A single-parent family in all but name

CHEUNG Kin-bo - Editor in Chief, Ming Pao Daily News (Translated by Mak Yin-ting)

Over the past 20 years or so, I have left home before noon each working day, returning after midnight most of the time. It is the same with others in our industry where the working hours are out of the ordinary, inevitably affecting family life.

How do my children see their father who is a journalist?

I attended a Parents’ Day in my daughter’s primary school and her teacher showed me one painting drawn by her. The picture shows a family of five with the mother preparing breakfast for her three children. The background is a bed where the father is still sleeping. The picture title was “A de facto single parent family”.

That’s no surprise because the father cannot keep company with his children at all meals on weekdays, and the children are asleep when the father gets home at night. When they are awake in the morning, the father is still in bed.

In fact, the odd working hours of a reporter do cause problems with normal family life. As a result, my wife complains that our home is a hotel for me to sleep in. What should I do?

I used the “Triple A” strategy to deal with it.

The first A is for Accept: Everyone in Hong Kong has the freedom to choose one’s career. My major in the university was business management and minor in economics. I had three job offers when I graduated.

Eventually I chose to be a reporter with Commercial Radio. This was the most interesting one but the wage was the lowest. It was a choice made after very careful thought and I was prepared to accept the pain and happiness the job brought.

The second A is to Avoid: In the first decade of my career as a reporter, my wage was lower than my girl-friend’s (now my wife) and the working hours were longer. I refrained from looking at my job in the media industry in a negative light. It is a matter of whether you see a half-filled glass as half full or half empty. Avoiding self-pity or self-censure is very important. Being negative is a bad model for children. I refrain from indulging in such unhelpful, unconstructive and harmful matters.

The third A is to Adapt: Journalistic work has its own characteristics. There is no necessity to change anything. Indeed, its nature cannot be changed. My solution is to adapt to it wholeheartedly. These have been my ways:

(1) Start work early. This is the best assurance of getting the work done. Hence, I prefer to go to office earlier. I try my best to work from Monday to Friday, saving the day off on Saturday to be with my family for hiking, swimming, enjoying the natural environment of Lamma Island, etc.

(2) Because of my work habit, I listen to radio news and watch newspapers as soon as I wake up every day. I subscribed up to seven Chinese and English newspapers before online editions became popular. Under such influence, my eldest son naturally developed the habit of newspaper reading even when he was in primary school.

Occasionally, we discuss social issues. He has an independent mind and loves literature and writing. When he was studying in college, he wanted to do an internship in Ming Pao Daily News as a trainee reporter, without any regard for salary. The aim was to gather experience. I appreciated his self-motivation but recommended him to work for other news outlets so as to avoid working in the same company as his father.

(3) I am interested in social events. When I put concern into action, I would bring along my children, as in participating in demonstrations, such as June 4 protest in 1989, the arrest of Ming Pao reporter Xi Yang in 1993 and the July 1 protest in 2003. These activities should be good for children in raising their concern for society.

(4) I do not have much time to spare for my children. To compensate, I teach them by deeds rather by words. For example, I believe in pursuing democracy but can it be put to practice in a family? My experience tells me that it is worth a try. In 1999, our family was considering where to go for our summer holidays. I suggested Beijing so that the children could learn more about their country. But two out of my three children said: “Go to Tokyo, not to Beijing.” The youngest son and my wife had no preference. That meant the votes cast was 2 to 1 and so we went to Tokyo. We were preparing for summer holidays again a year later. This time my eldest son suggested going to Beijing and I seconded it. All other family members were in favour.

How nice it was!