Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lee Kuan Yew as a role model rational, family man

Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) is known to the world as a great statesman with brilliant insights and widely credited to be the man who turned Singapore from Third World to First in his lifetime. Ordinary mortals like me cannot aspire to that kind of near-impossible achievement. However, as a role model, there are certain attributes of him which all of us can copy with some hopes of success. Mr Lee Kuan Yew will always be known to me as a wonderful husband. In his choice of wife, he has demonstrated himself to be the epitome of rationality. These are behavioral traits all Singaporean men can aspire to and hopefully achieve.

I do not earn my bread from the government and do not get any benefits for singing their song. Besides, nobody really knows who I am. The purpose of this post is to describe certain behavioral traits of a role model that can be emulated by all of us regardless of class and intelligence. My intended audience are my sons who will be able to read it a decade later.

I would like to dedicate this post to two past and present Prime Ministers of Singapore and the extraordinary woman who gave us those two Prime Ministers.

  • LKY remained faithful to his wife. Not a single mistress.

When the Jack Neo sex scandal broke loose, one of our MPs commented that a man who has a good career development would find such scenarios unavoidable. How many can claim to have a more successful career than LKY? He never took a mistress in his life.

LKY had many enemies. It is inevitable that a tough leader who bulldozes unpopular policies will make several enemies because those policies, even if effective ultimately, will create many losers along the way. These losers will hate him no matter what. Being a reader of alternative news media, I have encountered plenty of vile comments about him on internet forums by anonymous haters. Yet, LKY was so clean on this aspect of his life that never a single hate comment ever hinted that he had affairs outside the marriage. If it were true, his enemies would have seized upon such news to destroy him. These kind of rumors are the hardest to suppress because they make the best fodder for gossip. It is impossible to shut people's mouths on such topics because they are so juicy. Nothing destroys a politician faster and more thoroughly than juicy news like sex. The deafening silence of such rumors about LKY is solid evidence of his faithfulness to his wife. The absence of such rumors apply to his son, our present PM, as well.

LKY became the Prime Minister of Singapore at the age of 36. At 36, one is still sexually vigorous and easily tempted ( I am fully aware as I am only slightly younger than 36). Despite attaining power at such a young age, he never abused his power and stayed true to his woman. If you have a copy of his auto-biography, the photos showed him as a tall and handsome man in his young days. With such physical characteristics, temptations may even come his way without him seeking it. Unlike the successful men throughout history who have indulged in womanizing, LKY remained a one-woman man.

It is no big deal for a middle-class income boring engineer like me to stay faithful to his wife, but it is a big deal for highly successful men to stay clean. Although I have been a faithful man to my wife, I cannot claim to stand on moral high ground because I am devoid of such temptations due to my lackluster career achievements as an engineer. Should I become rich and successful one day, I cannot guarantee that I can resist such temptations. To be honest, I cannot even guarantee that I would not seek out such temptations. LKY is a good role model to remind potential cheaters like me to stay steadfast to our wives. If a more powerful and more handsome man exposed to more temptations could do it, I should be ashamed of myself if I failed.

This tradition started by the first Prime Minister of Singapore should be made into an iron-clad rule to be followed by future Prime Ministers. If a politician can cheat the woman he claims to love, then what more for strangers like the voters whom he is elected to represent? For practical reasons, I am not sure if this rule should be extended to the Ministers for fear that the country may run out of Ministers. I think a country headed by men who stay true to their women will have a better chance of staying corruption-free.

  • Highly rational in his choice of wife and approach to life
In a speech to university students, LKY said "You either have the Western view: You marry the woman you love. Or the Eastern view: You love the woman you marry. I tried to match both and I think it wasn’t a bad choice." When young men follow the first view to marry the woman they love, they usually end up marrying the woman they lust. I would like to boast on matters relating to women, I am a rational man who acts from the head. Unfortunately, this boast collapses the moment a stunning lady comes along whereupon blood flows from the head straight down to the groin. Most young men made their choices of girlfriends/wives not from the head but from the groin but very few admit it. 

