Family

Giving a fatherless teenager a second shot at love

Salt&Light wishes readers a Happy Fathers' Day!

by Rachel Phua // June 15, 2019, 10:43 pm

clement ee 3

Simon's father (middle) was baptised six months before he was diagnosed with terminal blood vessel cancer. Before he died, he requested that Clement Ee be Simon's spiritual father and legal guardian. Photo courtesy of 3:16 Church.

The first time Clement Ee met Simon*, the latter was hurling Hokkien insults at him from the astro turf inside MacPherson Primary School.

Ee, whose non-profit organisation The Love-Aid Project was running an after-school programme, was unfazed. He was much older and taller than the petite adolescent at the cusp of puberty. He told Simon off, and the young boy ran away, rattled. 

Fortunately, Simon was not easily mortified by a sharp reproach. The boy returned 15 minutes later, asking if he could join the other students playing football on the field.

Ee welcomed him to join the game. But he noticed something amiss – the boy’s shoelaces were undone.

Throughout the seven years he has known Simon, Ee has tried to introduce a semblance of family life in his home.

When he pointed that out, Simon immediately blushed. At 11, he still didn’t know how to tie his shoelaces. Ee’s wife, who was present as well, took him aside to teach him.

Over time, Ee’s bond with Simon grew. A bond that started off with shoelaces eventually grew deeper as Ee learnt more about the young boy’s family situation. 

Simon’s father was a fishmonger who worked from midnight till noon in Tampines. When he got home after work, he would cook and clean the house because his wife, who was of borderline intelligence and had arthritis, would not do any housework. 

She was an infamous character in the MacPherson neighbourhood, who got into altercations with strangers or barged into her son’s school demanding to see the teachers and principals. She was also the main parental influence in Simon’s life. 

Simon grew up echoing her anti-social traits. He abused his mum, verbally and physically, extorted money from his dad and strangers alike, picked fights with his classmates, smoked, and played truant from school often.

When Clement Ee was asked to be Simon’s legal guardian, he said he already loved the boy, but the final call had to be God’s. Photo courtesy of Clement Ee.

At a young age, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, making schooling difficult. After graduating from MacPherson Primary, Simon went to Northlight School, Assumption Pathway School, Mountbatten Vocational School, as well as  Boys’ Town and Boys’ Home. 

Throughout the seven years he has known Simon, Ee has tried to introduce a semblance of family life in his home. When the Ee family and Simon’s family weren’t out having meals together, Ee would get Simon’s dad to cook so that Simon had a chance to help prepare the food and serve others. 

In March 2016, Ee’s father was suddenly hospitalised for heart failure. By then, Ee and Simon had a tight, if somewhat tumultuous, relationship. Simon, in one of his more sombre moments, asked Ee if he could pop by the hospital. Ee calls it a “divine moment” for Simon to observe Ee and his father interacting. Ee’s father died two days later on March 14. 

“I told Simon that this was an intimate and precious part of my life and I was thankful he was there because he is like family,” said Ee.

“It was divinely orchestrated because I didn’t know that in a short while Simon would have to go through the same thing that I did.”

Custodian duties 

A year later in April 2017, Simon’s own dad was diagnosed with stage four blood vessel cancer. Simon’s dad had just been baptised six months earlier. 

His main concern was how his wife and son would survive, he told Ee. He was particularly concerned about Simon, who was suddenly losing a dad who had just come back into his life. His mum couldn’t control him, and the boy had never faced consequences beyond verbal warnings from the authorities. 

“(Guardianship) was both a specific call to raise Simon and a general motivation to protect the fatherless (Isaiah 1:17).”

By then, Simon’s father – with Ee’s help – had obtained a two-year Beyond Parental Control (BPC) order in August 2016 from the youth courts (he had previously wanted to obtain one, but relented when his wife objected). He had him enrolled in Boys’ Town, where he hoped Simon would get his life back in order. 

Then Simon’s dad asked for another favour: Could Ee could be Simon’s guardian? 

