Family, Relationships, School

He’s a single dad who raised 4 kids on his own – but almost gave up

By Janice Tai , 22 April 2022

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains mentions of suicidal thoughts that some may find distressing.

They were the picture-perfect family, the envy of many.

She was a dedicated mother. He was an involved dad who became a school teacher.

Single Dad Singapore 2

Wayne with his four children, who are now between 16 and 22 years old.  

But soon the couple’s days were consumed with housework and parenting. They had little time for fun together.

Wayne Toh struggled to cope. His life became a never-ending loop of work, home and work again. He was also leaving his stable job and venturing into a brand new career that carried financial risks.

Amid this tangled web of worries, Wayne, now 47, often imagined himself getting hit by a bus to end things.

Crying in the toilet

Wayne had just started a new career offering photography enrichment classes to students.

His wife, who was then his business partner, would help him prepare materials and equipment for each session.

Wayne’s students having fun during photography class.

However, during this time, she started coming home later and later – or not at all.

Wayne was unable to eat or sleep much during this time, but he continued putting up a strong front.

To distract himself, he chose to focus on his photography classes. For if the new business didn’t succeed, his children’s future would be jeopardised.

“I told myself I cannot fail,” he said. 

Wayne fought to keep his work and family life separate. 

“Once, a student chose a picture of my wife to edit in the computer lab.

“After that class, I just went to the toilet to cry,” Wayne confessed. 

“Just let me go”

Two weeks after he began teaching photography, his wife left the home.

“Let me go, just let me go,” his wife pleaded when Wayne tried to convince her to stay. She did not say why.

Soon after, she couriered Wayne the divorce papers. The two officially split and Wayne became a single dad, caring for four young children alone.

Wayne took over all parenting duties, including driving his kids home from school.

Despite his best efforts to hide the hurt from the kids, Wayne often broke down in front of them.

The emotional, physical and financial strain of raising four young kids on his own was too much to bear.

Wayne was near his breaking point.

Wanting to die

Struggling to cope, Wayne took long drives up to Malaysia alone.

“Once I crossed the customs and hit the highway, the tears would burst out. I needed time alone.”

“The urge to kill myself was very strong. It was hard to resist.”

He also started contemplating suicide. 

As Wayne drove, a voice would often whisper to him, “Speed up and bang the car in front.”

When he stood by the window in his flat, the same voice nudged him, “Jump. Everything will be fine.”

Wayne admitted: “The urge to kill myself was very strong. It was hard to resist.”

The package

Wayne dropped to his knees one Friday night, exhausted from being a single dad.

He cried out a simple plea: “God, I don’t have the strength to fight all these suicidal thoughts anymore. I can’t take it, please help me.”

Wayne sobbed and went to bed. He expected nothing to change.

“Daddy, the school gave this to us and the teacher asked me to give it to you.” 

However, the very next morning, his young son came into his room at 7am.

“Daddy, the school gave this to us and the teacher asked me to give it to you.” 

Wayne did not move or respond. His son placed an item on the bedside table and quietly left the room.

At noon, Wayne finally sat up in bed. He turned to look at what his son had given him.

Clearly printed on the package were the words “Dads for Life“.

Wayne wept. The message could not have come at a better time.

“I knew God had heard me and was telling me that to be a father is for life. I could not give up,” he shared.

Dads for life

This pin on Wayne’s bag reminds him that being a dad is for life.

Inside the package were Dads for Life pins and stickers.

Wayne pinned the badges to his collar and bag. He pasted the stickers on his car. He told himself, “I will not entertain any more suicidal thoughts.”

The timeliness of these gifts helped Wayne remember that God is always with him. 

He wasn’t alone on his journey to becoming the good single dad he desired to be.

Fresh helping hands

Soon after this incident, new doors began to open for Wayne.

He was offered a job as an artist-in-residence at Nanyang Primary School, a bump up from being an external vendor. Wayne now had a stable income.

Wayne working at the back of his car while waiting to pick up his kids.

Even better, three of his children were transferred to the same school. His youngest child also got a spot at a nearby nursery. This made it much easier for Wayne to pick them up. 

“It was amazing! God made a path for me so that I could cope with both working and looking after them,” said Wayne.  

Fresh helping hands also came into Wayne’s life.

Whenever he needed to work, kind colleagues would take over the supervision of his children.

Wayne’s career also took off.

More and more top schools hired him for photography workshops.

He was also invited to be the resident judge of a kids’ photography TV show. National Geographic asked him to conduct masterclasses.

Wayne was the main judge in the Shutterkidz programme on the Okto channel.

Wayne found that crying out to God for help made all the difference between despair and hope.

Whenever he fretted over finances or the responsibility of caring for his kids, new opportunities and help would arrive at just the right moment.

For example, a parent who had heard about Wayne’s struggles paid for half-a-year of PSLE math tuition fees for one of his kids.

Wayne’s four excited kids embarking on their sponsored trip to Australia.

On another occasion, the Australian Tourism Board chanced upon Wayne’s story. They sponsored a 13-day trip to Australia for him and his kids. The family holiday is now among Wayne’s fondest memories.

“God always reminded me that He is the One who provides for my children, not me,” said Wayne.

Supporting other single parents 

Over the last 12 years, Wayne has single-handedly raised his four children.

Some days are harder than others. But Wayne has never forgotten his mission to be an active dad for life. 

A joyous Wayne with his four children at Cameron Highlands – a far cry from his solo road trips spent in tears.

Today, his kids are almost grown up. His youngest son is in Secondary 4 while his oldest son is finishing his final year at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

“My kids are my greatest success in life. Now I can start to spend more time on myself.”

“They are my greatest success in life. Now I can start to spend more time on myself,” said Wayne.

He currently teaches photography in a school and intends to take up a degree programme in social work. Wayne’s dream is to work with families and youths-at-risk.

Wayne also founded two support groups for single parents.

Through giving media interviews, Wayne hopes to shed light on the challenges of single-parenting in Singapore.

The whole family turning up to support Wayne’s daughter, Ethel, at her band performance.

“Single parents face quite a bit of discrimination. I wanted to walk out of the shadow of shame and encourage other single parents not to look down on ourselves,” explained Wayne.

“When we share our stories, it is not to put down the other party. My wife was a good mother and wife. She had her own reasons for doing what she did then.

“I will also do what I need to do to bring my kids up.”

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This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.

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