Growing up with a liver transplant, training for the Ironman triathlon, and sharing what life is like as a stay-at-home dad in tech. I talked to Cliff Tam on how he decided to become a nurturing hands-on dad to spend more meaningful time with his family.
At a very young age, Cliff was diagnosed with cancer and went through a successful liver transplant. Despite growing up immuno-compromised, he went on to become an Ironman triathlete and gave up his career in tech and in Christian ministry to be present with his children.
Cliff, who was born and raised in Canada, is now based in Singapore. He enjoys each moment with his family. He is a father of two daughters, aged 3 and 5, and married to his beautiful wife, Rachel. He is clear with his priorities - making his kids feel loved and secured. Putting his daughters through homeschool allows him to have a closer bond with them. We also speak about how it is easier to complete the Ironman triathlon than it is to be a parent.
To get in touch with Cliff Tam, find him at clifftam.com.
Don’t forget to head over to www.parents.fm to stay up to date with new and previous episodes, join our community of parents in tech or drop me a line.
Thanks for listening to the Parents in Tech podcast with me, your host, Qin En. We hope you were inspired on how to raise kids and build companies. To catch up on earlier episodes or stay updated with upcoming ones, head over to www. to join our community of parents in tech. There, you can also drop me a question, idea, feedback or suggestion. See you next time!
- [00:40] - Introduction of today’s guest, Cliff Tam
- [01:41] - Can you tell us more about your family?
- [05:02] - Liver transplant journey
- [10:37] - Ironman Triathlon Journey
- [17:37] - How does being an athlete shape you as a parent?
- [20:53] - How do you get through the lows of parenting?
- [26:30] - How did you arrive at the decision of being a stay-at-home dad?
- [39:29] - One lesson you have learned as a dad
- [44:59] - Connect with Cliff Tam
Qin En 00:07
I am Qin En and this is the Parents in Tech Podcast. Welcome to Season Two, where we interview dads who are technology company leaders, based in Southeast Asia. After hearing from moms in Season One, now it's time to speak to dads who are raising kids while striving in their careers. Let's find out the stories, challenges, and advice they have for us.
Qin En 0:41
In this finale episode of season two, I'm excited and humbled to speak to a parent in tech with a different story. Cliff Tam was diagnosed with cancer at age 10 and had 6 months to live after a successful liver transplant. He went on to be an iron man triathlon at age 27 and gave up his career in tech and Christian ministry to be a full-time stay-at-home dad.
My conversation with Cliff was inspiring and soul-searching one as we talk about being honest with our priorities and relishing each moment with our children. Today, Cliff is in Singapore, enjoying each day, nurturing and bonding with his two daughters, ages 3 and 5, along with his wife, Wai Jia.
Qin En 01:25
Good morning, Cliff. Welcome to the Parents in Tech Podcast. It's 5:45 am in the morning. Thank you so much for waking up early. I guess that's a part of being a parent, right? That we have to wake up and do this, but our kids are sleeping, but first and foremost, Cliff, could you tell us a bit more about your family?
Cliff Tam 1:42
So I am married to my wife Wai Jia. I'm a Chinese-born in Hong Kong. And when I was eight, my family migrated to Canada. I saw and I grew up in Toronto for pretty much my whole life, like 20, 25 years or so.
Something unique about me is that I was diagnosed with liver cancer when I was 10 years old. And so the doctors suggested that the best solution is to cut part of the liver over the cancer, is to actually do a transplant. So they suggest to my parents, why don't you put a clip on the waiting days?
And so I, I don't, I don't remember how long, maybe like a couple months. One day at the school, my mom got a phone call saying that, “Hey, we found a suitable donor for Cliff. So they brought me into sick kids hospital in Toronto, operation was like about 13, 14 hours later.
And I woke up with like these tools on me, all over me. And, and so I would say, I see you for like a week or 10 days before I was ruled out and that was my liver transplant or a new liver. And so, another unique thing about me is when I was 27, I did an Ironman triathlon. So that period of my life, we shouldn't, you know, 25 to 27, 28, I was really into triathlons, doing sports marathons, all those crazy long distance things.
It became who I am in a way and now that I do that sport now. I mean, I do, and I don't, it's kind of hard to explain, but as advocates, I think, you know, it really changed how I think about life per se.
And it's so unique for us, you know, for me to have a liver transplant and to do all this crazy stuff, which I never thought possible. And so that's my background.
My career wise I started as IT. I was in tech. And in 2011, I moved to Singapore to help with a Christian NGO to help them with their IT structure in the backend.
And so I married my wife Wai Jia. Okay. Talk about how we met. It's a bit of a long story. So my wife Rachel, she's a medical doctor in Singapore, grew up in Singapore and she loves to travel all over the world to help the poor. So she went in Nepal, went to India, went to the Philippines and all different places before we got together.
And something that got us together is I find two spirits. I really like her. She’s also at the triathlon, but also because we both have a heart for the poor. And so that's part of becoming a one unique thing that is why we got together.
So we have two daughters. We have Sarah Faith, she just turned 5 early this month.
And the second child Esther Praise, she’s gonna turn 3 in like two months. So she was like 2 years in, I don't know, 10 months or something like that. And so we both homeschooled them but Sarah Faith last year, she said she wanted to go to school.
