The third Sunday of June is coming up, and some of us remember what that means – it’s Father’s Day! According to Wikipedia (the most legit source ever), Father’s Day has been celebrated since the Middle Ages in Catholic Europe. The celebration didn’t make it to the US until the 20th century, when Sonora Smart Dodd founded Father’s Day to honour her single father who raised 6 children on his own.
But of course, Father’s Day was established to celebrate fatherhood as it was known then – a male who fathered children with a female, to put it simply. Times are a-changin’ kids, and being a father today can mean a lot of things. Men with pets are fathers, too! But this year we hear from fathers to other human beings, albeit in a not-so-conventional sense.
Happy Father’s Day to the Foster Dad
James Nayagam stumbled into foster fatherhood. Currently the chairman of Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia, he had a corporate career before he became known as a proactive and passionate advocate of children’s rights.
It all started one evening when a friend invited him to a squatter’s area at Old Klang Road to teach underprivileged kids who were doing poorly at school. James thought about dedicating one night every week for these tuition classes, but it quickly evolved to become a full-time commitment. When he realised that the kids were coming to class hungry, he pooled resources with his friend to get them food. And when he noticed the absence of 6 kids one day, he went looking for them and found them huddled with their mother under a house standing on concrete pillars. He began to feel conflicted about going back to the comforts of his home after every class or visit, and he felt compelled to find a sustainable solution. So, a group of them rented a house and took the family in.
Seeing the children became the highlight of his week, and his career became much less interesting. Eventually, James decided to leave his job to go into caring for the children full time. But he has never felt like it was a job, or that he was merely a social worker. He was fully invested into the wellbeing of those under his care; so much so that he slept next to his home phone (the kind that you can actually hang up!) so that he could tend to emergencies as quickly as possible. He fondly recounts being a young bachelor bringing in sick children to the hospital, drawing curious stares from the nurses and doctors. The hospital also began to refer cases of child abuse to him, and the number of children under his wing grew.
To the kids, James wasn’t just a caretaker. He became a father figure – someone special in their lives, whether they called him ‘brother’, ‘papa’, or ‘uncle’, and they sought for comfort, protection, and assurance in him. However, as a foster father, the attachment isn’t lifelong. He sadly recalls the times when a parent would return to take a child back, and he had no choice but to acquiesce. All he has to hold on to are memories, he says, but he acknowledges that he’s only there for them at a particular time of their lives, and if the situation permits, it’s always healthier for a child to go back to his/her own home.
James passionately believes in the power of a hug – for children and adults alike – as well as the importance of forming genuine, healthy attachments as the basis of any relationship. So it comes as no surprise that he is still in touch with many of the kids who are now grown adults in a Whatsapp chat group!
To every child who has ever been under James’ guardianship, he has this to say: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of your lives, and making mine special.”
Happy Father’s Day to the Stepdad
If there’s a phrase to describe Sheldon Aman‘s love story, it would be “The World’s Most Practical Fairytale”. His approach to his relationship is as romantic as it is pragmatic, but there is a sense of a quiet, unwavering loyalty and strength that you can count on him for.
Hailing from Kuching, Sarawak, Sheldon first met his wife, Elaine, in high school, but as per the beginning of any Hollywood romantic movie, their paths crossed, but nothing happened until years later – at their high school reunion, no less! By then, Elaine was a single mum with two daughters. “Can’t recall what there was to consider, actually,” he says when asked if there was any hesitation, “Here was someone who wanted companionship and stability and a family life. I found all of that in my wife.”
Having two daughters now aged 13 and 9, Elaine was concerned about Sheldon being able to accept her and her daughters both as individuals as well as a family unit. “I believe I’ve put those concerns to rest,” he says, “They are all individuals with their set ways and temperament and behaviours. I expected all that, coming in late into their lives. I think they’ve accepted my permanence in our new family and that’s what I look to offer them – a sense of stability and continuity. Someone whom they know will always be around, no matter what.”
In the family, he is “Pa”, which he gets a kick out of as he doesn’t speak nor understand Cantonese. But everyone on both sides of the families have been very happy and supportive of the couple. However, he understands that he’s not there as a replacement. He is there to love, support, and provide a stable foundation for the family.
Sheldon is a self-confessed “stubborn and old fashioned” man, but ultimately, he says, “I would like to think that they know that I love them and that I will always be there to support them through good and hard times. Growing up and growing old – you can’t stop it, so please don’t bother. Accept change, accept differences and accept the family as a bunch of misfits who still will look out for each other in this big, crazy world.”
Wise words indeed!
Happy Father’s Day to the Single Dad
Tony Carpenter is an independent consultant from Gold Coast, Australia for a successful online business. He grew up in a large family, which is why he always knew he wanted a family of his own, and, in his words, even before he knew he was gay! By the time he reached 36, he felt like he couldn’t continue waiting for the right person to come along before starting a family. So, he decided to do it the other way around – become a single father first.
Being a single gay man would have potentially meant a long and arduous process for adoption, so he decided to go down the surrogacy route. Commercial surrogacy has been building a bad reputation with controversies such as the case of baby Gammy, a surrogate child born with Down Syndrome, and the exploitation of surrogate mothers. For Tony however, it was a deliberate and purposeful choice. His sister-in-law is Thai, so she could teach his kids about their heritage, and Thailand is near enough to Australia for them to visit conveniently. After months of research, he chose a surrogacy agency that he was comfortable with, and that’s when he got his first child, Donavan.
In the meantime, surrogacy laws in Thailand were being reviewed, so Tony made the decision to have another child immediately. Estelle came along the following year, and both kids are now 3 years old. (Thai authorities eventually banned commercial surrogacy for foreigners in 2015.)
Tony took fatherhood very seriously. He was prepared to make a huge change in his life in embracing his new role – he left his then corporate job to become a stay-at-home dad so that he could focus on his children. When things settled down, he started his online business, and he says that having the freedom to stay home with his kids while building his business has been the “best decision”. Was it as simple as he made it out to be? “I wouldn’t have started a family if I hadn’t been financially secure,” he says.
When asked about his unconventional journey into becoming a parent, he responds, “People don’t view me as a gay father. I’m just a friend, son, brother who has children.” To explain their unique situation to his kids, he wrote a book about how their family was created, which he reads to them. “They are aware they don’t have a ‘mother’ in the traditional sense. But that’s their normal.” He continues, “We regularly send photographs to their surrogates to keep in touch. I would be happy if the children expressed an interest to meet their Thai family.”
On his love life, his focus at the moment remains on his children. He says, “I would like to meet a special someone but I am satisfied with everything I have.”
Happy Father’s Day to James, Sheldon, Tony, and all the dads out there rockin’ it!
The Makchic team speaks to actual dads and guess what: there wasn’t a single mention of a tie! Read here to find out what dads really want.
Read also: What’s Up with Dads and Whatsapp?
#throwback to last year’s Father’s Day tribute – to dads and their smartphones! Click here for hilarious Whatsapp conversations with good ol’ dad.