Until you have a son of your own… you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son.
– Kent Nerburn, American author
Alex Soh, a landscape travel photographer and the art director of the publication Our Daily Bread, believes that a good picture tells a story and triggers a memory.
And having captured many beautiful photographs of his daughter Tayne since the day she was born, he can’t wait for her wedding day when he’ll showcase Tayne’s growth from birth to adulthood.
As the “cool” and devoted father of three children — 14-year-old Tayne, 8-year-old Evan and 5-year-old Aiden, Alex says his children each have their own distinctive personality. Tayne loves reading and has a strong character. Evan, like Alex, is dyslexic, and a creative child who builds unique dream cars out of Lego almost every day. Aiden is a cool kid and a thinker.
Alex still vividly remembers the moment when his first child was born. He had his cameras set up around the delivery room to capture the momentous occasion. He recalls thinking: “’Wow, she’s alive.’ It was like, I am a father now? The first time I held the baby in my hands…it was cool. I placed Tayne in every one of my friends’ hands. I wanted them to experience this amazing feeling too.”
In addition, despite his self-assured appearance, Alex admits that he shed tears when his first child was born. He says he never realised how much his parents loved him until he became a parent himself.
Since becoming a father, Alex has also realised he would sacrifice anything for his children. “If I could shorten my life in exchange for my child’s good health, I would,” he says.
My Loved Ones Are Waiting for Me
Fatherhood has increased Alex’s sense of duty to his family, as he knows his loved ones are waiting for him at home.
The gutsy photographer recalls a terrifying near-death experience while shooting in Myanmar: “We were travelling in a sampan boat at 3 a.m. in the morning, to reach the middle of the ocean and shoot the sunrise. The journey was two and a half hours. About 1 km in the journey, I saw a 2-metre high wave coming closer and closer towards us.”
For a split second, he turned cold and the images of his wife and children flashed across his mind. “I have a family waiting for me at home,” was his first thought.
His frequent trips also make him treasure his time at home. “Travelling makes me realise how much I miss home. So when I am at home, I treasure my family. I always look forward to seeing my wife and children,” he says.
Notwithstanding his many travel photography assignments, which can last anywhere from two weeks to two months, Alex finds time to be a dedicated husband and father when he is back in Singapore.
During this time, he spends quality time with his children and shares stories of his adventures during his latest trip. “[We spend time] talking, playing, swimming, cycling, and watching movies. Sometimes I spend quality one-on-one time with each kid, as each kid likes to be treated as he is the only one,” he says with a gentle smile.
A Cool Yet Firm Dad
Alex says his relationship with his three children is more like friendship, and his goal is to be a “cool dad” to his children.
He and the kids have embarked on a few adventures overseas, and his favourite moment with Tayne and Evan is a backpacking trip in Taiwan a few years ago.
“We took the public transportation. There was a lot of quality family time,” he recalls.
Till today, Evan and Tayne still remember the trip and are looking forward to revisiting Taiwan in June.
At school, Alex’s daughter talks to her friends about her “cool daddy”. She also gives her father’s photography book “Life’s Touching Moments” to her teachers, some of whom know about Alex and his work.
“My children are proud of me, and that is important because I am their role model,” he says.
Alex Soh is the “cool dad” of three children: 14-year-old Tayne, 8-year-old Evan and 5-year-old Aiden.
But cool things aside, Alex is also a firm father who is not afraid of punishing or loving his children. He believes every dad should be the head of the household and provide the family with direction.
“Love is not the same as pampering. The kids need to be corrected and I am very firm in my decision,” he says. “They can climb over the heads of my in-laws and wife. But I am the only person who can correct them. When I say no, they listen.”
As part of his parenting philosophy, Alex teaches his children about “consequences” — a valuable parenting tip he learned from his photography pal from the USA. He educates his children to make their own decisions by answering these three questions: firstly, “Is it right?”; secondly, “Is it necessary? Do I need it?”; and thirdly, “Does it make me a better person?”
Encouraging Life Experiences
Alex also believes in letting his children try new things, as long as it doesn’t endanger their lives. For example, Tayne — who is currently in secondary school — told Alex one day that a few of her friends had been smoking. Alex then asked her, “Do you want to try smoking? We can buy a pack and try it together, and see if you like it or not.”
“Let them experience it with you, rather than have them do it behind your back. Isn’t that right?” he says. “If she has a boyfriend, I will invite him to my house rather than have them carry on behind my back, right?”
Alex believes it is better to work things through with his children and let his children learn by experience, instead of learning things only by the book.
“I am dyslexic and I don’t learn by the book. I learn by experience,” he says.
The youngest of seven children, Alex worked many odd jobs in his youth. He is not afraid to let his children work at McDonald’s or in waitressing. He thinks every profession should be well-respected, and that the most important thing is that his children are confident and “know who they are”.
He says, “Many parents bring up their children while telling them, ‘Cleaning is a bad job, you have to be lawyer.’ But I think it doesn’t matter.”
“One day, I want to be a McDonald’s server myself,” he jokes. “My daughter is looking forward to working at McDonald’s too.”
The founder of several social projects including The Rice Project and Project Road, Alex utilises his photography skills to make a difference. “My photography evolved from a hobby to a profession, and today, it has become my passion,” says Alex.
Project Road arose from Alex’s experience in Cham Resh, Cambodia. Motivated by the villagers’ simple yet compelling statement, “give us a road, and we’ll know how to walk out of poverty ourselves”, Alex galvanised the Lion Club and four like-minded Singaporeans to raise funds and build a 3.7km road.
The village head later told him, “You didn’t just help the people. You changed their lives.”
And that’s what Alex is doing: capturing moving photographs of those in need, to document their stories and help raise awareness and funds. “How many times in your life are you able to save another life?” he muses.
At first, Alex believed he was there to help the villagers, but later he was the one being enlightened instead. At the end of the day, he realises that he doesn’t need much, as he already has far more than those who are less fortunate. “And you become a better person,” he says. “The more I see of the world, the more I find myself to be so little.”
In time to come, Alex hopes to have his children partake in these social projects as well. He opines, “It is better than scolding them a thousand times. Let them see for themselves.”