So just about two weeks ago, we started sending her to school so she would enjoy. So in terms of what I'm doing right now is I am a stay-at-home dad, looking after these two girls. So me and my wife, in the past two years, we rotate looking after them.
So my wife, Wai Jia, would teach Sarah Faith on English, Chinese, and Grammar, which I'm not very good at in all these topics. And also arts and crafts, which is she’s much better than me. And for me, I focus on Math, Science, Patterns, Logic, telling time, all the other stuff
And so that's what we were doing.. just like before, two weeks ago.
Qin En 04:55
Got it. That’s like such a rich story. There are so many things I want to unpack over this podcast, but maybe let's take it one step at a time. Let's start with the whole liver transplant journey. Did it leave a big impact on you as a child growing up? What do you remember about it and how do you think it has impacted who you are, especially as a parent today?
Cliff Tam 5:16
Wow. So, when I had my liver tumor, they gave me six months to live.
Qin En 5:21
Oh wow. And you were 10, right?
Cliff Tam 5:22
I was 10. So, because I was 10 at that time, I don't realize how serious it is that they have to have somebody like this and not like now, so I do say that from my own experience - someone who had a liver transplant. I actually have quite a positive experience. In this way, I'm referring to like, I mean, I grew up going to the hospital after the liver transplant do ultrasound, CAT scan, whatever testing needs to run, to make sure that I'm healthy and normal.
In the hospital, I was known as a miracle child because how the transplant works is that because the liver is a foreign object going into my body, my body will want to attack it. Because they said, “Hey, this is not the same as the rest of your body or whatever.”
So, what they need to do is I need to take this medicine, immunosuppression drug. So it's to suppress my immunity so that my body is able to accept my liver. So, of course this drug is, it's quite powerful and it can be dangerous because it lowers my immune system. So it does a couple of things.
It's not good for my kidneys long-term. And it also makes me more likely to get sick because it lowers my immune system. So, in the beginning, they really want to make sure that my body is adjusting well to this new liver. And I'm very thankful. I have no issues. I have no rejection issues which, I still remember because I'm not the only transplant child in the hospital, in the clinic, there were other children. I remember there’s a child, probably about my age, maybe just older than me at nine or maybe just bit younger. They flew him in from Peru. And I remember they did a liver transplant, did the two kidneys and they actually implanted a 13-year-old to him and he still didn't make it.
And I remember, Qin En, the baby, the Asian baby, I think she or he, has had, I don't remember which transplant, and I don't think he made it either. So I grew up, I don't realize how precious it is. Okay. I say, I say that, and until much later in life, I found out until much later. Like I would say when I was in university because I grew up so normal, I have no, no issues, no serious pain or no serious failures.
So in no way, I say, I almost squander my liver transplant. Because in university, I used to drink a lot of alcohol. I used to get drunk all the time. I used to love getting drunk. I used to post that, I have a Caucasian’s liver because Asian can not drink so I can chug a lot, which is really silly looking back. It's so stupid because our liver transplant is such a precious thing.
So, because I was young and foolish and want to get people to like me and all this stuff. So, one thing that would impact me with how precious it is is that I can not get life insurance. I know, “What’s life insurance have to do with this?” Life insurance, because i'm mature now.
If I'm not here, life insurance is an income replacement for my children. And I can’t even get that. Why? Because all the life insurance companies think I'm high risk.
They think that because I have a liver transplant, even though, I'm not saying I'm very healthy, I'm super healthy. I'm quite healthy. I don't have any major issues. I know, and yet they still think I'm high risk. It's crazy. And no insurance would ever take me on risk.
They look at me then they would say, “You are high-risk.” And so that for me is like the one sign for me is that, wow, I'm different than anybody else.
Not in a bad way.
Qin En 8:36
It’s a reminder.
Cliff Tam 8:37
Yeah, it's a reminder, but also it wasn't a reminder. It's a precious thing because what, now? I'm 41. When I had their transplant, I was like 10 just before turning 11. So I have like 30 extra years to live. Compared to like what six months? That's crazy.
The thing is that no one knows how long we live.
‘Cause one time I asked my transplant doctor. I said, you know how long is my longevity. And so they say, you know, they cannot tell you because they say that, well, it'd be shorter than normal people, healthy people. They don't know. And so, I think, in a way it can be scary, but also in a way it's not because if I look back over that's wow, like now I'm like, what? 31 years of extra life. So even though I may not know what my tomorrow will be, which to be honest, none of us know come on, man. None of us know what tomorrow will be.
That's the reality. We think we know, but we don't, but yet, where do we think for us to be able to live so long.
So, I think it changes these things. I think having kids also changes that too,
I'm sure you as a father, it changes. Before I used to be like, “Let's go SkyDiving!” And all this stuff. Now I'm like, eh, “Why am I to risk my life to get high, to get this adrenaline?”
Just so that or to prove something or to get excitement, but why? Not so worth it. I think I've been just at parties.
Qin En 9:54
Wow. Thanks so much, Cliff. And that's incredible. Because this whole idea of our mortality, the health we have, sort of, we take it for granted, especially when, like you say, we are in quarter-life, we come off as healthy. We kind of take each day as if tomorrow, we're going to wake up tomorrow. We're going to be fine and life is going to go normal. But you and I are both Christians and James Chapter 4, it says, "Life is by the mist or one path and work on."
