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My unflappable father

OCT 21, 1978: Mr Lee and Mrs Lee with daughter Wei Ling, then 23, after she received her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery with honours, along with five prizes at the University of Singapore convocation. She topped her medical class of 1978.


    Mar 25, 2015

    My unflappable father

    MY PARENTS and I were in hospital waiting for my father to have a stent put in, but none of us said a word.

    It was not because of an unspoken tension over the state of his health - we were all too busy working.

    There my father sat on his hospital bed huddled over his laptop with my mother, who was checking his draft, while I, too, had a computer on my lap.

    As I watched the three of us in the room, it occurred to me that any passer-by would get no sense at all that my father would soon be going for an angioplasty.

    Yes, my father was a workaholic, and as a 73-year-old holding the post of senior minister in 1996, he did not see his impending surgery as reason enough to stop working.

    But the episode also showed me how my father stoically approached the challenges before him without a hint of emotion or anxiety. He was unflappable.

    He found that it was never helpful to panic, because doing so would never positively affect the outcome of any situation.

    I believe these were the steely qualities that took him through his 31 tumultuous years as prime minister, but they may not always work as well at home.

    In my family, I am most like my father in temperament, and when you have two strong-willed people in one house, it can get difficult to control.

    Occasionally, we would get into fights when neither of us would back down.

    In 2002, one such disagreement resulted in my moving out of our Oxley Road home.

    My father wanted me, an exercise fiend, to stop working out because my bones had become so fragile that I suffered repeated fractures.

    He called me into his study and gave me an ultimatum.

    "The doctors told me you could cripple yourself with the exercise. As long as you are staying in this house, I've to look after your welfare," he said.

    Not wanting to give up my exercise, I decided to move out to live with my brother Lee Hsien Loong.

    It was probably not the response my father had anticipated, but he realised then that I was a 47-year-old adult who was going to make up my own mind on things.

    The next year, when I told my father I was going to hike a volcanic crater in Hawaii immediately after I was discharged from hospital, he gave a very different response.

    "Be careful."

    He said nothing more.


    The writer is Mr Lee Kuan Yew's only daughter and is with the National Neuroscience Institute.