LKY certainly acted from his head in his choice of wife. Mrs Lee caught his attention when she beat him in English and economics in school. A man who is used to winning will probably be furious at being beaten by a woman. He gave new meaning to the phrase "If you can't beat them, join them". He married the victor. 

His choice of wife was unusual in Asian society. Asian men preferred to marry down and not up. Asian men preferred younger women. LKY defied both conventions and married a smarter, older woman. (I think since women generally have a longer lifespan, society will be better off if more men marry older women so that neither party will be lonely for too long in the last years of their lives.)

Mrs Lee yielded numerous advantages to the husband. His political opponents did not enjoy the same edge as he did in having a brilliant adviser behind the scenes. By providing insurance for his risky job, the capable wife who can look after the family independently gave him a psychological advantage over his enemies who have to worry constantly about their own family. Mrs Lee was frugal and therefore careful with the family's finances. No wonder LKY dared to share a joint account with her. As co-manufacturer and nurturer of the next generation, Mrs Lee gave Singapore a Prime Minister, a business leader and a skillful neuro doctor. I think Dr Lee Wai Ling is skillful because I had a relative who was so pleased with Dr Lee's treatment of her little girl that she said she will vote for PAP as long as she lives. (Wonder why the linkage?). 

LKY was very rational in his choice of wife. It is not hard to see that his choice was made on good calculations. As usual, he had his way and got the better part of the deal. I am not sure if Mrs Lee realized her husband's political ambitions when she agreed to marry him. If she did, I have to thank her for the sacrifice made.

LKY was a very risky man to marry. During his time, politics was a very dangerous career. If he had lost to the communists, he could have lost his freedom and be thrown in jail. Even if he won, he still faced the constant risk of assassination. It is also uncertain whether the political opponents would fix the family after fixing the man. The risk of becoming a single mother burdened with the responsibilities of bringing up the children alone in treacherous conditions is not low. On top of that, a politician's wife has to give up her social privacy. Which woman, after careful consideration, would want to marry such a man? It is no exaggeration when LKY said that he would have been a different man had he married a different woman. In fact, the country might have been a different country had he married a different woman. Thank you, Mrs Lee for the courage and sacrifice to marry LKY. It was a pity that Mrs Lee kept a low profile to avoid out-staging her husband. There are few collections of her speeches and writings. We are not able to benefit from her wisdom.

Mr Lee's rational approach to life is a trait worth emulated by Singaporeans. A rational person will not have bad habits like visiting the casino (with the odds always against you, why play to lose?), smoking (why spend on expensive cigarettes to harm yourself and family?) and womanizing (why risk losing your beloved family and a substantial portion of your financial assets for a moment's pleasure?)

Rationality is one trait I would encourage my sons to cultivate, especially in their choice of wives. If they marry the wrong woman, I will lose them and the family will be ruined.

  • A loving husband
Before marriage, cold calculations were made in his choice of wife. After marriage, LKY loved and took care of his wife come what may. Read the eulogies for Mrs Lee and appreciate how LKY took personal care of his wife after she had a stroke. He did not take the easy way out and leave this burdensome task to the nurses and maids. He really loved the woman he married.

It is amazing how a man who has been taken care of in almost his entire lifetime by women (first his mother, then his wife) reversed role to take care of his wife at the age of 80!! Even more amazing was that the quality of care given was so good that Mrs Lee preferred her husband's care to that of the doctors' (as mentioned in one of Dr Lee Wei Ling's letters). Her granddaughter thought that the late grandmother was secretly happy to be taken care of. In her final days, LKY would read her favorite poems at night. He talked to her but she cannot talk back. It was very sad. He persevered to her last days.

As a husband, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has set a very high bar for men to follow. He puts to shame the men who cheated on their wives for prettier, younger women. He puts to shame people like me who may be too selfish to render the same degree of care to my wife should she meet with the same fate as Mrs Lee. 

If Singaporean men were to use him as a role model husband, our society would be strengthened.

Latest update: Lee Kuan Yew died on 23 March 2015. Before he died, he left a note to his children.
For reasons of sentiment, I would like part of my ashes to be mixed up with Mama’s, and both her ashes and mine put side by side in the columbarium. We were joined in life and I would like our ashes to be joined after this life.