updated 3 Jul 2014, 11:50
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Fatherhood at 52

Founder-director of children's theatre company Act 3 Theatrics Rama Chandran became a first-time dad in 2008, at the age of 52. Now 58, he will be 70 when his son Jivan, six, does national service.

Chandran says his age does not bother him most of the time. "Being involved in Act 3 since the 1980s means I've always been surrounded by children, so I don't feel old or think about age," he says.

However, a recent question from Jivan - his son with actress Amy Cheng, 44 - left him thinking.

Chandran says: "Jivan asked me if I was going to be with him for a long time. I think his question was prompted by him missing Amy and me as we have been busy with a production.

"It would be nice to see Jivan as a grown-up man, but I don't know," he says, his voice trailing off. "It's one of those things that I sometimes wake up wondering about in the middle of the night. I try not to dwell on it."

While he occasionally worries about the future, he says he has never had any fears about becoming a father.

"I thought it'd be wonderful to have my own child. Now, I'm sure it is," he says while beaming at Jivan, who has his arms wrapped around Chandran's neck and kisses his cheek from time to time.

Says Jivan softly: "I love my daddy. He is kind to me."

Grinning, Chandran says fatherhood has allowed him to "re-live" his life. He explains: "Growing up and dealing with adults makes one hard, serious and cynical. But when you are handling a child, you start playing again.

"Life becomes about fun and games and problem-solving. Each day, I am reacting to my child and I have to be careful with my body language and tone."

Being a father to an active six-year-old is "physically absorbing", admits Chandran, preferring not to use the word "tiring".

"Tiring is a negative word. You start to get old when you get negative," he says.

He is also stepfather to Cheng's son Joshua, 17, from her previous marriage. He met Cheng during a stage production in 2001. They started dating in 2003 and got married two years later. "Joshua came as the dowry," jokes Chandran.

Cheng says she is thankful that Joshua took to the Indian "uncle" she introduced to him when the boy was six. "Joshua did not see colour or race and Chandran has been very much involved in his life since our courtship," says Cheng.

Joshua recalls Chandran accompanying him to dig worms, playing football with him, reading bedtime stories to him and taking him to school. "I was happy around him and he played a lot with me. When mummy made me upset, Appa would comfort me," he says. Appa is Tamil for father.

Chandran says he also has an amicable relationship with Joshua's biological father, a doctor whom Joshua meets every weekend.

"We discuss Joshua's academics and we also have a united front in terms of disciplining Joshua - he is not allowed to be rude to either of us," says Chandran.

Joshua recalls both his biological father and Chandran turning up for his prefect's investiture when he was in Primary 5. "It was pretty cool to see both fathers there to support me," he says.

Quips Cheng: "He's got the best of both worlds. He can see what qualities he admires and wants to follow in each of his fathers."

While Joshua and Chandran have a close relationship, it has not been without bouts of tension.

Chandran recalls a period in Joshua's younger teenage years when the boy was hooked on computer games. Chandran was concerned that it would affect his studies and tried to limit his usage.

He says: "I would get really riled up when he refused to quit playing, especially when he was in the middle of a game. I'm not irritated by that anymore as I've learnt to be calmer about such things."

He says he gets bothered by other things too. "Sometimes, because you are not the biological father, you feel that you have to prove your love for your stepson to others.

"It's an internal worry I have, although I trust that Joshua knows I love him as much as I love Jivan."

Both he and Cheng make an effort to spend time with Joshua alone at times. Says Chandran: "We want him to know that he is an individual and not just part of a package."

The couple are happy to see that the brothers love each other dearly. Joshua is visibly protective of Jivan, holding his hands as he jumps about, trying to do stunts.

Looking at her sons, Cheng says: "Chandran became a father at 52 and I became Jivan's mother at the rather late age of 38. God willing, our family can be together for a long time.

"Whatever the future holds, we always tell our boys that they will have each other when we are not around."

"It would be nice to see Jivan as a grown-up man, but I don't know. It's one of those things that I sometimes wake up wondering about in the middle of the night. I try not to dwell on it."

This article was first published on June 15, 2014.
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