updated 3 Jul 2014, 08:35
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Tue, Jun 17, 2014
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Kids say stepfather is cool

Sales manager Quentin Foon, 36, first laid eyes on retail consultant Agnes Lim, 38, in a club 11 years ago. They were introduced by mutual friends and Mr Foon thought she was single and attractive.

Unknown to him at that time, Ms Lim, then 27, was a divorcee with two children - Faith and Lexx, then aged eight and six.

Mr Foon asked her out and, after a few dates, Ms Lim told him about her children. "I told him, 'I will never leave my kids for you. They will be with me for the rest of my life.' I told him to have a think. I gave him the option to walk away."

Mr Foon decided he wanted to pursue the relationship. Ms Lim introduced him to her children as her "friend".

Within a few months, this "friend" was paying regular visits to her parents' three-room HDB flat in Geylang East, where Ms Lim lived with her children, her parents and a maid. After a year, Mr Foon moved in with them.

By then, Faith and Lexx were told that Mr Foon was "a close uncle", but Faith recalls not liking him much at the start. "I was quite strict," says Mr Foon, even as Faith nods her head vigorously.

She says: "He was very concerned about our studies and kept wanting us to keep to a schedule. He also wanted us to be up by 8am as he did not want us to 'waste our days away'."

Having had no contact with her biological father since her parents' divorce was finalised in 2002, she was not used to Mr Foon's presence and his expectations. Furthermore, the people looking after her - her mother and maternal grandparents - had no such time-management rules.

Lexx recalls being "rude" to Mr Foon about this issue too. "I would ask him, 'Why do you make me do this?'"

Now, however, both children say making and keeping to timetables has made them disciplined individuals.

Faith, who is now 19 and studying events management in Republic Polytechnic, says: "He taught us to use Microsoft Excel to do our schedules. That turned out to be useful because we had to use Excel in polytechnic and many of my friends struggled with doing so."

It also took time for Mr Foon's parents to accept his relationship with Ms Lim, after he broke the news to them that she had two children.

He says: "They objected. They could not understand why I did not just have a 'standard', 'normal' girlfriend."

Still, he persevered and soon started arranging for Ms Lim's children to visit his parents. These visits were understandably awkward at the start, he says.

"Faith and Lexx would call my parents 'nai nai' and 'ye ye' (Mandarin for grandmother and grandfather). I'm sure it was strange for my parents, having these 'grandchildren' pop out of seemingly nowhere," he says, chuckling.

But the small talk and polite smiles soon grew to hearty, fortnightly "yum cha" or dimsum sessions by the couple's sixth year of courtship.

With Mr Foon's parents being increasingly receptive to their relationship, and with the support of other family members and friends, the couple decided to speak to Faith and Lexx about getting married.

To their delight, both children were supportive. The couple got married in 2010, after dating for seven years.

The wedding was a joyous affair. Faith sang Taylor Swift's Love Story for the couple and Lexx was their ring-bearer. Lexx, now 17 and studying aerospace machining technology at the Institute of Technical Education, says: "We were a part of everything and we even sat in the bridal car with the bride and groom."

Ms Lim says the wedding day meant a lot to her.

"After my divorce, I lost faith in love and relationships. I initially never considered remarrying. I intended to raise my children on my own. But Quentin never gave up. He was always there for me. He is my pillar of strength and these are now our children," she says.

In the four years since their wedding, the couple say some things have continued while others have changed.

They still have "family conversations" every night with their children after they return from work. Weekend mornings are reserved as family time.

What is different is that Mr Foon is now addressed as "dad" rather than "uncle".

It was "weird" at the start, he and the children say. But it comes naturally now.

"We never call him our stepfather. He's 'dad'," says Faith, to which Mr Foon responds: "Yes, I am a stepfather. They step on me."

He then guffaws at his own joke, while Faith rolls her eyes at him in mock irritation. "You're so lame," she says, but reluctantly concedes that Mr Foon is a "cool dad", having introduced her to Facebook. To this, Mr Foon grins and says: "I am cool."

The couple say their bantering could be due to the narrow age gap between themselves and the children. They are thankful for the close bond, especially as they have never gone for parenting classes or read parenting books.

They go shopping together ("Dad buys more clothes than any of us," says Faith), exercise together and even help to cut one another's hair.

They are waiting to move into their first home - an executive condominium at Sengkang - in September. The couple also intend to have more children.

Mr Foon says: "When I chose this route in marriage, I did not know if it was wrong or right. But I told myself, 'Just make it right.' Now, I look forward to seeing where this route takes us together."

This article was first published on June 15, 2014.
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