My father is a metrosexual-come-lately - all thanks to his mid-life crisis.
On the rare days that I hang out with Dad, I anticipate the question he would ask without fail. It’s not about school or work, or even about me. It's about his appearance. While pointing to his latest designer threads, my father would ask: “Yan dao, or not?” "Yan dao" means "a handsome guy" in Hokkien parlance.
When he was rapidly approaching his 50s, my father realised one day that his belly was protruding more each year and his hair getting thinner. Cue the gym memberships, diets and hair growth treatments.
Now 54, my dad is an avid gym-goer. He exercises and drinks protein shakes almost every day. Although his belly is getting flatter, his goal of getting a six-pack is still far off. As for his receding hairline, he has given up all hopes on resurrecting it and has resorted to wearing caps to hide it instead.
He has also become quite the fashionista. He considers Tod’s leather loafers as his favourite shoes. Skinny jeans has become a wardrobe staple. His clothes alone take up two cabinets, which is more space than my mother or me have for our own wardrobes.
In fact, it’s an inside joke among my younger brothers and me that our father looks like a "poly student", after a classmate mistook him for one years ago.
The mid-life crisis is not to be taken lightly, of course.
Coined by Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965, it refers to a time in an adult's life when he realises his own mortality and how much time is left. Among typical feelings one experiences are a “search of an undefined dream or goal”, “a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished” and “desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness”.
These feelings can sometimes translate to behavioural patterns such as depression, abuse of alcohol, entering relationships with younger people and paying special attention to physical appearance.
Contrary to popular films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and American Beauty, mid-life crises are, thankfully, not all that common. According to research by the American private foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network, on the topic of successful mid-life development, only 23 per cent of middle-aged adults go through mid-life crises.
So, even though my siblings and I love to make fun of Dad's "mid-life crisis", we know that it is time for him to enjoy the fruits of his labour after years of hard work. We are also secretly glad that he is merely more concerned with his appearance, and not suffering from the other symptoms.
You see, Dad has been working for most of his life. My paternal grandfather died when my dad was just a toddler, so my grandmother had to raise seven children on her own, with her wages from washing clothes for expatriate families.
After repeating Primary 6 twice, my father stopped his studies. Without a PSLE certificate, he had to count on his street smarts to make a living. Thankfully, he had plenty of that. By his early 20s, my dad already owned a business, a grocery store that offers delivery services.
Being the boss does not mean that he sits in a cushy office all day. Like his employees, he carries the heavy boxes of groceries and delivers them to customers’ homes daily.
To support our family of five, he has been working hard for the past 30-odd years so that my brothers and I can live a comfortable life. I will be graduating from university in a year, while both of my brothers are currently serving their National Service. It won’t be long before my father decides to pull down the shutters of his shop and retires.
When that time comes, it will be up to us, the kids, to bring home the bacon. While it’s unlikely that we will earn enough money any time soon to purchase designer togs for our father on a regular basis, it will be a burden off his shoulders and he can finally spend more time working on his six-pack.
Until then, my answer to Dad's question will always be: “Yes, Dad, very yan dao.”