Letting Go

AUL HENG writes from the heart about learning to let go of his only daughter – now that she’s found the man of her dreams.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

AUL HENG writes from the heart about learning to let go of his only daughter – now that she’s found the man of her dreams.

My Reading Room

I have always had a soft spot for girls. My daughter Charmaine, born 18 months after her brother Shaun, quickly became her Daddy’s girl, and I, her knight in shining armour. Somewhere along the way, I began calling her “darling”. When my children were growing up, my wife Jane was the bad cop and I, the good cop.

She would be the one to wield the cane, and I would be the one to swoop in to Charmaine’s rescue after she got a scolding. As a father, it is natural to want to protect my daughter – and to feel that I’m the most qualified man to do this.

The notion has continued to this day, and even though she is an adult now. The idea that someone else would take over this role never crossed my mind. And then, Ng Hong Kin came into the picture.


They were classmates in Victoria Junior College and, as far as I knew, not an item. Then, just weeks before Hong Kin left for the UK on a study scholarship, Charmaine told us they were together. Of course, I had mixed feelings about this. Couldn’t they have started earlier? Why when Hong Kin was leaving for his studies?

London and Singapore were not exactly a short flight away. A long-distance relationship is hard and it takes a miracle to work. But they coped – for four long years. The strategy: A mix of her flying to London to visit Hong Kin in Cambridge, him coming home during study breaks, and numerous Skype sessions in those pre- Whatsapp days.


I recall fondly an amusing incident that helped us get to know Hong Kin better. Charmaine and her friends had planned a birthday surprise for him. The plan required them to show up at his home unannounced. To their disappointment, they could not stay for long as he was studying for exams.

This gave us an insight into the kind of wonderful upbringing Hong Kin had – doing well in his exams was more important than celebrating his birthday. He had good values and an ability to prioritise – essential ingredients for any suitor worthy of my daughter.


The journey leading to their marriage registration in November 2014 started with a boo-boo in December the year before. A zealously guarded secret at that time, Hong Kin had arranged to meet Jane and me for dinner, so he could officially ask for Charmaine’s hand in marriage.

“What a sweet thing for a young man to do, and such uncommon behaviour these days,” I thought. By then, we had come to know Hong Kin better – and know that he would make a good choice for our beloved daughter. We felt positive about him. We gave him our blessing, of course.

And over dinner, Hong Kin shared his game plan: He was going to pop the question during the couple’s forthcoming break in Hainan Island, China. On hindsight, Hong Kin could not have known that we would approve of their marriage. What if we had said no?

Or if we had said: “Maybe w cross N picture CHAR HON class a Th Ki scholars co feeling Cost you both should take more time to get to know each other in order to be even more sure.” I guess he was confident that we wouldn’t object – and that’s another thing I like about this young man.


Charmaine is a perceptive and smart young woman. During dinner with her a couple of days later, I think she smelled a rat. She told us: “Oh, I am looking forward to the break. I wonder if I need to bring a towel along as I don’t know which hotel Hong Kin has booked us into. He said he wanted to surprise me.”

Without thinking, I responded: “No need, Anantara is a five-star resort. I am very sure they will have plenty of nice towels.” You should have seen the look on Jane’s face after I accidentally let this slip. Like most of their friends,

Hong Kin and Charmaine were prudent when it came to the airlines and resorts they chose as they preferred to spend their hard-earned money on shopping and eating. I’m sure the following thought raced through Charmaine’s mind then: “Hong Kin is booking a super nice hotel? I am sure something is cooking…”


When they left on their break, we found it difficult to suppress our anxiety in the ensuing days. “How, when and where would Hong Kin propose? Which of his friends would be hiding nearby to video the entire episode? What touching speech would he deliver? How would Charmaine react? Would she shed tears of happiness? When would we know the outcome?” We had so many questions, but zero answers.

Then, the Saturday they were away, we were heading out to dinner when Jane’s phone rang. It was Charmaine. And she was screaming joyfully: “He proposed leh, he proposed leh. I accepted!” Or words to that effect anyway. Who can remember what exactly was said during such a supercharged, once-in-a-lifetime moment? “Happy” would be too mild a word to describe our feelings. Hong Kin’s plan had gone smoothly and we were both elated.

A LIE...

Okay – I lied. I still had mixed feelings. I had been a doting Papa to Charmaine since she was born, and I had spoilt her rotten. Much as I was truly happy for the couple, the reality hit me the way a cockroach might feel when a car runs over it – completely crushed.

Charmaine accepting Hong Kin’s proposal meant that after 26 years of living under my roof, my daughter was going to leave me to live with another man. Another man! To be honest, it was challenging. How would I cope with not having her home every day? How was I going to protect her from harm? I still wanted so much to be there for her; to tackle and solve her every problem – and every day of her life.

You see, both of us had been inseparable – or at least, I felt so. I wanted to be her knight in shining armour forever. Let me assure you that I’m not sick in the head. I behave in the exact same manner with Jane. I believe that one of my key purposes in life is to take care of my loved ones. So, who’s to tell me I’m overstepping my boundaries?

My Reading Room

Slightly over a year post-ROM, Dec 19, 2015 was the day of the wedding lunch. I had asked the couple for two things: To be the one to walk the bride into the reception room and officially hand my daughter over to Hong Kin, and for some air time to publicly share my feelings.

It was a strategic move on my part. I’d told everyone I was speaking off the cuff, but I’d actually memorised the three points I wanted to make: that Jane and I love Charmaine very much, that we were confident Hong Kin would take the best care of her, and that both of them should try to have petty quarrels once in a while.

When I said this last bit, the audience burst out laughing. But I was dead serious. If they bother to quarrel, it means they still care for each other and their marriage. What signals the beginning of the end is when one or both parties don’t bother to fight and defend what’s right.

I think I made a good, sensible speech, and much to my credit, I did not shed a single tear. This was quite unlike me as my family knows I am an emotional bloke and my tears flow easily. Did the symbolic act of walking Charmaine in and handing her over to Hong Kin signify the completion of my parental duties? Not really. As far as I am concerned, a father’s responsibilities never end. It is difficult to let go.

My Reading Room

And, while I was able to hold myself together for my speech, I could not contain my emotions when Charmaine made her thank you speech. She looked at me and said: “Papa, you will always have the most special place in my heart because a father’s love can never be replaced.”

Months later, I am coping well with Charmaine being Mrs Ng. Credit must go to my daughter and son-in-law, who consciously set aside time to have dinner with Jane and me regularly. Every so often, we see a good movie and take short family vacations together, too. These get-togethers have contributed significantly to my ability to manage well. Key lesson learnt? It’s alright to love and protect your daughter forever – and still be happy with the fact that she is living with another man.

“After 26 years of living under my roof, my daughter was going to leave me to live with another man.”