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Dear Mum and Dad,

You know, I’ve never really thanked the both of you for bringing me up. Many grown-up children would give a tear-filled thank-you speech when they get married, but since we didn’t have a banquet, I didn’t get a chance to say my thank-yous. (And I probably would not have done it, anyway; it’s just a bit too public for me.)

So I want to thank you now, not just for raising me as any parent would do, but especially for bringing me up the way you did.

I could thank you for the “usual” things—providing and caring for me, and making sure that I had a good education. But I think you did something that was even more precious: you gave me a stable home and childhood, so that I always felt secure and loved no matter what.

I’m sure it was tough, given what had happened in those years. Like when Dad was retrenched and we had to sell the car for $500. Or when the home loan meant that we couldn’t go out and eat, save for the very rare special occasion.

It was tough also because both of you often disagreed on how to raise me up (Mum, I know you were often angry with Dad for pampering me!). And the both of you also had to struggle with your own imperfections and inadequacies.

Yet you did your best, and I’d like to think that whatever I am today is a testament to your parenting efforts. I’m certainly far from perfect, but I believe one of my most significant strengths is a secure identity—the biggest gift you’ve given me as your child.

I don’t know if you realise it yourselves, but that stability came from . . .

. . . Teaching me about God

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.
—Deuteronomy 6:6–7

I know that both of you were not exactly close to God yourselves. You went to church as a matter of habit, and you didn’t know a lot about God’s Word and ways. You didn’t even send me to Sunday school.

But whatever you knew, you tried to impart it to me. You taught me the simplest of prayers: put your hands together, and just ask God for help. You tried to explain to me who Jesus is, and didn’t dismiss me when I asked difficult or silly questions. You taught me what was morally right.

I’m sure there were other parents who were far more familiar with God’s Word and who had stronger faith. You must have felt inadequate at times yourself. Yet the smallest of things you did in line with Deuteronomy 6:6–7 were planted deep within me. And I believe it’s because God took what little faith you had, and multiplied it many times.

. . . Being real about yourselves and life

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
—Proverbs 22:6

Some parents may try to keep unpalatable facts from their kids, believing that “you won’t understand, you’re too young”. But Mum, you never hid the raw facts of life’s challenges from me. I knew when Dad was retrenched. I knew when we were short on money. I knew how worried you were when Dad was diagnosed with cancer. And I knew when your bosses treated you unfairly.

You didn’t try to pretend life was perfect, and you didn’t try to pretend you were, either. You didn’t try to be a hero to me, nor to pretend that you knew everything and had an answer for everything. Instead, the both of you always presented yourselves as real adults, struggling with your own imperfections and with life’s challenges.

I remember both of you once argued over whether I should pray to God to take away my stomach ache. One of you felt we could go to God for anything, and the other felt we shouldn’t “bother” God with these tiny details. Strangely, it made me respect you all the more, for your honesty in being uncertain, and being willing to question your own beliefs.

Perhaps all these have made me a little more cynical than the average person! But in not sheltering me from life’s vicissitudes, you ensured that I didn’t enter adulthood with a rude shock. Instead, I grew up being aware of many realities of life, which helped me deal with them better.

The both of you always presented yourselves as real adults—struggling with your own imperfections and with life’s challenges.

While Proverbs 22:6 is used in the context of raising a child up in the way of the Lord, I believe it could apply to much of the lessons of reality: you didn’t just try to teach me about Christian and moral values, but you also taught me a lot about life.

. . . Leading by example

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
—1 Peter 5:2–3

You’ve always led by example in being moral and upright, as far as you could. You never told me to do what you yourself didn’t do. And whenever you failed, you were ready to admit it.

There were times when you lost your temper with me and with each other. But you would apologise and admit that you had not acted rightly. You didn’t try to cover up your failings and insist that “Mum or Dad is always right”. Instead, you showed me that there was such a thing as right and wrong, and it was absolute.

You not only admitted your own mistakes, but one another’s—“Mum was wrong to do that” or “Dad shouldn’t have done this”—not behind each other’s backs, but openly and with one other’s agreement. This taught me about humility, and the trust and openness that you shared as husband and wife.

You never told me to do what you yourself didn’t do. And whenever you failed, you were ready to admit it.

The way you behaved, even when you failed, only made me trust in you more, because I could see that you didn’t twist truth to suit you or to bolster your standing with me. That, I believe, gave me a firm foundation for my moral beliefs and values. It taught me to discern what was right and wrong objectively, and later, to understand Christian concepts of righteousness and law.

. . . Being encouraging—but not overly so

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
—Colossians 3:21 ESV

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace.
—Proverbs 29:17

I know of parents who have vowed never to say a negative word to their kids, in fear of discouraging them. So if their kids do something silly, they will say, “That’s not very clever.” As a result, some of these children have grown up with just a little too much confidence, with obvious consequences when things do not go their way.

On the other hand, I have also known friends who had very discouraging parents, such as one who simply laughed at him when he failed a test. That just seemed cruel.

Which is why, Mum and Dad, I appreciate you all the more for being encouraging at the right times, and not pulling your punches when the time called for it. You acknowledged my efforts when I did my best but failed, and also told me straight off when I was “lazy” or “disobedient”, or did something “stupid” or “silly”—and you weren’t afraid to use those words!

You were honest in telling me when I was naturally not good at something, so I didn’t grow up with an inflated ego. But you were equally encouraging when you felt I could do something better, if only I put more effort into it.

I’m sure it’s not easy for parents to strike a healthy balance between the two extremes. But I believe you tried to be wise in focusing on the attitude and heart behind my actions, rather than on the outcome—which reflects how God our Father sees us, too.

. . . Giving me the security of love

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
—1 John 3:1

Finally, if I had to narrow down your greatest gift to me as parents, I would say it’s this: security.

Throughout my life, I’ve never doubted that you loved me. Even when you were at your angriest with me—like the time, Mum, when you didn’t speak to me for a week after I said something hurtful to you—I knew you still loved me.

From my childhood till now, I knew I was the apple of your eye. Not because of what I had or had not done, but simply because of whom I was—your child. Your love was unconditional, and you showed it through not just the hugs and kisses, but even more importantly, through the many assurances and your quiet willingness to sacrifice your comfort for me when it really mattered.

At the same time, both of you didn’t smother me with love. You didn’t spoil me (despite a natural temptation to!). Instead, you explained to me what your parenting responsibilities were and where they ended, so I knew where I could rely fully on you, and where I needed to find my own way in life.

And, you were equally open in telling me what my responsibilities were to you: this clarity gave me great stability and confidence, because I knew what I needed to do for you when I grew up and what I didn’t. There were no unsaid expectations and rules, because ultimately, you knew it was the heart that mattered.

From my childhood till now, I knew I was the apple of your eye. Not because of what I had or hadn’t done, but simply because of who I was—your child.

Perhaps you didn’t realise it, but you were mirroring how God loves us all. His love for us is not based on what we do or don’t do (thankfully), nor on His emotions. It’s based on who He is—our divine parent—and who we are—His child. And that gives us the greatest hope and certainty in life.

Because of how the both of you taught me about God, led by example (even when you did wrong), encouraged me in just the right amount, and gave me the security of your love, I am who I am today, by God’s grace.

So thank you, Mum and Dad, for bringing me up, and for reflecting God’s love to me all these years.

Your loving son always,

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