Gurmit Singh has to be one of Singapore’s most loved media personalities.
He is probably best known for playing Phua Chu Kang on the long-running local TV sitcom ‘Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd’, but he also has a glittering list of accolades to his name, including five awards for Best Comedy Actor at the Asian Television Awards.
For the past two decades, Singh has devoted his time and energy to bringing Singaporeans from all walks of life the gift of laughter and joy.
But late last year, Singh decided not to renew his full-time contract with MediaCorp to enjoy two other amazing roles that he’s been blessed with – a loving father to his three gorgeous children and husband to his beautiful wife of 20 years, Melissa Wong.
theAsianparent was privileged to be able to talk to this showbiz veteran about all things related to parenthood and family.
Singapore’s most beloved comedian has inspiring ideas about fatherhood and family life.
Q: Tell us the story behind your decision to leave MediaCorp
A: I joined MediaCorp in 1994 and have been working with them full-time for the past 20 years. I loved the job because of the variety of roles I got to play through both acting and hosting events.
The job paid well and to be honest, for an A level student like me, the pay was more than I had ever imagined when I first started. The thing is, the better I got at what I did, the more jobs I got and with that, more pay.
But all this also meant that I started spending less time with my family – my wife and three kids. As the years went by, I realised that I was slowly but surely losing touch with my family.
I knew that something had to be done and that ‘something was to leave my full-time contract and work part-time instead.
Gurmit and Melissa in Paris, before having children
Q: How do you plan to maintain a work-life balance as you go back to work part-time?
A: I think the fact that I now work part-time means that I have work-life balance already. This is because now I am in control of how much I need to work and I have the freedom to decline certain projects if I see on my calendar that there are more work days than family days.
Of course, this also means I also have to be happy with a lower income. But after talking to my family about this, they said that if a lower income meant more time with me, then they would totally support my decision to go part-time.
Q: If you could turn back time, what are the most significant of your family’s milestones that you would be there for?
A: Ha! It’s a long list but suffice to say I would be there for all the birthdays of my wife and children, as well as wedding anniversaries missed in the course of my career.
Q: What’s the biggest regret you’ve had as a father?
A: I don’t really believe in regrets. Rather, I don’t think anyone should have regrets because I feel they get in the way of one’s journey to move on in life.
Having said that, I do wish I had been bolder to say no to projects (even though working full-time, I didn’t have that privilege) that got in the way of occasions such as the birthdays of my children and wife.
I wish that I had taken the courage to get “in trouble” with management or take a pay cut, just so I was always there for those important dates.
Q: Traditionally, fathers didn’t play as big a role in their kids’ lives as mothers did. But do you think this is now changing? And how?
A: I’m happy to say it’s definitely changing. Even recently when I was at the park with my kids, I saw so many dads (no mums!) with their children.
Fathers are now making the effort to connect with their children because they know it’s something that is essential to family life.
I always joke that if parents don’t love their kids enough by spending time with them, when the parents get old, their children will put them in nursing homes because they never had that family bond.
Singapore Day 2013 in Sydney, with the whole family
Q: What are some of your most beautiful memories of being a dad?
A: It has to be the first time I held each baby as they came to this world, literally just a few seconds after they were born!
My wife and I had a birthing plan and one of the requirements we had was that once the baby was born, the baby was to be given to us to hold and hug and love. Everyone else, nursing staff and all, had to leave the room and give us our privacy and precious moments with our baby.
Q: What difference can a loving dad make in his kids’ lives?
A: I am glad you said “loving dad” as opposed to just “dad”, because there is already a difference between the two, isn’t there?
Just being around the house with your kids just doesn’t do much to nurture them.
But when there is a loving dad around, then the child is cared for, nurtured and guided in ways no textbook or story book can do.
The child also learns mainly by example, and if the dad shows plenty of love, this child will also grow up knowing what love is, how to love and how to show love.
I always say (and my family will vouch for this), if we see a child who is misbehaving, I put the entire blame on the parents! What the child does is a reflection of the parenting methods (or lack of).
The Singh family marking the end of their seven years in a black-and-white house with this photograph
Q: When you were working full-time, what were some of the ways in which you would make up to your family for not being around for significant milestones?
A: I always would make arrangements to travel with my family at least once a year on a long holiday for three weeks or more so I could make up for lost time.
We would go to faraway places with the hope I wouldn’t be recognised and left to our own privacy.
From now on, holidays will be the time when I try to learn from, play and bond with my family, especially my children, as much as I can.
Q: What’s it like being a dad to two teenagers and a toddler?
A: It’s really interesting. When the toddler was born, the teenagers realised what it must have been like for us looking after them when they themselves were babies.
When our youngest child was very small, my teenagers even noticed minute details like how many times she had awakened 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, etc.
I think all these are valuable lessons and training for them when they become parents themselves.
Q: For you, what has been the most challenging part of fatherhood?
A: It has to be the lack of privacy. Because I am a celebrity, it was never easy to just go to places to hang out with my family.
Many times I had to decline taking pictures with the public because if I started with one person, then more would come to take pictures too. Then, where would family time be for me?
Sometimes, I also had to ask the public not to take pictures of my family, especially the kids, for the sake of their privacy and safety.
Q: You have a natural talent of making people laugh on TV. Are you the same when it comes to your family too? What’s the one thing you do to make your wife and kids laugh?
A: A little known fact is that I am not so animated when I am with family and close friends. Yes I can be, but I am not like that all the time with them just because I don’t have to be!
The public has only seen the “laugh a minute” side of me and therefore, expect to see only that side of me. I don’t think there is one thing that makes my family laugh. Maybe there is but I don’t know!
The whole family a little before Christmas 2012, which was also Gurmit and Melissa’s youngest child’s first Christmas
Q: Finally, any words of advice for full-time working dads on how to be “present” in their kids’ lives?
A: This may sound harsh but Dads, you really need to know “how much” is enough.
How much do you need to work? How much do you need to earn? And are you doing all this for the family or deep down inside, are you really doing it for your own gratification?
I recently had dinner with my first-born daughter. Yes just the two of us, a father-daughter date.
I shared with her that all these years, I had told myself that missing all my family’s important milestones and not spending enough time with them was justifiable because I was working hard to earn money to provide for the family.
But now I see that I was just in denial. I wish I had this “light bulb” moment way before and made the necessary changes then.
theAsianparent would like to thank Gurmit Singh for this insightful interview and we wish him and his family many more amazing and loving moments together for many years to come!
You may also read another exclusive theAsianparent interview with Melissa Wong-Virk — Gurmit Singh’s beautiful wife and soulmate.
*All images used in this interview were provided by Gurmit and Melissa.
Any messages of your own for Gurmit Singh and his family? Feel free to post them below in the comment box!
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