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  • Gail Wong

Father's Day: Beyond Provider - 5 ways my dad has influenced me

Updated: Jun 26



This year, Father’s Day was a non-event, because all 3 paternal figures in my direct orbit - my dad, husband Jeremy Tan and brother Gary Wong - were simultaneously away on business travel. 


No 🥞breakfast in bed or 🏌️golf for them.


It was also a long weekend in Singapore, which makes them doubly conscientious.


There is no one more hardworking than Grandpa! 

declared my daughter. (She wasted no time asserting that this gives her license to be lazy 🤦🏻♀️🤷🏻♀️.)


Indeed, the provider role is inextricably linked to father figures. My dad has often spent occasional stretches of time away for work, often in a remote body of water.


The classic stereotype: sometimes working so hard comes at the expense of tight-knit paternal relationships.


I’m proud to say that 

  • The men in my family take that role seriously and do it well. 

  • They also fiercely treasure intimacy with their children and perform non-dad responsibilities without hesitation.


My dad has many other qualities embodied by quiet example throughout the 45 years we’ve had together. He has set a high bar for myself and the people I seek as influences.

I wanted to take some time to honour his love and care, and impact on me.


Here are 5 ways he has shaped who I am and how I show up in the world.


1️⃣ A CYCLE-BREAKER


As much as I’m for non-traditional families innovating new models of healthy parenting in the modern age, I am immensely grateful for a stable uncomplicated home environment created by my well-adjusted hetero parents. 


Conscious parenting happens - not by accident or luck - only with a fierce commitment to rise above DRAMA and TRAUMA.


After Mother’s Day, I wrote a piece to celebrate the cycle-breaking women in my lineage. 

That applies equally to my dad. 


As a couple, they were progressive for their time in other ways too. They shared power, money, decision-making, parenting responsibilities.


I'm only realising, as a parent myself, how rare it is to grow up in a family that

🚫 Didn't abide by traditional gender roles of the quiet wife deferring to the head of the household 

🙌 Always put the collective good over individual ego/ selfish interests.


As a result, I have never witnessed toxic masculinity until I entered junior college


That is in part because my dad has…


2️⃣ EMPATHY AS A SUPERPOWER


I often witnessed people interacting with him who seemed to come away feeling better about themselves. Kids felt seen around him. 


He always makes it a point to show up for people in times of difficulty, being generous not only with money, but also his energy, compassion, and thoughts. He is someone who goes out of his way to give others the benefit of the doubt and errs on the side of kindness. 


With him as a role model, I grew up naturally calibrated as an idealistic people-pleaser and over-giver. Now that I’ve developed healthy boundaries that must accompany a big heart, I derive tremendous fulfilment from holding space for others, witnessing their struggles and supporting them towards victories, as a coach and healer.


3️⃣ TIRELESS SPIRIT OF SERVICE & EXCELLENCE


In college, when I was navigating majors and career pathways, his guidance was 

Whatever you choose, you must also honour your family and your country. 

And serve he has, with principled excellence and balanced judgement, as a 


  • Colombo Plan scholar

  • a Navy man

  • Independent director of publicly-listed company, and

  • Sought-after expert witness on maritime dispute resolution. 


The same integrity, consistency and value of “do everything well” carries through in the home. Overdone, I’ve been a finicky perfectionist upset by small things out of their place. 

I marvel at how he performs many acts of service for the family - stocking our freezers with fish from the wholesale market; maintaining a large property with live-in help - with equal measure of joy and dedication.


In my many moments of overwhelm as a parent and frustration about systems, I look to him as the paragon of grace. 


4️⃣ FIRST PRINCIPLES THINKER


Although his life experience has now far exceeded his original station as a kampong boy, he remains grounded, fiercely independent, with simple needs: 


  • He enjoys wearing worn T-shirts (especially those with “natural ventilation”)!

  • He extends the life of his possessions - I drive his 30+ year old Volvo 240

  • His favourite meals are fish soup or Teochew muay. 


My dad is a man who appreciates and seeks quality but is unswayed and uncoloured by trappings of status and wealth


Having such a check on my privilege has fuelled my work in systems change, justice for all, and the basic right of every human being to be whole and take up space in their own skin.


5️⃣ ETERNAL LEARNER


He derives energy from learning new things about the world, constantly immersed in a youtube video or reading about world events, engineering innovations or his urban farming passion. 


I have never seen him kick back on the couch with a K-drama! What an example for my kids to have around.


Some of the things he taught me: the Bernoulli Principle (at age 6); how to navigate Malaysia and Thailand by road with nothing more than a paper map. 


I attribute my insatiable curiosity about the world and human nature to his infectious growth mindset - that is why I love coaching and asking deep questions of people! 


He has also given me an innate compass and the confidence to know where I am and find my way in any 

  • Physical place - Tokyo, London, NYC, French countryside, Tasmanian wilderness, and

  • Internal journey - navigating questions like “Who am I?” “What is success?” “What now?” in the face of change. 




One evening in my early years, my dad came home early from work. We walked to the nearby provision shop to get a treat. Holding his hand on the way home, sharing bites of a popsicle - that is one of my happiest childhood memories. 


Thank you, Dad, for walking with me all this time. I’m grateful for every day we have together.



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