So truly, well this is a really nice reminder, but also at the same time, I'm so glad and so grateful that instead of the six months you have three decades and many more years to come.
Cliff Tam 10:33
Yeah, I’m so thankful.
Qin En 10:34
It is, it is.
So, Cliff I have to ask, is this whole episode and you becoming an Ironman triathlete, are they linked?
Cliff Tam 10:43
I can tell you my Ironman triathlon journey is very silly. I didn't do it to inspire others, to prove all that stuff. Okay. So, let's start off from the beginning.
I never see myself as an athlete. Because in high school I can not even run like a 400-meter track without huffing and puffing.
Okay. So, I'm always the last pick in the sports team. Why? Because I'm small, I'm short, I'm chunny, I'm skinny, whatever.
And I sit with my high school, we played football, no one would ever get me. So someone passed me the one I run for a touchdown. Why? Because don't expect me to do anything.
And that's what I mean. That's what I'm trying to say.
But there's one thing I do enjoy. I like to ride bikes and cycling. So, just at the end of high school, you know, first city, I started to jog a bit, not long, just 5K, or maybe even 10K, just for fun.
And at the end of university, my friend, he has so many road bikes, and that's the first time I ride a road bike.
And at that time I also signed up for a triathlon. I have no idea what I signed up for, so I can swim a bit, not so good. I can bike and run. So, I did my first triathlon, but I remember that day or the couple of days before the triathlon, I saw this like crazy Ironman on the internet.
4K or 3.8K for swimming, 180K of biking, and then a marathon, which is 42.2K to run and they give you 17 hours to do it. So at that time I was riding a bike and I was riding long distances. I remember one time we went from doing a 180K up and down and I thought, oh, okay. I can ride a distance.
So the running part, I learned how to run long distances 42k in one marathon. Okay.
And I just need to know how to swim again. So if I put all this together, I can do an iron man. So that is what a stupidity. I say, stupidity, you know, inspiring moment to prove myself right there, it's just like this crazy idea like, “Hey! It's actually doable.”
Okay, of course when I start doing this, I mean, it's crazy. It is really crazy. Whoever wants to run a marathon after riding 480K and it started off with that and I think it started off with a humble journey. I say it as humble journey. I mean, I’m gonna go swimming again. And I remember I’m going to swim again after two laps before I'm huffing and puffing. Okay, so I got to see a coach and so I went to do swim class and the coach separate, like, I don't think that like five of us or six or seven of us doesn't really matter.
The coaches, separate us into three groups. So there's a fast group, the slow group and that I'm like the only one in the other group. Why? Because I can not even swim. My hips are so tight. I can not move. All I do is just drills. I just kick. They are teaching me how to swim, but I persist every day, every morning before work, I'll go to the pool and just work on drilling alone.
And I see the coach. I just keep doing it over and over again. I remember and this is in Canada. So, I remember in October, November is cold, five degrees or whatever. And in the morning I walk to the community pool, half an hour to walk there, to swim.
And then my mum would drive her car to work, which is needed in pool. Then I finished swimming, by six o'clock like nobody's there except the elderly. So I only deal with the elderly so it was so funny. And so after the hour, yep, change and then pick up and my mom's car and I’ll go to work.
And after work, I'll go to swim again, just to practice on drills, not, not do anything else. And after this 3 months of consistency, I was able to swim 1 kilometer.
And after I know I can swim, one kilometer, the other distance is not so hard. It's really just practicing the endurance and aerobic. So that was really where I started off and I'm not a fast person. Okay. Most triathlon races, I'm the mid pack, but I do love doing the long distance so I spent two years training.
So one years to the half Ironman. And then the second year is almost the same thing. Except you keep stretching the distance and still keep conditioning your body to able to endure the distance.
In this sense I'm worth paying for because I really did not know anything about triathlon. I know I met a lot of people online on the blogging, there's a huge blogging community and I met some people in person.
And this guy, he’s like I call him my age group because in his age group, he’s the top three. He's really fast, he's much older than me. He's about 10 years older than me. And so he would take me under him and we'll go running or riding. He’ll wait for me because I'm so much sore, but yet he's willing to journey with me and I’m really thankful for people like that.
They are so much better than me. They don't need to spend that at the time, but they do because you know, there's a friendship. There's a fellowship. And so, yeah, two years later I did my first triathlon.
When I first did the first triathlon, I told myself I'm going to do many of these in the future. So the first one, I better make sure that it's hard. Because you know what, that's just the hardest one ever. So, I love enough America, which is the most, you know, kinder strippers or weather. Where I stay in Toronto, the closest one is Lake Placid in New York state.
So in 2007, I started in 2005, 2007. I actually did the Ironman. So I took my family along and then my close friend came and take a look at me and it's quite crazy how I did it.
Looking back it's a bit nuts, but it's not, it's not stupid.
Qin En 15:54
It is. It's crazy, Cliff. Well, so basically two years, two years was what it took for you to train. Or when you go from looking at a website of what Ironman is and being completely unprepared to completing the race.
