Jason Wong is not just a committed family man, he is the man responsible for initiating both the Yellow Ribbon Project and the Dads for Life movement. In All I want for Christmas, this father of two shared some ways he actively seeks to connect with his teenage children. Over here, he gives us insight into what motivates him to do the things that he does.
1. What inspired you to spearhead the Yellow Ribbon Project and Dads for Life?
I worked in the prisons for 17 years. During that time, I was part of a team of prison officers that sought to bring about transformation of the prison system. From custodians of lives, prison officers became captains of lives. From prisons being used to lock people up, we designed the new prisons to set prisoners free.
Around 2003, it was clear to me that it was not enough to stop at giving prisoners career skills. Even if we give a prisoner a skill, he might not get a job; even if we put him through anger management program, his wife might not forgive him; even if he is willing to leave his gang, he might not find new friends because of his tattooed body; and even if he finds faith in God whilst in the prisons and commits to giving up his past, there might not be a church that is ready to accept him.
I realised that many prisoners walked out of the first physical prison into a second psychological and social prison. The Yellow Ribbon Project seeks to unlock this second prison. By offering ex-offenders a second chance, we discourage them from going back to a life of crime and drugs. Interestingly, the message of Yellow Ribbon – forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation and second chances – is similar to that of the Cross.
I initiated the Dads for Life movement because I was deeply troubled by the brokenness of families in our society – when the hearts of fathers are turned away (absent and/or uninvolved fathers) or against (through abuse and/or violence) their families and children. If the hearts of fathers were to be turned towards their children, I believe that families will be strengthened. And when families are strong, our nation will be strong.
Personally, I have been encouraged by the response of fathers to the Dads for Life movement. Just look at the Dads for Life decals on the screens of so many cars on the road! The display of these decals acts as a constant reminder to all of us dads in Singapore that we have an important role to play. Schools have been very supportive as well, and many have coordinated and organized father-child bonding and fathering talks/workshops to benefit the fathers of their students. I am also aware that several grassroots organisations have set up Daddy Clubs.
In due time, I hope that more employers will step forward to be part of this movement, as they have significant influence over many fathers in their respective companies. My desire is that the heart of every father in this nation is turned towards his children, and that every child without a father has a father-figure in his/her life.
2. Have there been moments of discouragement? How did you cope with such times?
Whenever I face obstacles or feel down, I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing. The “why” is more important than the “what” or “how”. For example, in the early days, people told me that prisoners do not deserve us giving them a second chance. You know, I agree! But I tell them that prisoners need a second chance. Their children and families need them to be given a second chance.
Here’s another instance: When preparing to launch Dads for Life, I was told that it is very challenging to reach fathers, because fathers are generally too busy with their careers, too preoccupied with their soccer, TV, newspapers, hobbies etc, or hold the view that taking care of children is the “mothers’ job”. To these naysayers, I say that we must try despite the challenges because every child needs a father who is a hero, and we must not shortchange any child.
Of course, I have had times when I felt like giving up. During such times, I go to God on my knees to pray. God is always there when I need Him.
For example, when we were conceptualizing the launch of the Yellow Ribbon Project in 2004, we had no idea where the funding would come from. I personally knocked on several potential donors’ doors, but was rejected each time. When the CEO of the event company met with me and my team to discuss what we could do to launch this campaign, I asked him “How much will this cost?” He gave me an estimated sum.
My staff knew we didn’t have the funds. I was quiet and looked down for a few seconds. Others in the room probably thought that I was concocting some grand plan to come up with the funds. But I was actually going before God in helplessness and silent prayer. Then I looked up, smiled, and said, “Money don’t have, only faith. Can or not?”
The CEO also looked down for a while. Then he looked up and smiled, saying to all of us “Faith also can. If you can raise two-thirds of the funds, I will help you raise the other one-third, because I believe in this cause.” As they say – the rest was history.
3. What are three convictions you live your life by?
Family is important. There is absolutely no point being a hero outside and a zero at home. A leader “must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.” (1 Timothy 3:12)
We have only one life to live. Live it well and make it count. The bible says that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Give yourself to the next generation. Seek to leave behind a Singapore that is better than the one that we inherited from our fathers. Pray for our nation (Jeremiah 29:7)
4. What advice would you give to those who are passionate about social justice and humanitarian work?
A group of Junior College students once interviewed me as part of their school project. One question stood out for me – “Mr Wong, you started two national movements – Yellow Ribbon Project and Dads for Life. What movement will you start next?”
This was my reply. “When I was your age, I was very shy and did not believe that I could achieve much in life. And then I found God. I asked God to tell me why He created me and put me on earth. I asked God to make my life count. Now, I am getting old, and I don’t think I will start any more new movements. My generation has created some problems which we are unable to solve. Hopefully, some of you will start new movements to solve them, and live the life that you are called to live.”
It goes back to what I said earlier – you only have one life. If God has given you a passion to work in some measure towards a better, healthier society, by all means go all out to make the most of every opportunity that presents itself, to the best of your abilities. I wish you all the best.