Generation Grit: Once a victim of domestic abuse, he becomes a cop to protect others

Mr Jason Yeo is a policeman who had an abusive childhood. His father was a drunk who beat his mother and him up. Years later, he finally forgave his father for his actions.
Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo and his mother, Madam Kristine Leong, with their five-year-old dog Keebles. Spending time with Keebles has brought mother and son closer together, helping to repair the relationship that was strained when
Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo and his mother, Madam Kristine Leong, with their five-year-old dog Keebles. Spending time with Keebles has brought mother and son closer together, helping to repair the relationship that was strained when ASP Yeo was in his teens. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo and his mother, Madam Kristine Leong, with their five-year-old dog Keebles. Spending time with Keebles has brought mother and son closer together, helping to repair the relationship that was strained when
Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Jason Yeo suffered abuse under the hands of his late father but now does his part as a police officer to protect other abused children. This is the latest in a series on millennials who have overcome the odds.

The father had come home drunk and had beaten up his wife and seven-year-old child.

And as investigation officer Jason Yeo stood in the family's living room, it was a case of deja vu for the assistant superintendent of police.

"It hit home because I realised how similar it was to my childhood," said ASP Yeo, 30.

After his shift ended that night, the thought struck him: He, too, was a victim of domestic violence.

He remembers being a small child in kindergarten when he and his mother would cross the Causeway by foot every Friday night into Johor Baru, where they would take either a plane or an overnight bus or train to Kuala Lumpur, where his father lived.

He learnt why only years later.

His late father, who was Malaysian, had been jailed for a white-collar crime and had been deported from Singapore after serving his sentence. Even today, details are still vague for ASP Yeo, who thinks it had something to do with misappropriation of money from clients at his dad's firm.

As a result, his father was barred from returning to Singapore.

Almost every weekend, ASP Yeo and his mother would make the journey to KL, often reaching his father's place in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and returning to Singapore on Sunday night.

Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo and his mother, Madam Kristine Leong, with their five-year-old dog Keebles. Spending time with Keebles has brought mother and son closer together, helping to repair the relationship that was strained when
Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo and his mother, Madam Kristine Leong, with their five-year-old dog Keebles. Spending time with Keebles has brought mother and son closer together, helping to repair the relationship that was strained when ASP Yeo was in his teens. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

"That was my earliest memory of my family," said ASP Yeo, adding that it was strange not to have his father on weekdays, but on weekends, they were like any normal family.

However, the semblance of a complete family began to fade once his father started returning home drunk and beating them.

ASP Yeo remembers pots and pans being thrown around, and, on occasion, him being thrown against the wall by his father.

MAKING A CHOICE

We don't have a choice of the kind of family, childhood or circumstances that we are born into. But everyone has a choice in how they want to live their lives and respond to the situation they are presented with... The buck stops with me. I choose to respond in love and kindness.

ASP YEO, making his decision to not perpetuate the belief that those who are abused as children could grow up to be abusers. 

CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE

(Domestic violence) happens to people around us, and every case that we intervene in could very well be a life saved. Parents arguing can be common, but often, we forget that there is sometimes an innocent child caught in the middle witnessing all this. This was the childhood I had.

ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE JASON YEO, 30, who entered the force in 2014. He said a major factor that led him to a career with the police was that the job was fundamentally about protecting the weak.

At the time, ASP Yeo did not realise what was happening, saying: "I thought it was something every parent would do to their child and took it as part of my upbringing and childhood."

This went on for a few years, and nobody ever called the police. ASP Yeo is also not sure if his father's family, who lived in KL, knew about the abuse.

As the beatings became more common, the visits to Malaysia became less frequent.

Eventually, they stopped going altogether when ASP Yeo's mother filed for divorce.

But while the distance protected the mother and son from constant physical violence, growing up in a single-income, single-parent household posed its own challenges.

It was hard to get by on his mother's salary of around $2,000, said ASP Yeo.

 
 
 
 

For one thing, it meant that they could not afford to buy all the required school books at the start of each year. So, they would buy half the textbooks and "wait and hope" for someone to give them used books for the rest.

Family friends and teachers would offer to chip in, but "when it came down to the last dollar in our bank account, it was just the two of us", said ASP Yeo.