Cliff Tam 16:07
But one thing I like about endurance sports, like, especially this long distance, is the unknown. Like for example, if I run 10K I know I can finish it. I can even say 42K, I know I can finish it. 40K, so 21K, I'm not gonna finish it. But I want to, not that, maybe I'm an adrenaline junkie. I don't.
I want to reach to a point, I'm not sure if I can finish this or not. I'm not. I don't know if I can finish it. But let’s just go to that point to find out. And Ironman is pretty much that, like I say, for me, my favorite distance is that you did a half Ironman because you didn't have to train so much.
It's just the half the distance of Ironman. You didn't have the train so much and you just go in the morning, you're done by the afternoon and you're done. And recovery is so much faster where the Ironman, when I was training. Like I'm not seeing anybody. Like I’m asleep at 9:00 pm.
This is me in my mid-twenties. Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, forget it. I'm not seeing anybody. No social life. 9:00 PM. I sleep, why? Because I need to wake up by 6AM to train. I have to get up at 5:30 AM to get my bike because I don't arrive for like what, five, six, almost seven hours to get used to the distance. And then on Saturday, we ride my long bike ride, which is that.
And then on Sunday with my long ride, which is like, maybe like two hours before I go to church or something like that. So I get up at like 6:00 AM to go for a jog and then shower, change, and then head over to church. That's how, that's how that insanity is.
The thing is, I wouldn't see anybody else. So I say for our family, that's really hard because I was still single then, it is the story.
Quin En 17:34
Got it. Got it. So how has being an Ironman athlete shaped you as a parent? Because that whole idea of resilience, character building. Tell me the lessons you took to parenting.
Cliff Tam 17:45
I think for me the biggest thing is that the Ironman is I was doing these things every day. Right? Before you do the digital race and incomplete it, I mean, you don't have to train every day. I mean, you do whatever. You can do it if you want. It's really painful. That's okay. But I just remember the swim, for example, that I was every morning, I said, poor showing up. No one was there. There's no one cheer me on, you know, no one really care if I do it or not. Right. And I think sometimes parenting is like that.
Like, for example, I change my kids’ diaper. I spent a whole day with them. No, one's going to be like, “Hey, that's a great job. That's awesome.”
Okay. They may be because of my dad. For my mom, she’d be like, “Ah, that's expected of you.”
For me, it's so silly. The funny thing is that I just feel like, compared to doing Ironman or training for one and compared to like looking after my kids? I actually feel my time with the kids are so much more important than the time I do with my triathlon. Because me and my wife who always talk about this one, so I said, “Hey, should I do Ironman again?”
Or I never, part of me would love to, but part of me do not, because I know that if I do that, I'm not going to see my kids. That's the problem. This is what I say to everybody, cause I did Ironman before. So I say, compared to looking after kids, Ironman is a walk in the park.
It is! Because why? Because you get people look up to you. They’d be like, “Wow. You're so amazing, blah, blah, blah.” You get a medal, you get a, people get tattoos and people get to share it with the Ironman logo. So you have this, I won’t say prestigious, so you had this like, you know, feel, like. “Oh, you’re so strong there.” Why not?
And so like computer, like, parenting people they’re like, “Wow, that's your job, right? Like a father, or your mother,” But looking after a child, like, I can not take a break. When I was in Iron man, I could take a break. One day of the week is my rest day.
When I look after my kids, uh-uh, that's not gonna happen, especially when I'm tired and grouchy and the kids are cranky, right? And they’re crying and they make a mess and they don't want to eat dinner and they make a scene outside.
So for me, a stay-at-home dad or stay-at-home mom, who look after kids every day with cooking. I really like, bow down to them because they are the true Ironman. I'm telling you, compared to iron man, parenting is whole new other level. So Ironman is like a walk in the park.
It's easy. I would say, I know it's insane. It's not as easy because, people will cheer you on. Like for somebody you're like, okay, I've never done this. Okay. So let's just say if today I write, post on Instagram or Facebook saying: I got up in the morning, I spent five hours riding for like 100K or whatever in the heat in 30 degrees heat and I go for swim.
People are like, “Wow, good job. You're so amazing. Blah, blah, blah.” Compared to a rapper saying that, “I woke up at five in the morning, whereas my kids woke up and I couldn't. And once, by 7:00 AM, I had nothing else to what to do with my kids because they have done everything they want, they want to go out. Okay. So we go out.
I don't know if I would get as much of their feedback, but I said the impact to kids. The impact for long-term, what is it? I meant it just from me, it's just myself, you know, impact of me parenting and looking after my kids? Huge difference. I'm building lives for them for the next generation.
So for me, that's the difference.
Quin En 20:40
That's magical, Cliff. And I fully agree, but I’m never gonna Ironman, but I can totally see why being a parent is challenging.
Cliff Tam 20:46
Yeah, you don't need to. You’re a parent. You don't need to.. Why?
Quin En 20:53
Yeah, how do you get through the lows of parenting? It's been five years since you were a parent.
Cliff Tam 21:00
I rant to my wife. That's that's part of the reason, no, just kidding. I do actually.
I become more of a stay-at-home dad. For a while, we were in Canada. So both my child, they were born in Canada. Okay. So between 2017, 2019 in Canada. Because my wife went to John Hopkins in the States to study in between those years.
