Let’s have a new theme for today. Let’s call it “Talkative Tuesday”. A complete opposite of “Wordless Wednesday”. Today will be all about words, words and more words. Too bad to those who hate to read, you just have to bear with me today ;-)
I have two articles to share. They are a bit dated (published in 2009), but remain relevant regardless. The first one is a story of a father’s worry of his unmarried daughter. The second one is the daughter’s response to it.
Dr. Lee Wei Ling, then 19, with her parents Mr. & Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew in Rajashtan, India. (Photo credit here)
A bit on the father:
The man might be one of the most brilliant leaders the world has ever seen, but he remains a father nonetheless. One who worries about his little girl endlessly. The fact that she’s a grown woman doesn’t lessen his worry one tiny bit. In fact, as he enters his golden age, he worries even more, as he wonders who will take care of her when he’s no longer there.
A bit on the daughter:
She’s the epitome of a successful career woman. A medical doctor by profession, she is the head of National institute of Neurological Sciences in Singapore. She’s smart, tough and opinionated. She knew there were truths in what her father said, but that didn’t mean she would agree with his every word. She gave her own side of the story, so we as readers could make our own judgment.
Since the two articles combined make one super long entry, I shall leave them for 2 days (today and tomorrow) for you to read and ponder upon. So instead of me blabbering on what I think and get your comments on it, let’s do this the other way round.
I want you tell me what you think.
What to do moving forward? Shall single women just grab any guy on the street and start making babies so we won’t grow old alone? Shall we adopt? Shall we look for a sperm donor? Shall we enter into prenuptial agreements that say let’s stay married till we produce how many kids, let me have full custody, and then you are free do whatever you wish?
Tell me, I want to know. If you don’t wish to be identified, leave an anonymous comment, I’m fine with that. Let’s put emotions on hold and start being practical. Provide honest, constructive and workable solutions. That’s all I ask.
Enjoy the read. Looking forward to your thoughts!
PART 1: A FATHER’S WORRY
Baby gloom haunts Lee: True-blue citizens may go the way of the Mohicans with the city-state’s falling marriage and birth rates
The rising number of reluctant brides, particularly among the highly educated, has again been highlighted by Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew.
In a recent dialogue with undergraduates, Minister Mentor Lee pointed to his own daughter as an example when he talked about the long-term impact of falling marriage and procreation rates.
His concern about Singapore’s population slide had been around for some 25 years, seeing it a threat to its long-term survival.
A newspaper headline just asked: “Will we be the last of the Mohicans (an American Red Indian tribe that became extinct)?”
In other words, the low fertility will lead to the extinction of the present 3.25 million true-blue Singaporeans.
The white-haired Lee says an increasing number of the better-educated women are choosing to remain single as a lifestyle choice, and happy with it.
Some 33% of men and women are single, according to Lee. And to prevent an eventual collapse, Singapore has to import foreigners.
Lee aimed his marriage-and-population message at the very people – university students – he wanted to reach.
When he first talked about the subject, it was a generation ago. The people then would have included some parents of the current audience.
At the time, the reaction was a surprise since the birth rates were not yet at crisis point.
Lee is 86 today. This year he enters a historic 50th year of state leadership to become the world’s longest serving leader.
He showed the students an uncharacteristic glimpse of his softer, fatherly figure, a divergence from his past combatant self. This time, he talked of his unmarried daughter to make a point.
She is Dr. Lee Wei Ling, the bright 54-year-old director of the National institute of Neurological Sciences, who once lashed out at the “elitist attitude of some in our upper socio-economic class.”
Writing that she was neither anti-establishment nor “a government mouthpiece,” Dr. Lee added: “I am capable of independent thought.”
Something dad probably agrees with. In his fatherly eyes, Dr. Lee – however mature or brilliant – is still a child who needs looking after.
After saying that one-third of men and women in Singapore were single “and quite comfortable with their lives”, the Minister Mentor said: “My daughter is one of them. What can I do?”
Then in an unusually emotional mood, Lee told the young audience: “When she was in her early 30s, I told her, never mind all this.”
“My wife and I used to tell her, what you want is a “Mrs.” (to her name). She didn’t think it was funny. Now, she is 50-plus.”
“I’m getting old. I’ve got a pacemaker. We’ve got this big house, everything is looked after now, but what happens when we are no longer there?
“Who’s going to run this place? Who’s going to make sure that the maids are doing the right thing and so on and so forth? That’s the price she (Dr. Lee) will have to pay.”
“She says, I’ll look after myself, but she has not been looking after herself all these years.”
“She went abroad for her studies. And her cooking was just to take the salmon and put it in the microwave and heat it up. You can do it and then go to the canteen, but when you do that day after day...”
“It’s a choice she has made and a choice that 35% of our women are making.”
However, in the 21st Century, women are the key to population control, Lee said, but “you have to couple an educated woman with equal job opportunities.”
The ageing Lee is still not beyond putting down his opponents either in the courts or using the law and police. On this occasion he talked of his own mortality.
At any rate, he remains very active in the running of the country.
He no longer sounded like the pugnacious 35-year-old lawyer who became Singapore’s first prime minister in 1959 when it was a self-governing colony.
In talking about lifestyle choice, Lee may have left out other factors that is contributing to fewer Singaporeans marrying and producing babies.
One is the highly competitive life in a tiny Singapore that has few resources. From school to work to business, it is one test after another for the people.
Another is the high cost of living. The Economist Intelligence survey named Singapore the 10th most expensive country in the world, and the present crisis could make things tougher.
Last year inflation rose by 6.5%, the highest level in 28 years, with the poor being the hardest hit – not a formula for more babies.
During the past decade wages of the broad middle class stagnated, while that of the lower-income group actually declined.
