The dadcraft Life: How Ray Chung balances duty and delight in his role as a dad.
Tell us about your family.
I’m married to Heather. We have two kids–Micah (6) and Delia (3). I’m in the trenches right now.
What’s surprised you about fathering?
Before kids, I’ve never thought of being a dad. I don’t know why, but it never really crossed my mind. It wasn’t something I expected or craved. It could be that because of my own childhood, I was really nervous and anxious about not wanting to mess up. Perhaps, I was worried I would be a horrible dad. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t have fretted so much.
But now I consider being a parent one of the sweetest things on earth. It’s a glimpse of heaven.
There were a number of mentor-like figures who really took the time and invested in me early on. Those mentors were instrumental in the early stages of fatherhood.
You’re someone who always exhibits intentionality in how you approach life. How do you “set goals” for your fathering?
In risking being an “Asian Tiger Dad”, one thing a mentor shared with me that was incredibly helpful is the concept and balance of duty and delight. There is part of fathering that is duty. As an example, you come home from a long day of work, mentally spent, physically exhausted and hungry. Then, thrown into a hostage-like negotiation “For the third time…brush your teeth, NOW! You have two minutes to surrender…I mean, to get to bed.” It can be hard but that’s the duty side.
However, it’s important to recognize the side of delight. With delight, it generally happens organically and effortlessly. It’s fun. It’s moments like when my three-year-old girl comes right up to your face and whispers in the most gentle and sweet voice “Daddy, will you snuggle with me for three minutes?” There needs to be intentionality in the duty aspect of parenting, but savor and cultivate those moments of delight. Because I’m hopelessly forgetful, I keep a list in Evernote of things that my kids enjoy.
Say more about fatherhood as a duty.
I think about the quote from Meg Meeker in Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, who sums it up:
Think about the kind of dad you want to be. Sure, it will take hard work. But love isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about doing what you don’t want to do, over and over again, if it needs to be done, for the sake of someone else. Love is really about self-sacrifice.
This could look like stepping up and helping with chores around the house, reminding my son for the 100th time that he needs to be responsible for his actions, or telling my daughter that no matter how much she loves Doritos, she needs to eat something else for breakfast.
I should add that Heather and I are currently working on a set of Chung family values that we’d like to share with the kids soon. Here’s one of it: “Chungs take responsibility for our actions. We don’t blame others for our choices.”
We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?
I believe the best gift I can give to my kids is to love their mom well. I’ve really been thinking about that more. For example, when Heather and I are talking, we would explain to the kids that they need to wait and not interrupt. It’s one way to teach them that our marriage comes first.
This has really strengthened my relationship with Heather. Fathering two little munchkins have given me plenty of opportunities to practice how to not be selfish but try to value my wife and place her interests before mine – easier said than done, and I’m most definitely still a work-in-progress.
We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?
Helping my kids to think differently and challenge conventional thinking. For example, most people would regard that rainy days are bad. And, that you can’t play outside when it’s raining. My question is, why? And, I want my kids to ask that question too. Okay, stay clear when it’s thundering and lightning. However, when it’s just raining, my wife and I would encourage our kids to go outside and play. Run around in the rain. Jump in the puddles.
We traveled to Malaysia and the kids wanted to know why so many people were on motorcycles, about the different types of food, and just had great questions about the culture there. Seeing those lightbulb moments in my kids is really fantastic.
We always ask: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your father?
The word “overcome” comes to mind.
My dad had to overcome many challenges in his life. Coming from a very humble beginning, he was able to build a thriving and successful business that provided for us as a family and for the livelihood of many who he had employed over the years. Not only did he put all three of us kids through university, earlier on, he also financially supported for a number of his siblings’ education.
Despite naysayers who would either look down on him or didn’t believe in him, my dad always maintained a kind spirit and showed generosity to anyone and everyone. I’m particularly proud of the many ways that my dad have been able to take strides toward improving relationships by overcoming relational setbacks.
We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
I’d asked my kids this question and they said, “Home Depot trips.” For many Americans, home improvement projects a fairly normal undertaking. I didn’t grow up working with my hands. “I’m not very handy” is an understatement. I chuckled when my kids said “Home Depot trips” were their favorite activity with me, because as insecure and inadequate as I am with my home improvement abilities, I am grateful that our working together in building fire trucks has become one of those moments of delight for us. So we’ll continue to do more of it.
Also, we have a Spotify Friday night dance playlist. Really silly songs we dance to as a family.
Postscript: We love gleaning wisdom from other dads via interviews.