By Howard Lee
“If it had been our son, would you have bailed him out?”
As the better known disciplinarian in the family, the “behave-or-daddy-will-scold” daddy, my own mother would have been prepared to scream at me for leaving her grandson in prison.
As it was, my hypothetical choice would have been to bail him out. I have never believed that the state has any right to discipline a child, much less my own. As parents, we owe it to our children to impart on then the values we deem right, even if it means a lot of coaxing, vexing, punishment and exasperation.
What they do as adults is beyond our control, but it never stops us from being parents, as much as they would resent it.
Which is why, despite all the unnecessary attention on Amos Yee, my heart and mind invariably went to Mr and Mrs Yee. And I am sure I am not the only parent to do so.
How many parents among us would have felt the same anxiety and stress, if we were in their shoes? To have your child hauled up in court and the public eye, put in prison, called names, issued vile threats, physically assaulted… all the time embarrassed beyond words, angry for what he has done, yet loving him none the less. Would we have been as conflicted, having to choose between his well-being and how society would see us?
Yet we have a mainstream media that felt no remorse in painting them as having given up on him, allowed him to lose his faith, left him to his own devices, caved in to his liberties, filed a police report against him, left him in prison… Barely any of this is truth, and hardly any of it sufficient grounds for us to decide on what kind of parents they are.
Faced with this media circus, they are left at the mercy of society’s judgement, even as their son faces a judicial one. While we heap praise or vulgarities on Amos Yee, we clean forgot to notice them for who they are: Parents who love their child no less than anyone of us would have our own, even in ways we might not agree with.
They do not deserve this judgement, and they definitely do not deserve Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Grace Fu casting snide remarks on their parenting efforts, calling it a “nightmare”.
It is even more unjust when the basis of that judgement rests on the standards of a minority of Lee Kuan Yew worshippers, who have nothing better to do in their free time than to take offence with a potty-mouth teenage who has problems stitching together an argument to even be a threat to our good senses, much less a threat to our so-called “social fabric”.
As it is, it had been a trying few weeks for the Yees, and in the hullabaloo, we forgot that Mr and Mrs Yee are really no different from us: Parents having to face the pressures of modernity, while raising a child at the same time. Our exact experiences might be different, but the pressure is no less real.
Perhaps Ms Fu has had a very different child-raising experience, or her children are really pink-haloed angels, but I’d cast my lot with the Yees. It is a struggle, having to get back from work each day, rushing through night routines, squeezing whatever time we can spend with our children, pick up and repeat the next morning; and wondering if, at the end of the day, we have raised them right.
To think that it can be any other way is to be completely out of touch with what modern parenting is about. To make any suggestion that the Yees have failed as parents is just hubris and plying on unnecessary shame and guilt on a couple who clearly already have had their fair share of shame and guilt the past few weeks.
No, raising a child is not a dream, but it makes us no less committed to it. The best that society and snooty political leaders can do is to get off their moral high horses and stop judging the work of the parents through the actions of their children. Judging does not make it better – not that we have a right to judge, anyway.
Perhaps they could have guided their child better, perhaps they could have taught him how to be polite, perhaps they should have trained him to praise political leaders for their unkind remarks, perhaps… But who are we to say how they could have done a better job?
For the strife they have been through, Mr and Mrs Yee have my respect. They have done what they could as parents given their circumstances, for better or worse. We need to trust their primacy as Amos’ parents, and give them the space they need. They are not perfect, but neither are we, and much less the Second Minister for Foreign Affairs.