So I flew back to Singapore in 2019, mid-2019. So my wife's got to go back to work. She's a part of the government. So we're like, okay. So why do I look after the kids? I can tell you, I do not want you to look after the kids. I told my wife to just send the kids to a daycare or whatever.
Then, I would go back to church and do ministry, but then it quickly dawned on me. And I felt like the Lord, the God is speaking to me saying that I think it’s better for me to stay home, to look after my children. Why? Because. Even if you can get Sarah Faith to go to school which an official one to at that age 2 and a 2 and a bit, who’s going to look after Esther Praise? She's like just baby, like four months old.
So that means that you're going to find another sitter to look after Esther Praise for a day while you go to church. It doesn't make sense financially. It means that like my own salaries take it and that doesn't make sense. So I'm like, okay, this is, I guess this is what it means.
I think that is where it started off with. I think, I can tell you that in the past two years, because of COVID and lockdown and stuff, I mean, I noticed that there's a trend in me. That's this cycle of some days, every month I'd be like, yeah, yeah, still doing Ironman I'm a good dad.
I’m gonna do this for my children faster, next generation. Yeah. Let’s do it, let's do it. And then once in a while, but like once a week, I have this cycle where I tell my wife that, “Oh, I want to go back to church. I want to do some teaching or whatever. I want you to go back to that.” And so I mean our, for HR, because we joined it together, you know, and, and I think, I think she, she and I, we talk about it, say how can we transition to someone like that.
So, we're not there yet, but I think we're moving closer. Like for example, this podcast. Last year I was like, “Ah, I’ll never do it. I'm too busy being at home there.” Now. I'm like, “You know what? Let's do some of these now.
I'm still finishing off my master’s stipend degree. So I just got to finish my thesis. So once that's done, I think this year I may sit a bit more. So, but to answer your question in the low times, I think I would just talk to Wai Jia. I think that that helps a lot.
Talking to my wife helps a lot. And not to say we find solution, but we kind of bounce ideas off another and see how it goes. But I do say that, I think that we at least acknowledge that there are just many things in life. It's not always so positive and good, for example, even triathlon.
You know, Ironman. That's the reality, right? That when you're running or you're swimming for long distance or biking, some period you feel really good. And some period you feel like crap. I think it's a bit strange but I learned that from Ironman.
I mean, I can learn from any other thing you do in life. Right? Like, or playing piano, do whatever, like any sports or any hobby. There's good and bad. It's how do you endure the bad. And I think, I think if I'm parenting as well, I think, you need to know that, this is just a phase.
This is just a phase, like right now, Esther Praise, she refused to eat any meals.
Guess what, Sarah Faith has gone through that phase as well. So, so I'm very thankful because Sarah Faith has gone through those phases. We know how to manage Esther Praise. So we also realized that this phase will come, this phase will go.
We call it Terrific Twos for toddlers. Sarah Faith gone through it, I suppose is still going through it right now. And in the beginning, I didn't know what's going on. I think that was the hard part.
Like at the beginning, when Sarah Faith just before turning 2, so they run around, pull everything out. So, I mean, I can still tell you, I remember those days that when Sarah Faith will say, oh, I think not two, she might be just one, she's at a crawl and she'd start to like I remember she used to go to the library. I take her to the library and she and Sarah have used to pull all the DVD cases out one after another. She crawled to one to come out and another and another. So what do I do as a parent? I follow her, all my knees, pull them back as fast as you pull them out.
So, and I remember those times I used to be like counting down the minutes, counting all the minutes I'm going to go and pick up Wai Jia from school for her class to end.
So those for me was some of the hot days, because I didn't know what was going on. I guess I should read more.
But now when I look back, you know, Wai Jia was telling me, “Oh, because children, they like to deconstruct before they construct.” And it's your reason. I look at surveys. She doesn't do that anymore.
But then I realized the reason why I feel so frustrated because part of that day is I do not understand how to talk to the grown-ups and how she thinks that's actually behaving like that. You know, my parents, our sister, if I don't know, I just stopped doing that? Yes, that's wrong.
But actually that's how she's growing. Basically, she’s still pulling stuff out. So she just want to practice over and over again. So I think for me, the low end is to try to understand that first. It's just a phase. And second, there may be situations where the child is learning. And so I had to just bear with it.
Quin En 26:08
Yeah, this, this is how they learn, this is how they grow. I know I can totally relate to the pulling things out. My daughter will open up drawers. Now she’s at 8-6 months, it's just cost things out and then leave it. And I go to the next store and do the same
Cliff Tam 26:20
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The next one and do the same. Yeah. That's how they do it. There is, you know, how would they know to put it back in? So yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Qin En 26:26
Exactly. Yeah. So, Cliff I have to ask. Right. You know, what is the decision for you to be a stay home dad? As much as I think this is really to be celebrated as a father myself, I feel like society these days might not have completely come around to the idea of that. And I'm sure maybe sometimes once in a while you do get questions asked, especially maybe in Singapore, but tell me what the experience is like.
Or do you not face that at all? Which I hope is the case, but, how does it feel when you get those looks, those stares, those questions? Just share a bit more on that.
Cliff Tam 26:56
Right. Sure. For me, I think I just remember going to the grocery store at Singapore. This is the one of the most deep impacted experiences I had is that going to go to the grocery store, to checkout with my kids.