Some young critics blame it on policies that Lee had instituted all these years, particularly giving priority to economic growth over individual needs.
This is the second time Lee has referred to his offsprings being affected by dramatic social changes.
Apart from his daughter, Lee had earlier said that Li Hongyi, his grandson (the son of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) had succumbed to the emigration trend. He has said he may remain in the United States after graduation.
A Singaporean wrote: “At least Lee now realises that no matter how tight he controls Singapore, there are things that are beyond him – like marriage, emigration and having children.”
His problem is amplified by a young lady, who wrote: “We don’t need men to take care of our needs. We can afford our every material whim and fancy.”
(Credit to The Star)
PART 2: A DAUGHTER’S DEFENCE (OR DEFIANCE?)
Dr. Lee Wei Ling (Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter) as to the reason why she remained single
My father became prime minister in 1959, when I was just four years old. Inevitably, most people know me as Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter.
My every move, every word, is scrutinised and sometimes subject to criticism. One friend said I lived in a glass house. After my father’s recent comment on my lack of culinary skills, another observed: “You live in a house without any walls.” Fortunately, I am not easily embarrassed.
As long as my conscience is clear, what other people say of me does not bother me. Indeed, I am open about my life since the more I try to conceal from the public, the wilder the speculation becomes.
My father said of my mother two weeks ago: “My wife was…not a traditional wife. She was educated, a professional woman… We had Ah Mahs, reliable, professional, dependable. (My wife) came back every lunchtime to have lunch with the children.”
Actually, my mother was a traditional wife and mother. She was not traditional only in one respect: She was also a professional woman and, for many years, the family’s main breadwinner.
One of my mother’s proudest possessions is a gold pendant that my father commissioned for her. He had a calligrapher engrave on the pendant the following characters: ‘xian qi liang mu’ and ‘nei xian wai de’.
The first four characters mean virtuous wife and caring mother. The second four mean wise in looking after the family, virtuous in behaviour towards the outside world.
My mother lived her life around my father and, while we were young, around her children. I remember my mother protesting gently once about something my father had asked her to do.
“It is a partnership, dear,” my father urged.
“But it is not an equal partnership,” my mother replied.
The partnership may not have been exactly equal at particular points in time. But over the years, especially after my mother’s health deteriorated after she suffered a stroke, my father was the one who took care of her. She clearly indicated she preferred my father’s care to that of the doctors’, in itself a revelation of the quality of his care.
He remembers her complicated regime of medications. Because she cannot see on the left side of her visual field, he sits on her left during meals. He prompts her to eat the food on the left side of her plate and picks up whatever food her left hand drops on the table.
I have always admired my father for his dedication to Singapore, his determination to do what is right, his courage in standing up to foreigners who try to tell us how to run our country.
But my father was also the eldest son in a typical Peranakan family. He cannot even crack a soft-boiled egg – such things not being expected of men, especially eldest sons, in Peranakan families.
But when my mother’s health deteriorated, he readily adjusted his lifestyle to accommodate her, took care of her medications and lived his life around her. I knew how much effort it took him to do all this, and I was surprised that he was able to make the effort.
If my parents have such a loving relationship, why then did I decide to remain single?
Firstly, my mother set the bar too high for me. I could not envisage being the kind of wife and mother she had been.
Secondly, I am temperamentally similar to my father. Indeed, he once said to me: “You have all my traits – but to such an exaggerated degree that they become a disadvantage in you.”
When my father made that pendant for my mother, he also commissioned one for me. But the words he chose for me were very different from those he chose for my mother.
On one side of my pendant was engraved ‘yang jing xu rui’, which means to conserve energy and build up strength. On the other side was engraved ‘chu lei ba cui’, which means to stand out and excel.
The latter was added just for completion. His main message was in the first phrase, telling me, in effect, not to be so intense about so many things in life.
I knew I could not live my life around a husband; nor would I want a husband to live his life around me. Of course, there are any number of variations in marital relationships between those extremes. But there is always a need for spouses to change their behaviour or habits to suit each other. I have always been set in my ways and did not fancy changing my behaviour or lifestyle.
I had my first date when I was 21 years old. He was a doctor in the hospital ward I was posted to. We went out to a dinner party. I noted that the other guests were all rich socialites. I dropped him like a hot potato.
In 2005, while on an African safari with a small group of friends, one of them, Professor C.N. Lee, listed the men who had tried to woo me. There were three besides the first. Two were converted into friends and another, like the first, was dropped.
I am now 54 years old and happily single. In addition to my nuclear family, I have a close circle of friends. Most of my friends are men. But my reputation is such that their female partners would never consider me a threat.
More than 10 years ago, when there was still a slim chance I might have got married, my father told me: “Your mother and I could be selfish and feel happy that you remain single and can look after us in our old age. But you will be lonely.”
I was not convinced. Better one person feeling lonely than two people miserable because they cannot adapt to each other, I figured.
I do not regret my choice. But I want to end with a warning to young men and women: What works for me may not work for others.
Many years ago, a young single woman asked me about training in neurology in a top US hospital. I advised her to ‘grab the opportunity’.
She did and stayed away for eight years. She returned to Singapore in her late 30s and now worries that she may have missed her chance to get married.
Fertility in women drops dramatically with age, and older mothers run the risk of having offspring with congenital abnormalities.
Recent studies show also that advanced paternal age is associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring, such as autism and schizophrenia, not to mention dyslexia and a subtle reduction in intelligence. Men can also suffer from diminished fertility with age although there is wide individual variation.
I would advise young men and women not to delay getting married and having children. I say this not to be politically correct. I say it in all sincerity because I have enjoyed a happy family life as a daughter and a sister, and I see both my brothers enjoying their own families.
(Credit to The Sunday Times)