Ee agreed for two reasons, he said. One: He had to ensure that the BPC order ran its course. Since Simon’s mum still opposed the idea, his dad was afraid she would withdraw it once he died if Ee didn’t legally oversee it. 

Yes, he loved the child, but the next step had to be a signal from God, Ee said.

“My empathy level is not the highest, so I didn’t do these things because I felt ‘so poor thing’, especially since I was already working in a community with so many needs,” he admitted. It was both a specific call to raise Simon and a general motivation to protect the fatherless (Isaiah 1:17). 

Simon’s father died on July 11, 2017. 

“Simon’s been amazingly blessed. This boy really taught us that God really loves us.”

As a guardian, Ee’s responsibilities go beyond legal matters. Whenever Simon gets into trouble, whether with the law, at school or work, he’s the go-to man. (At the time of our interview, Simon was working at a cafe and Ee had gotten a call that morning that Simon didn’t show up for work).

Ee, a family lawyer by profession, has few misgiving about his added duties, however.

“Simon’s been amazingly blessed. This boy really taught us that God really loves us,” he said. 

“Why? Because, funnily enough, whenever he does anything wrong, he would always get caught, to the extent that random people, people I don’t know, would hear of me, take pictures of him gallivanting, send them to me to let me know where he is.”

Guardianship was the only viable option to Ee, he said. Adoption meant severing ties with his parents, which was far from what Ee wanted for Simon and his mother. Fostering was out too because he didn’t have the capacity to take in another child with a newborn girl and his elderly mum at home.

Behind the facade 

Raising Simon is mostly about modelling the social cues the youth never acquired, said Ee. As their relationship grew, Ee brought Simon and his parents to his church, 3:16 Church, which gave Simon a chance to practise his interaction skills with a more forgiving crowd. The churchgoers have handled a few meltdowns by Simon during service. 

But behind the tough exterior is a tender child aching for affection, Ee said. Simon acts the way he does, brusquely and impulsively, merely for the attention he needs. 

His brushes with the law sometimes stem from his loneliness. Ee remembers a season when Simon was roaming around Geylang trying to make conversation with people he met. Some of them were street vendors selling illicit sex drugs, but because he was so starved of companionship, he would end up helping them to peddle their wares.

Being a father figure can take its toll as Simon often absconds from school or work, but Ee said that the teenager’s behaviour has improved significantly since their first meeting. Simon is now able to sit through services and attend church youth camps. Photo courtesy of Clement Ee.

It has been six long years, and Ee still hasn’t seen a miraculous turnaround in Simon. But hope hasn’t ceased, not when he experienced God turn his own relationship with his dad around.

Behind the tough exterior is a tender child aching for affection.

Ee grew up thinking that his father hated him – he was a medical doctor who was always at work. It didn’t help that his parents were unhappily married, and his mum took it out on her son by telling him he was an unwanted child. 

But after Ee got arrested when he was 15 – he had broken into a private property and was in possession of a weapon – his dad became aware of his mistakes as an absent parent. He retired early at 48 to spend more time with his son. 

It was a subconscious prayer come true for Ee, who came to faith right after his arrest. 

“Malachi 4:5-6 was truly demonstrated to me. God turned both our hearts to each other, and after that we were like the best of friends,” Ee said. 

Ee and his dad on his wedding day. Having seen his own relationship with his father restored, Ee is optimistic that Simon will one day turn from his juvenile ways. Photo courtesy of Clement Ee.

Later in life, he decided he wanted to do the same for others who came from disadvantaged families. Besides Simon, Ee is a spiritual parent to two other young women who came from low-income families. 

And he believes Simon has a specific destiny ahead of him.

When asked what is his dream for Simon was, Ee replied: “That he becomes a pastor.” The teenager himself has voiced his ambition to be one during their church’s youth camp.

“I actually think Simon would be the person who would take over me in this community,” said Ee. 

*Name has been changed to protect the boy’s identity

About the author

Rachel Phua

Rachel Phua contributes to Salt&Light, where she was formerly a full-time writer. Her stories have also been carried by several US publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Austin Business Journal.