So. Sarah. I know at that time. It doesn't really matter how, how well, my kids are. So the cashier, when looking at me, pointing me and said, “You are a stay at home mom.” And I think because for her, I mean, I love her. She knows. I mean, so, you know, I'm like, “No, I'm a dad.”
But I just feel like, because maybe she doesn't know her English well enough, so she doesn't know that it sounds like that.
So, so I think. I would say that for most of the decisions we make as a parent for me and my wife, we, we make it quite different than how the, we, the rest of society, see parenting. I mean, okay, part of it is our friends’ influence. So for example, I'm homeschooling, I would never imagine being about homeschooling there.
I never imagined I'm telling you that my disclaimer is like, I don't like children.
Growing up. I never touch a baby or play young kids, or you know how to do it though. Now I have such different views. I love them, but I never not that I'm not that type of guy who really like you know, love young children.
And so, but I think part of the influence we have with some of our friends who do homeschool their children. And, they are sharing with us how they enjoy spending time with them. And in the beginning, I can tell you, yeah, it's true. I don't really enjoy spending time with them. I feel that it's a waste of my time.
That's how I feel. I feel like my time is better served, I better do church or career things because that's what I value. But I think something that I see in my children. Okay. So, I guess this is more about experience than science-proven. I just think that how do my children first love? They feel love by how I spend time with them.
Meaningful time, not like I'm watching my phone while they're playing like really meaningful interact with them. That's how they feel love. For me, most students, that's probably how they feel loved. Even when you send them a text message, they don't care because they're children and they’re like to young especially at this age.
They feel love when I spend time with them. So equals to the more I spent time with them, the more they feel loved. So, you’re filling up the love tank in that analogy. So the goal of it is actually becoming how we can feel our kids for so much love that they will always feel love, not that they’re needy, but they've had love developed.
And so that's why I see homeschooling becomes. So for me, like being a parent or how do I become a stay-at-home dad, I want to answer your question.
I said lead on is that I realized that, oh, this is how I show them love. And I got to do that as much as possible to build them up because I'm not doing it just for the next two, three years. Life makes sense that you build from one station to the next.
For example, from, singlehood, you find a girlfriend and get married and you have kids.
So you build from one stage to the next stage. And so a child grows from one stage the next stage. So it will make sense if you start them off a stage that's really have a strong foundation.
And I believe this with children, a strong foundation is not with learning things, to do things for me, this is this from me and my wife, that actually, the learning comes secondary compared to loving them.
‘Cause I believe that if a child is so loved and so secure, knowing that their parents are around, which is probably for my kids, I taught us parents that the most important anybody else comes to anything else.
Then if they feel so loved learning will be secondary. And I see that in Sarah Faith, because now she wants to learn so many things.
Why? Because she feel so loved. It's not because we have so special parenting. We have some special homeschooling materials or to prove their homeschooling is better than traditional school. It's because she feels so loved and okay, so how do I know? She’s learning so much more than other children.
I’m not saying that my children is better than the other children. I'm not saying that. And I'm not saying that Sarah Faith is some sort of genius, okay? Maybe she is. I don't know, but I can see that, right now she's in K1. Okay. So kindergarten 1. By the time before, two weeks ago, when we were homeschooling her, it was K2 materials.
They asked teaching her big math numbers, like 72 + 86 you know, how do you carry the one over to make hundreds. Is she really good at this? No, but she understand the concept of it and a bit at a time. How did I do that? It wasn't because I have some special skills or techniques.
It's because she feels love and she feels love, she wants to learn. She want to journey with us. For me, map is quite amazing because map is very like for you. It's very abstract, but she's able to figure that out because why, because she is with us. And so this for me become the such a foundation.
I say that our society in a way is not very child-friendly. Okay. So we say we like children, but we do not enjoy spending time with them. by the fact that, I mean, okay. My statement can be a bit biased, but I think it's partly true because why, because we have a lot of things we can do to outsource them away from us.
So it's true. We had to work and whatnot. I agree with that, but at the end of the day, is my child gonna feel lucky because I go to work or is my child going to feel loved if I spend time with them, I spend a time with them is harder than working. You know that since you’re looking after our toddler, like from day in, day out is hard work.
It’s a lot of work, plus, you're at the house, you do a bills, you know, and whatnot.
Now, I'm not saying that, you're a bad parent. If you're working and if your child go to school. I understand that. Okay. I understand, you know, you have bills to pay, but I also see that a lot of times, parents, including myself, would justify saying that, “Oh, I'm sending my child to school because it's better for them or for them to learn social skills” or whatever when I wouldn’t do that because I can't have my time for myself. That is something that I feel all parents need to have a deep conversation about it. So I would say it's a lie to ourselves. And to me, I did it too, because there are times when I tell Wai Jai, “I think it’s time to send Sarah Faith to school.”
It's not because for her sake, it's for my sake. I justify it. Because I have bills to pay. I just work. Well, it's true. I'm not saying you shouldn't be happy and I'm not saying you should not work to pay your bills. I’m not saying, but the real reason of why I do what I do.
Right. So I think for me, once I realize my child feels loved when I spend time with them. The more I spend time with them, the more they feel loved.
