it could be because the vessels of love are not filled.

Happy, well-adjusted kids who play and share together have empty vessels that are filled with love till overflowing.

“Just as vessels come in different shapes and sizes, every child is different. Just as God made us different, we need to recognise that every child is different. Some children bring small vessels that are easily topped-up, while others have large vessels that never seem to get filled.  Some vessels have wide openings that are easy to pour into, while others have narrow openings that require more effort.” 

“Whatever type of vessel your child brings, it is the parents’ responsibility to fill it till it overflows with love. When children have this reservoir of love, they will grow up strong and well-prepared to face life’s challenges.”

The online seminar where the three men shared, was opened by Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung. Bishop Chong gave an exhortation from Proverbs 23:19-26, saying: “I strongly support the church’s push to equip fathers for their role in the family, in the role they are to play in their children’s growing up years, to reclaim the father’s spiritual position as head of the home.”

Fathers impact nations and generations.

Jason Wong, chairman of Focus on the Family, closed the meeting by sharing how and why it is important for fathers to pass down a godly legacy to their children. 

Fathers impact nations and generations.

God promised Abraham that he would be a great nation and all nations on earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 18:18). The secret to fulfilling this promise is in the following verse: For I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him. (Genesis 18:19).

“When fathers teach their children the way of the Lord, God will impact the world through them,” said Jason, who also shared from Malachi 4:5-6.

Equipping fathers

The seminar, Methodist Fathers: Passing On A Godly Legacy, was the first event organised by the newly-formed movement known as Methodist Fathers, spearheaded and led by David Ang, executive chairman of Zion Investments. 

He said: “The best thing any father can do is to build a lasting legacy. Many choose a legacy of wealth or intelligence or even fond memories. However for a man departing this earthly life, there is nothing more assuring than knowing that those he leaves behind have Christ in their hearts and lives. This is the best gift from a father to his children. I am praying for a Spirit-led movement in The Methodist Church where fathers are on fire for the Lord and their families, building and passing on a godly legacy.

To be called “father” – just as God is called – is a tremendous honour and responsibility.

“Fatherhood is a high calling requiring God’s infinite grace and ability which ultimately impacts the generations that follow. Through the journey that lasts a lifetime, we can take comfort in knowing that there are others who walk with us. And most of all, rejoice that our Heavenly Father is our guide.”

This meeting was the also the first public event under One MCS. The initiative by The Methodist Church in Singapore encourages members from its three Annual Conferences to come together to support one another and bless the community. A total of 614 participants from Methodist churches – including those in Australia, Cambodia and Indonesia – and other denominations attended the two-hour session. 


MORE STORIES ON FATHERING:

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“Dad guilt” but fathers chip in more during COVID-19, says survey of over 2,400 fathers

“God gave me children to teach me to grow up!” Good fathering does not come naturally, confess dads

About the author

Lynn Tan

Lynn Tan is the community communications manager at The Methodist Church in Singapore.

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