For many years, it was Soo Kam Son’s wife, Lyndy Yeoh, who took on the main responsibilities of looking after their two children.
She was especially attentive to their special needs daughter Zen Lee, who is a slow learner with speech impairments and brittle bone disease. She had even signed on to do a diploma in special education.
But Soo’s family’s world came crashing down when Yeoh suffered a stroke and passed away suddenly in 2003. Zen Lee was 20 then, and their son Shawn was only 16.
The responsibilities of looking after them fell solely on the businessman who suddenly had to juggle between his work commitments and raising his children.
“My late wife was Zen Lee’s primary carer. She was a compassionate mother who taught her basic skills and tirelessly ferried her to school and therapy,” recounts Soo, who couldn’t afford to wallow in grief or self-pity as his children needed him.
So, he picked up the pieces and moved on, as daunting as it seemed to him then.
He learnt to manage his time better, arranging business appointments around his children’s schedules.
“I don’t know how I managed it all. When you’re left without the support from the other parent, you learn to accept things and move on. Though saddened by my wife’s sudden death, I had to be strong for the sake of my children, especially Zen Lee,” says Soo, as tears welled up in his eyes.
In the 15 years since his wife’s passing, Soo has risen to the challenge of raising his children and continuing Yeoh’s efforts to provide Zen Lee with opportunities to explore her potential.
“Children with special needs aren’t bothered about branded goods or material wealth. All they want is to be loved.
“It is important for people with special needs to mix and mingle with others. Through interaction with others, they get to develop their social skills and confidence,” says Soo.
In 2000, Yeoh had enrolled Zen Lee for bowling sessions organised by Special Olympics Selangor, an organisation that supports individuals with learning disabilities.
Soo has faithfully carried on this activity with Zen Lee. Every Friday morning, he accompanies his daughter to her bowling sessions.
Their hard work and dedication have paid off. In 2007, Zen Lee represented Malaysia in bowling at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai where she clinched the silver medal in the ladies team category.
“Zen Lee looks forward to Fridays as it is a chance for us to spend quality together.”
Soo says supporting his daughter in bowling is a highlight for he gets to build wonderful memories with her.
He also takes her for qi gong classes and participates in other activities for individuals with special needs.
Being the father and mother to his children has enabled him to forge a stronger bond with them.
Occasionally, there are family outings such as catching a movie together.
“Thankfully, Shawn is responsible and helps to care for his sister in whatever way possible. My wish is he finds a life partner who can help him look after Zen Lee when I am older.”
The 64-year-old Soo says parents of children with learning disabilities should accept their children’s challenges and love them unconditionally.
“Acceptance is key. Put your pride aside and focus on caring for your child with special needs. Never give up on them. They are innocent individuals who have hearts of gold,” stresses Soo.
He describes caring for Zen Lee as a “humbling experience”.
“Slowly but surely, Zen Lee has shown tremendous progress. She’s grown up to be a mature adult who is able to handle simple chores (under supervision). That’s the biggest present any father can have,” says Soo, beaming with joy.