Monday, September 3, 2007

A reality cheque from my son

2 Sep 2007, ST

By Mathew Pereira

BEFORE my eldest son Shaun was enlisted in the army, he spent four months doing relief teaching in a secondary school.

His salary worked out to about $1,200 a month.

One day, he strolled in and announced that he was a rich man - he had got his first pay cheque.

I stuck my hand out and asked him for his monthly contribution to us - his parents.

His reaction was: 'Wahlau! But I earn so little.'

I told him: 'You should give your parents money every month from the time you start working.'

He asked how much he should be giving us.

I said: $50.

Why $50? I don't know. For me, it had to be an amount that was not so small as to make the whole exercise meaningless, and it had to be something that would make Shaun feel some pain.

Like him, the first time I earned a salary was when I was about 17, stacking cans of food at a Cold Storage supermarket during my December school break.

When I was given my first pay packet - $180 in cash inside a white envelope - I gave the whole packet to Mum, our treasurer at home.

I remember her giving me a hard time that night because I had left the envelope of cash on the dining table and had run off to play football.

'This is your first salary. After all these years of toiling and bringing you up, you didn't even have the courtesy to hand the money to me in person,' she said.

I was called 'ingrate' and a couple of other names. (Giving can be so painful.)

During my national service days, my whole NS allowance went to Mum and she in turn gave me an allowance. (And it wasn't as if my NS allowance then was a large sum.)

I told all this to Shaun.

My point? Supporting your parents should be a responsibility, not an option, when you are earning. My parents made it clear to me and I was now making it clear to him, I said.

I told him that he should continue the practice with his kids, too, when he gets married and has his own family.

If my children want examples of this being done, there are plenty.

My Mum not only gets a monthly sum from me (but no longer my whole pay packet) but also lives with me. My wife's parents live with one of her siblings, and they, too, get monthly sums from their children.

Do our parents need the money? Not really.

Everything from food to medical bills to their holidays abroad are taken care of by the children.

Some might consider my stance on this old-fashioned. I know more than a handful of friends who do not expect their children to do so.

Their reasons: They don't need the money because they have stashed away enough; poor kids, life is already difficult enough for them; our parents brought with them values from China, India or wherever else, and while they were good for the 1940s and 1950s, they have no place in society today.

The way I see it, when parents think that way, kids pick up that message. That is why I am sometimes not surprised when old folk complain about being left to their own devices by their successful children.

The onus is on parents to teach their kids - not the school, not the Government.

I grew up in a home where my parents reminded my siblings and me constantly about how they were counting on us and placing their hopes on us. We never forgot that they were on the sidelines waiting for us to start working and contributing.

But parents today do not like to tell their kids this. Instead, they hold what I tend to think is a very Western view of parenting - I brought you into this world so I am responsible for you, and not the other way round.

Regardless of changes to the Central Provident Fund scheme, children should be taught to look after their parents.

Because giving money to our old folk is not only about survival and making sure they have enough to live, but also about loving and honouring them.

Shaun will not be the only one whom I expect a monthly allowance from. My two other children are expected to do likewise.

If I don't need the money, I could give all they had given back to them when they get married, or something, but I will continue to remind them about the need to support their parents.

My son drew a salary of $400 or so the first few months he was in the army and the sum has increased somewhat since.

He continues to give, and I will continue to expect.

Of course, if one day he decides that he is not going to anymore, that's also fine.

That's his choice. I will not force him to do so.

But I can at least say that I had taught him the right thing to do.

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