During the period 1997 -2009 I was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia working for an international development finance organisation.
I have three children: two sons and a daughter as the youngest child. The whole family followed me to Jeddah, except my eldest son who stayed back in Malaysia to attend boarding school. He would join us in Jeddah during the long school holidays.
As a family I tried to engage the children with their interests. It may be books that they read, DIY projects including fixing furnitures and tinkering with computers, and even getting involved with their computer games. These were some of the ways to maintain positive communication with them.
When the children were growing up we always had our family meal at the kitchen dining table, while the family was in Jeddah and also here in the family home in Kuala Lumpur. Whenever the family was together, including at meal times, I always encouraged them to share their ideas and engage in a positive discussion. This was one of my parenting technique to keep them in positive and friendly communication among themselves. Topics would depend on their level of knowledge. Over time discussions became more lively as the children grew up and learned more things. During such session information was shared and ‘crazy’ out-of-the-box ideas were tolerated. My daughter called it ‘education talk’ time because it often centred on education and knowledge. The family always prides itself in this.
Are we rich?
My daughter attended the British International School in Jeddah. It was a private school and the students were almost wholly children of expatriates living in Jeddah.
On one occasion she, who was then in her early teens, asked me a difficult question: “Are we rich?” Apparently, she was asked the question by one of her schoolmates at school. I had to give a response. It was a tricky situation for me. To say “yes” would be untrue, but to say “no” would be unacceptable to her friends. So I explained to my daughter in a slightly philosophical way. I said: “Our family is rich. We do not have a lot of money to throw around, but we are always rich in ideas”. It was no doubt a bit difficult for her to understand it fully at that age, but to my mind this was a fitting reply for her friends, who measured richness mainly in terms of big houses, flashy cars and frequent holiday trips overseas. We had little of those. My children knew this.
Freedom of Thought.
I always encouraged my children to think for themselves from an early age. Even on the occasional games of chess with my sons, I would deliberately depart from the traditional textbook openings just to put their mind into serious thinking mode early in the game. They would have to think harder for a solution!
I always emphasised to my children that our mind should always open up for new ideas. Subject to the laws of God, we should open up our mind wide, think out-of-the box, and entertain remote possibilities of overcoming challenges. In other words our mind should cross all frontiers. This is where we are rich.
The tradition of freedom of thought and tolerance of crazy ideas and opinions had been a family hallmark. It covered politics, economics and contemporary issues. Of course I needed a lot of patience to absorb this. Religious issues were allowed but often subject to serious restraints by me. Democracy and freedom of thought stopped there. I always reminded my children of the golden rule, that God is always right.
The Family Emblem.
One day, when the family was back here in Kuala Lumpur, my second son suggested that we should immortalize this family tradition of freedom of thought. It is something that could be handed down generation to generation. It sounded a good idea to me then. I do not have much material wealth to distribute. But this would be a legacy to preserve. Thus the idea of a family emblem came up. We agreed on the parameters. We designed the emblem with the help of a graphic designer, incorporating all the family values.
The family emblem was created!
The emblem shows padi grains at the sides. In the centre are three arrows pointing upward, criss-crossing in the centre.
In the Malay world padi grains denote prosperity and all that is good. We coloured them green as the padi have not ripened. This denotes that the prosperity sought is on-going, and thus effort must be continuous. The three arrows in the centre represent my three children. The arrows are shot into the air and so they point upward. This means that all my three children are released to the world and will strive to overcome all challenges that they face. They will cross all frontiers!
The three arrows criss-cross in the centre, meaning that in their journeys in life they will always be guided by a common factor, denoting parental guidance and wisdom.
The family motto in Malay at the base of the emblem states “Merentasi Sempadan” meaning “Crossing Frontiers”.