So why is this so important? Especially in the early stage, because when we look at society right now, there's a lot of mental illness issues. I mean, with kids, teenagers and whatnot, I'm not saying this was everything cause this is a complicated issue, but I would say if my child feels loved at an early stage in their lives, that would be a foundation for them. When they go to teenage years, there would be foundation with them when they go to young adults.
Me and Wai Jia, we talk about it though if I don't spend how we're done with now, they may have issues when they grow up. So are we going to spend time with them later or now?
So the question is what I'm gonna choose. I actually spend time with them right now, actually, but honest, now that I'm a stay-at-home dad, I want to spend time with them all for their lives.
I'm not saying that some kind of, they never work and whatnot, you know, I probably work, maybe not this season, and in a way you can say that it's unique as mine because my wife is a doctor, so we can earn just enough for us to take care of both of us and the family.
I understand that if an income is an issue, then that's different. And I'm not saying that everybody should be doing this, but I think for us this works really well. And once I realized that my role as a father is to love them but for them to feel loved.
So how did they feel loved is when they know that I'm spending time with them. How society thinks or prefers goes out the window because why? Because it doesn't really matter to me because I know I'm doing something that is more important than what everybody feels. how the world views of what we're doing doesn't really matter that much. And I think that that's how she helps me go through the day in, day out.
Because when I look at my everyday life, which is really mundane, right? You need nappies, prepare snacks, cleaning up, taking them out was dressing them up. You know, we do mundane things.
I realized that that's actually a lot of value in that because I'm living lives with them and we talk and we laugh and we're fun and we have joy and they feel loved. I think that's, for me, it's a difference of how I feel parenting, how, I feel as a stay-at-home dad, which society may not be lifted up as a per se compared to like I'm a CEO in a startup company, in a tech company. You know, that compared to this no contest.
No one's going to give me a medal or some award for changing society. But in children's eyes, what did they see? They probably want me to be with them, play with them and spending time with them more than, you know, so that's how I see it.
Quin En 36:05
Yeah, well, Cliff, you're almost making me jealous and envious of the opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad, but I think this. But I think what would you say really makes sense. ‘Cause it boils down to where do your priorities truly lie. And I feel like, you also said a lot of times we tell ourselves a narrative that we might not really fully believe in.
I'm sure if we ask anyone out there, people will always say family comes first. But when the reality comes of, let's say someone at the supermarket calls you a stay-at-home parent, especially a stay-at-home dad, like how does that impact you? I think that just reviews where your true priorities are. I think for you, it's very clear that family, your daughters, they are the ones that truly matter.
Like what the other people think the other pretty much unimportant people in your life. It doesn't matter. What matters is your family and being there for them? Wow, I think that's just so refreshing. Basically it's almost like ”walk the walk, talk the talk.”
Cliff Tam 37:01
Thank you. Can I share one more thing? Something that I process a bit more last year by being stay-at-home dad. The question that we have to ask ourselves, what is a role of a man? That is the question, because for a lot of times where the role of man is the, I have to be a provider, I have to be this, I have to be this, I have to work hard for my family.
I say it’s the Asian mindset, but they are huge Asians who strongly believe in that. If that pressure has to deal with like, why like fathers are not as hands-on per se, they show love. And I think maybe part of it is because we feel that if for example, I play with my kids, or my two girls, they're pretending to have a tea party. It's not a manly thing to do.
You know what I'm saying? And so, there are questions, what defines your identity for men is work right? Right. Your career define who you are. Myself too! Easily, triathlon defined who I am. I mean, some hobby or on my work in church defined who I am, that I'm a great Christian minister or great Christian teacher or great whatever and yet when it comes to being a father, it's hard to find that identity because our father would at least what I've learned as a father is different than what I perceive in the beginning before my children was born.
I think that's a huge, I think that's a question that we all have to ask ourselves because society-wise or maybe our own self-projection wise, is that a man must do this, this and that.
I mean, I guess for, for me, the fact that I'm not even earning income and my wife's making income, like “Oh, am I less of a man?”
For me it's so silly, like, so let's say my wife got promotion to make a bit more than a bonus and I make less am I, should I tell him not to take it? Is the house silly? It will go down to how, how far you want to go down to that path? And so, and so I think, I think that's the question that as my other friend who is a stay-at-home dad, he say that this is the elephant in the room that no one wants to answer.
Because it's a hard question because it's assumed that you work hard, you go to the family, you go to the bills. That’s the role of a man. That's it. But a father is never like that. It shouldn't be, that's the only thing. I'm not saying you shouldn't work. I'm just saying that shouldn't, that shouldn't be the only thing to define because you can do that when we're being a father. You can pay bills while being a dad.
But to be a dad, that's a different story. It's a whole new level because you are building into lives of children and this.
Quin En 39:23
Sure. It's a whole different calling. Wow. So Cliff, to wrap up our conversation for today, if there's one lesson you've learned from your entire journey of the past five years being a dad, what would that be?
Cliff Tam 47:30
Wow. I think I learned a lot about, actually, I'm still learning. Maybe that's a better way. I think for us as a family, one thing that I feel like we really value is relationship. And we do that by spending time with one another. That is what we do.
From the outside, you may say that, “Oh Cliff sacrificed,, not working and stay home, looking after the kids,” But the reality, when we look underneath of what we do, how we live our lives between me and Wai Jia, Wai Jia also sacrificed. 'cause for one, she's working part time.
