The concept of work-life balance takes on a whole new slant when it comes to 41-year-old Aaron Tay. Work: he is currently working as a Financial Services Manager at Vineyard Advisory Group, IPP Financial Advisers. Life: he takes active fatherhood seriously, to the extent of being a homeschool dad to his three daughters. Balance: he does all this with the time he has after surviving kidney failure, lupus, a tumour, and depression.
Never Give Up
“I was just eight years old when I was diagnosed with kidney problems and lupus, an autoimmune disease. Because of this, my parents never forced me to study hard, never pressured me to further my career or settle down. Naturally, I never dared to think too much about getting married and having children either.
It was my church mentors who urged me not to settle for less in life just because of my medical condition. So I mustered up the courage and pursued my now-wife. Sharon accepted me for who I was, and I am grateful to be able to marry her a year after my emergency kidney transplant.
Two years into our marriage, we longed to have children. But long-term medications caused me to have azoospermia a.k.a. shooting blanks. Thankfully, my doctor had the foresight to store my sperm when I was 21, and 12 years on, my wife conceived via IVF.
Our Miracle Children
Our twins are now nine years old. Sharon endured a gruelling 18 hours of natural birth without an epidural. She is such a tough lady! At full-term, both girls were healthy and weighed about 3 kg each.
Raysa, our eldest, was just two years old when she modified the lullaby we sang to her, making it her own tune. She even added her own lyrics. She has always been the more creative, playful, cheeky, and fun-loving one.
Her twin, Raquel, is more organised and forms clear boundaries. Once we were at the Science Centre and a little boy tried to intercept the steering wheel she was playing with instead of waiting his turn. She was furious and wrestled him for it — she’s a feisty one!
Our youngest, Raena, was also conceived via IVF and delivered naturally. Now five years old, she is ever so bubbly, cheerful, and resilient. Once she had to be hospitalised for an infection. Although the blood tests and treatment were so uncomfortable, she gamely endured it all without whining one bit. She even performed magic tricks for the nurses!
Becoming a dad has made me a much more grounded person. Most of all, it made me want to achieve better financial security. My family is so precious to me and I want them to be protected should anything untoward happen. Due to my numerous pre-existing conditions, I can’t be insured, so I have to insure myself by saving up a pool of funds for emergencies. Of course, I also ensured that my wife and children are adequately covered too.
Having fought illness since young, I compensated by throwing myself into my studies. In 2001, I qualified for a place to study Pharmacy in NUS after a lot of hard work. However, due to the stress, my lupus relapsed, and I fell into clinical depression. I had to quit school for a year, and a long-term relationship I was in failed.
I wanted to end my life. In hospital for one month, I just lay there feeling useless. But then across from me was another patient undergoing dialysis who had chronic heart failure. He called himself a “ticking time bomb”, yet remained cheerful and energetic, taking care of himself, living one day at a time. He became my inspiration. As did my family and friends, who rallied around me and encouraged me through those tough times. I resumed my studies, this time in Business Finance at NTU.
In 2003, doctors discovered a tumour in my nose due to the side effects of long-term medication. Fearing it could become malignant, the doctor suggested removing it surgically, which would involve cutting up a part of my skull. The best-case scenario was a huge scar on my face; the worst-case was paralysis in half of my face.
Unconvinced, my family sought a second opinion. My renal doctor offered an alternative — the tumour might subside if I stopped all my medications. But there was no guarantee of that, whereas without the medications, kidney failure was an almost certain result.
A Rock and a Hard Place
In other words, I was given two choices — kidney failure or cancer. Eventually my family and I decided to risk it and remove the medication. Fortunately, the tumour did subside, but a new nightmare was just beginning.
It was to be the lowest point in my life, the day I had to undergo my first dialysis. The four, five hours sitting in that chair. The pain was excruciating, and I knew that these sessions, three times a week, were to be my fate for a lifetime. Unable to see anything good in my future, I wanted to starve myself and die.
Still, I felt a prompting in my heart to carry on in life and try to stay positive. There surely had to be a purpose to all this suffering. Looking back now, I never imagined I would go on to build a financial planning practice and be the happy family man and father I am today.
Despite the dialysis, my kidneys began to fail. It was my brother who volunteered to donate a kidney to save my life. The importance of family truly hit home and now as I lead my own family, my priority is to instill the values of unity, love, and selfless giving in my children.
I can’t take a moment for granted though. Just earlier this year, I had a scare. I had just finished work and wanted to go running. My shoes felt tight and I realised my ankles were swelling. I had a feeling of déjà vu — it was the exact same symptom when my kidneys were starting to fail. That night, unable to sleep, I went to the toilet and saw in the mirror that my eyes were swelling too. Another symptom that indicated my transplanted kidney might be failing! In panic, I checked my blood pressure, and it was sky high.
I woke my wife, crying. I was a father now, the sole breadwinner; with no insurance coverage, what was to happen to my family? But forever my anchor in a storm, Sharon offered words of comfort and assurance.
The following day, I went for an emergency blood test and check-up. To my relief, my kidney function was perfectly normal! The swelling event was most likely a one-off due to standing for a long time and too much salty food. It was a good wake-up call; I will never get complacent about my health again.
Life Lessons Learnt and Taught
Being unhealthy from a young age also taught me resilience. Even through the turmoil of the tumour, dialysis, and transplant, I continued studying hard. Eventually, I graduated with an Honours degree in Business Finance, before going on to become a financial consultant focusing on financial planning for families.
When I was young, there wasn’t much education on the importance of insurance and family risk management, so my parents never bought any insurance for me. While I consider it a privilege for Sharon to be a full-time SAHM, it means that as sole breadwinner, I keenly feel the financial burden that would fall upon my family should I fall seriously ill again, or worse. Thus I have a deep conviction about helping others protect themselves and their loved ones.
Another thing that my close brushes with death have shown me is that I want to be deeply involved in my children’s upbringing, not just leave it to my wife. While I do consider myself an authoritative parent who sets strict boundaries and metes out punishments when lines are crossed, I also role model positive characteristics and values for a positive family culture.
Legacy of a Homeschool Dad
The best part about being self-employment is the flexibility to spend quality time with my family. Homeschooling has been an exceedingly rewarding journey so far. I dedicate my mornings to teaching the syllabus and setting assignments before Sharon takes over. I then head off to work, be it my home office or client meetings outside.
Besides academics, I focus on instilling overall life values, character development, entrepreneurship, and so on. One of the life skills I impart to them is of course financial prudence, but every moment we spend together is a teachable moment. On weekends, we go on one-on-one daddy-daughter dates where I take each girl out for their favourite activities and share fulfilling conversations.
Yes, my days are full. But at the end of it all, it’s worth it to see our children grow up healthy and happy, in a wholesome family culture with a strong sense of belonging, upright character values, self-discipline, and a spirit of excellence in all they do. This will be my legacy. It’s something no amount of money can buy.”