And, like any other teenager, he would look on in envy as his classmates showed off their latest mobile phones and sneakers, said ASP Yeo, who worked part time as a butcher to earn pocket money.

"Growing up without enough money, I felt inferior to the rest of my friends," he said. Despite this, his mother went out of her way to purchase a second-hand mobile phone that they shared.

But their relationship was under strain. Part of it was his teenage angst and part of it the lack of time spent together as she often had to work overtime as an administrative assistant to make a living.

He resented her absence.

"When she tried to discipline me, I would act out. She hit or caned me when I was naughty, and I would push her back. When I became physically bigger than her, I would try to rebel and intimidate her," he said, adding that he even broke her favourite South Korean drama DVDs to upset her.

"At the time, I didn't really think about it, how she, too, was affected by everything that had happened," said ASP Yeo.

Not having a father figure was also a sore point when he saw classmates and their "complete families", or when people asked him about his dad. "I used to tell people that my father was overseas or away on a business trip," he said.

Things hit rock bottom when he was in national service.

On weekends, he began to notice that his mother would lie down and watch TV the entire day without moving or even eating. It was only then that he realised she had lost her job.

Being away from her all week also gave him the distance to appreciate her. He also came to realise how much his mother had given up to ensure that his needs, studies, and even wants, were provided for.

"Knowing she had given me so much, I wanted to make conscious choices to show my gratitude."

Today, they are on much better terms as both make it a point to communicate and show care in day-to-day gestures, such as buying food or gifts for each other.

Spending time together to play with their five-year-old dog Keebles has also brought the duo closer, said Madam Kristine Leong, 60, an administrative assistant.

She said: "I don't tell my son this often, but I am very proud of him. We have been through a lot, but he has overcome the circumstances."

Another critical point for ASP Yeo came during his undergraduate studies at Nanyang Technological University. He received a call one day from an aunt telling him that his father had late-stage cancer and was in a Singapore hospital.

His father, who was in his last days, had been given special permission to get treatment here, and ASP Yeo's aunt asked him to visit.

Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo and his mother, Madam Kristine Leong, with their five-year-old dog Keebles. Spending time with Keebles has brought mother and son closer together, helping to repair the relationship that was strained when
Assistant Superintendent of Police Jason Yeo. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

"My first answer was 'no' because he was essentially a complete stranger to me. I also wasn't sure what I would say to him," ASP Yeo said.

Eventually, he went to see his father. "My father couldn't speak because he was hooked up to machines all over. But the amazing thing is that when I saw him, there wasn't any anger," said ASP Yeo.

"He apologised. And I told him, 'Everything you did to my mum and me, you don't need to explain yourself, I forgive you'."

Later that day, ASP Yeo received a text message from his father with the words "I love you".

ASP Yeo said: "That was the first time I felt that he meant them."

His father died the next day.

When it came to applying for jobs after graduation, a major factor that led him to a career with the police was that the job "hit home" because it was fundamentally about protecting the weak, said ASP Yeo, who entered the force in 2014.

Attending to his first domestic violence case in 2016 also affirmed his career choice and brought new meaning to his work.

  • GENERATION GRIT

    Know of anyone aged 35 or below who has shown grit amid life's adversities? E-mail us at stnewsdesk@sph.com.sg

"(Domestic violence) happens to people around us, and every case that we intervene in could very well be a life saved," he said.

He added: "Parents arguing can be common, but often, we forget that there is sometimes an innocent child caught in the middle witnessing all this.

"This was the childhood I had."

 
 

Despite the trying times he has been through, ASP Yeo, who got married earlier this year, said he does not let these experiences dictate his outlook on life.

"We don't have a choice of the kind of family, childhood or circumstances that we are born into. But everyone has a choice in how they want to live their lives and respond to the situation they are presented with," he said.

ASP Yeo also said there might be the belief that those who are abused as children could grow up to be abusers themselves, but he begs to differ.

He said: "The buck stops with me. I choose to respond in love and kindness."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2019, with the headline 'Once a victim of domestic abuse, he becomes a cop to protect others'. Print Edition | Subscribe