SINGAPORE, June 19 — In the popular comedy series, Phua Chu Kang, the titular character’s fathering techniques are a little questionable, to say the least. But off-screen, Gurmit Singh, who plays Phua Chu Kang, says he is nothing like his character.
“Fatherhood is more personal and real for me,” the 52-year-old told TODAY. “Most of the work I do for a living, on the other hand, is based on pretence.
“A little-known fact is that I’m not so animated when I’m with my family and close friends. Yes, I can be, but I’m not like that all the time with them — only because I don’t have to be!”
However, this does not mean that he is a very stern father to his three children — Gabrielle, 19, Elliot, 15, and Mikaela, four. Singh is of the school of thought that being friends with your children is a must.
“I’m an advocate for the ‘be their friend also’ father concept,” he said. “I want my children to know that I’m here for them, always — just like best buddies.
“Having said that, they also know that I have to be stern when discipline is needed, if any of them does something wrong,” he added.
“And when I say ‘discipline’, I don’t mean ‘tie them up and flog them silly’. I will never hit my children. My discipline, at worst, is shouting while scolding them. But most of the time, it’s a solemn sit-down talk in search of what went wrong, and how we can prevent the same from happening.”
So what do his kids think of his parenting style? “I’d like to think they are okay with it, since they haven’t tried to run away,” he joked.
More than a provider
Singh, who is also a Families for Life Council Member, famously announced in November 2014 that he was taking a step back from work to spend more time with his family. He now reveals that he made this decision after getting a wake-up call — he realised he was doing something that he vowed he would never do as a father.
“My late father was busy with work and making ends meet, which I hold no grudge against, but that made me determined that when I become a father, I need to spend time with my family and not just ‘provide’,” he said.
“Later, I realised I was doing exactly what I didn’t want to do. It took me some time to make the decision though, because I was afraid — and most men are afraid of this — that I would not be able to provide for my family like I used to,” he added.
“But after first talking to my wife Melissa, and then the children, I was touched by their support and was encouraged to take a step down from my career. As my kids put it, ‘Dad, we’d rather have you around than those material things’.”
Although Singh has since made a return to the screen — playing a teacher in the movie, Young & Fabulous, as well as hosting the TV gameshow Don’t Forget To Remember — it is not as full-on as his previous working schedule.
Instead, he has gone freelance, so that he could have full control of his calendar. He added that scaling back on work was the right decision as he has managed to spend more time with his family.
Singh revealed that he has even learnt how to cook a few dishes from YouTube. “(I’m) proud to say no one has gotten sick from eating my cooking,” he quipped.
“Since leaving (Mediacorp), we’ve been on six holidays, either as a family or on a one-to-one basis,” he said. “This gave me the chance to make up for lost time. Being able to spend more time with my family has kept me more grounded. It has changed my perspective of what is important in life. It used to be about me, but now it’s about them.”
Fathering, Gurmit Singh-style
Singh said this new-found time he has with his family has been “extremely rewarding”.
“I feel very blessed every time each of them has turned to me to tell me they are glad they are with me, and tell me the time spent with me is nice,” he added.
Singh shared that he has adopted “the best parenting advice” he has ever received from his parents: “Love them no matter what”.
He is also trying his hand at being an “active father”. This includes having meals with his family and asking his children to share what has been going on in their lives, as well as driving them to school, which gives him the opportunity to be more in touch with his children.
“And once a fortnight, if possible, I take one of my children, in turns, to a place to simply ‘chill’ — have some one-on-one time with either my son, or my daughter,” he said.
“It could be watching a movie, taking a walk, cycling, or checking out fun, new places together — as long as I get to spend time and have the opportunity to engage with the child, and give him or her my full attention.”
While he compared looking after his first child Gabrielle to a science experiment (“in that no one would know how it would turn out”), by the time Mikaela came along, “it was less stressful, and it also helped that I was able to spend more time with her”.
Watching his children grow up has been “a really interesting experience”.
“When (Mikaela) was born, the teenagers realised what it must have been like for us (as parents) looking after them when they were babies,” Singh said. “(They) have even noticed minute details, like how many times she awoke the night before; and the little things we would do to look after her.
“In essence, the teenagers are learning to be parents without even trying! And they now help to change the little one’s clothes and diapers, feed her, hold her hand and walk with her. I think all these are valuable lessons and training for them when they become parents themselves.”
Still, Singh admitted there were some things that he missed out on as a real dad, because he was busy being famous.
“As a kid, I used to dream about what a good dad and husband I would be,” he explained. “How cool I would be, how romantic I would be, how wise I would be, how caring I would be, and the list goes on.
“Sadly, I didn’t reach a fraction of my dream. But, at least, now I have the chance to pursue that list, and get as many items on the list as right as possible.” — TODAY