You know, like if she's really want to go into Korea, she would just not look after the kids and let me do the whole thing. And now I don't know. I would go crazy. I don't know, going nuts over there. But she doesn't, at home, she cooks, she prepares for us. She work, she'd look up the kids, give me a break.
So, and she teaches and she look after the kids. I think, I think from, from me as a parent, something that I learned that I can not do this by myself. Ironman, I can muscle my way out of it. As funny as it sounds, I can just push hard and do a hard, super hard and overcome the obstacles, just like, a lot of these inspiring things that you’re just gonna go through the impossible. Go for it and don’t fall into your fear, these ideas. But when it comes to parenting, especially looking after two kids. I realize, I can not do it by myself.
It's just impossible. If Wai Jia is not there supporting me and I support her. it's impossible. And I think that's something that I learned that it's not something that I know it's a feeling that I need help. And for me, it's hard because as a guy, I don't like to ask for help.
I don't know about you. I don’t like to ask for help, I just want to do it on my own. I'll figure it out. But I think, now, in my situation, I’m old to know that it’s not just a feeling. And I think that's one. I think number 2 is that we value relationship and we value spending time together.
So how I have changed, right? So right now, my wife Wai Jia, she's in Africa right now, helping out doing some public health project with UNICEF. And so she's away for 8 weeks actually, two months. Before I say this is impossible, how am I gonna look after the kids for two to two months?
It's crazy. But because I was, just me and my wife was looking at the kids together. I was able to try and sit and now, right before she left, we scheduled a lot of people to help me look after my kids. They, you know, they did, it's like, you know, other ladies who help play with the kids and whatnot.
And I thought I knew all that, not to say I don't need all that. I realized something, for the first two weeks when she was gone, the last two weeks, I realized that my schedule is so packed that I don't even have time to spend time with my kids because we send Sarah Faith to school. So I don't even homeschool her anymore.
So what do I miss? I actually start to miss the time I spend time with them in a whole meaningful way, so I know. I know it's an issue when I started yelling I'm actually saying, “Please go in the car quickly so that we can go to the next appointment.”
When I stopped rushing them to get into the next appointment, something is wrong, it's wrong because I'm not showing them love. I'm showing them impatience. And I'm sure my child shouldn't doesn't like it, they may not know how to express it that they don't like it.
So I realized that, Hey, you know what, why don't I just free up my schedule so I can spend more time with them, which is kind of ironic because I already look at them like 24/7, but I want to spend meaningful time with them.
I want to spend time that I can go to library and read books and don't worry about the schedule. And then we go there. I snack whenever I want to, I to, you know, go out and do some spruce score, do some rockets and launch them out downstairs, but not none of that dangerous one just using a water bottle, you know?
So it's not like, you know, I'm not going to blow stuff up in trouble and stuff, you know, I want to do stuff like that and I can not do that. Why? Because when Sarah Faith goes to school and after the entrance and the other programs, they were so packed, doing stuff like doing, running from one errands to another.
So that's the difference between how I say in my parenting change, because if my idea is just do fill that time up so they can do something, then I just fill the whole day with schedules for them. But now I'm like, I'm actually doing the, almost doing the opposite. I'm like telling people, “Don't come, don't come, don't come, cancel this, cancel the gym class, cancel their music class.”
Why? Because I want to spend the afternoon with them. I want to call them, ride a bike with them. I want to go down to no go and do something together. And I think that's, for me, it's so different. I would never expect that. And tell you that, that the other my two years ago, or three years ago, I'd be like, okay, “How I can schedule every bit so that my kids is actually occupied with something and if possible, me not being there?”
So hands on. That's the solution so that I can be free per se, but now I'm the, let's spend these meaningful time together because I would say that the meaningful time together is so rare. Not when I'm in tours and stuff and really just going to the playground play for like half an hour.
It does happen nowadays so little I think that's a difference between me being a dad, how I have grown in the past five years.
Qin En 44:35
Wow. This is really such an inspiring conversation, Cliff, thank you so much for sharing about these lessons. And as someone who is a working dad, I think you have just really opened my mind and opened my eyes up to a whole different way that we can consider. So yeah, I just really enjoyed his conversation.
Well, it's almost time for our children to wake up. So just as a last question, if some of our parents who are listening to this would love to connect with you, how can they best do so?
Cliff Tam 45:02
Can you just Google me? I mean, I have a website, clifftam.com. Facebook, Instagram. It's not, not hard to contact me if they want to.
Quin En 45:10
Awesome. We'll do that. And I'll put your website in the show notes. Well, Cliff, thank you so much for joining me this early morning to chat. This is once again, really enjoyable and thanks so much for joining me on the show.
Cliff Tam 45:20
Thank you for coming up. I guess that's the, that's the thing as a parent, you'll work around with the children’s stupid schedules. I hope you have a good day as well. Alright. Take care.
Qin En 45:37
Thanks for listening to the Parents in Tech podcast with me, your host Qin En. We hope you were inspired on how to raise kids and built companies to catch up on earlier episodes or stay updated with upcoming ones. Head over to www dot parents dot fm to join our community of parents in tech. There, you can also drop me a question, idea, feedback or suggestion once again, the website it's www.parents.fm.
That's all for this episode, folks. See you next time.