Do-it-all dad: He's caregiver to wheelchair-bound wife & 10-month-old son
Today is Father's Day. CHAI HUNG YIN (firstname.lastname@example.org) meets a dad who is caregiver to his disabled wife, their young child and is the main breadwinner
He cares for his wife, who uses a wheelchair, and their 10-month-old baby.
He cooks, cleans, does laundry and changes nappies.
He also earns a daily wage as the main breadwinner to support his family.
Juggling everything is hard, but Mr Zulfakar Mohamed Arib, 40, says he had his eyes wide open when he married Madam Salimah Ishak, 36.
They had met on the Internet and married in 2012.
Mr Zulfakar tells The New Paper on Sunday in Malay: "I don't mind. Fat or thin, I don't care. She told me her story and I understand. She is normal and it was a sudden high fever that left her in this state."
His wife has been using a wheelchair since she was 14 after contracting transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by an inflammation of the spinal cord.
Madam Salimah's condition also did not deter him from wanting a child of their own.
Mr Zulfakar says: "I did want a child and I prayed that we would have one."
When she conceived last year, he was overjoyed, even though it was a risky pregnancy.
He says: "The doctor did ask her to consider whether to proceed. I told her to proceed."
Despite obstacles, Madam Salimah gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Amirul Mukminin, last August. "I believe the baby is a gift from God," Mr Zulfakar says.
Since then, he has been caring for Amirul: Changing nappies, bathing, feeding and patting him to sleep because the child is now too mobile for his wife to handle with her weakened limbs.
He has to attend to his wife too, including her toilet needs, grooming and food.
The couple live in a four-room flat in Tampines that belongs to his in-laws.
Mr Zulfakar's in-laws are hearing-impaired and cannot help look after their grandson so much as they cannot hear the baby cry, or Madam Salimah's pleas for help.
During the day, his father-in-law works as a cleaner. His mother-in-law, who was also a cleaner, is in a wheelchair as she is recovering from a recent traffic accident that injured her legs.
When The New Paper on Sunday visited the couple, Mr Zulfakar was a whirlwind of activity. Besides stopping to answer questions, he brought the TNPS team drinks, while attending to wife and baby.
A typical day for him starts with him getting his baby ready for infant care, followed by his wife's needs and cooking. He then gets ready for work.
After dropping Amirul off at the infant care centre below their block, he heads to his workplace at Kaki Bukit where he works as a mechanic repairing motor scooters like Vespas.
He says: "Sometimes, when I am about to leave the house, my wife will need to use the toilet and I will have to attend to her."
He has had to rush home when his wife's wheelchair ran out of battery or when his son was sick.
His father-in-law picks the child up from infant care while Mr Zulfakar leaves the workshop at about 8pm and heads home to get his wife and baby ready for bed.
He then heads out again to attend a religious class, leaving little time for sleep.
But he says he has no regrets. Even when he gets less than four hours of sleep.
"Many people just talk, without action. It is a test for me."
Mr Zulfakar says: "My baby will usually wake up for milk around 2am. Sometimes, he will play and refuse to sleep. If he doesn't sleep, I don't get to sleep."
NO WORK, NO PAY
He earns a daily wage of about $50. If he does not work - like when his family needs him more at home - he does not get paid.
But he is grateful to his boss for the flexible arrangement he has.
Mr Zulfakar says: "My friends ask me to work in a company where the pay is better, but this job gives me flexibility to care for my family.
"At least, I still have a job. It is okay that we live an average life."
Financially, they "can get by". The Government is assisting with childcare subsidies and ComCare cash assistance.
Madam Salimah works as a freelance graphics designer from home to supplement his income.
Mr Zulfakar says: "If we can't afford it, we find alternatives or do without certain things. Usually, we'll buy two tins of milk, but if money is tight, we'll wait for my pay and buy one tin first to tide over."
His dream is to have his daughter from his first marriage live with him. His ex-wife has remarried and has other children.
Mr Zulfakar says: "I don't mind looking after one more child. I feel proud as a father for not giving up on her.
"It is my responsibility as a husband and a father. I want to care for my wife and our child.
"My wife did ask me whether I have ever regretted marrying her. I said no.
"I will continue to care for her so that she doesn't give up."
"My baby will usually wake up for milk around 2am. Sometimes, he will play and refuse to sleep. If he doesn't sleep, I don't get to sleep."
- Mr Zulfakar
"He doesn't let others hurt me. If we go out for outings, he really takes good care of me."
- Madam Salimah
My husband does most things, says wife
Madam Salimah Ishak, 36, was elated when she conceived.
She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "When I realised I was pregnant, I was shocked. It felt as though I had won the lottery. I had to slap my face."
She knew her pregnancy was risky, but she went ahead with it.
Madam Salimah was concerned that as her tummy grew, she would struggle to breathe.
When she went for routine pregnancy check-up at the hospital, she had to guide nurses so they would know how to handle her.
Although she struggled with bouts of breathlessness, she says it was never serious enough to warrant medical attention.
In August, she gave birth to Amirul Mukminin via vertical caesarean section (the cut was made vertically instead of horizontally) as she has a urine catheter running from her body.
Amirul's first touch was unforgettable, says Madam Salimah.
"I saw my baby for only seconds before they whisked him away as my blood pressure was going down. He was crying but calmed down when he slept on my chest for a moment."
Looking after a newborn was challenging for her.
"In the first few months, I could change his diaper myself but it took a long time. I was frustrated but my husband encouraged me."
As Amirul grows more mobile, changing his diaper becomes harder.
"He struggles a lot, so it is more difficult now. My husband does most of it now," she says.
At four months, Amirul started going to infant care. Before that, Madam Salimah cared for him alone at home.
She says: "He would sit on a bouncy chair until somebody came home... I couldn't change his diaper for him.
"I can only make milk for him or bounce him to sleep."
It breaks her heart when he cries and she cannot carry him to comfort him.
She says: "When I see other mothers carry their babies, I get jealous. I am glad people around me encouraged me not to be disheartened."
She is grateful to her husband, who has been looking after her and Amirul.
Before her marriage, her hearing-impaired parents looked after her.
Madam Salimah says: "My husband does most of the things, like the laundry. He doesn't let others hurt me. If we go out for outings, he really takes good care of me.
"He doesn't express it but when he holds the baby, you can tell he really loves the baby.
"If my husband is not around, I don't know what will happen to me and the baby.
"I have to make myself strong for my baby, no matter what happens."
She says she feels helpless sometimes, such as when she needs to go to the bathroom.
She says: "When my husband is very tired, I don't want to wake him up. So I have to lie on the bed until he wakes up."
To supplement her husband's income, she does freelance graphic design work from home.
Madam Salimah says her family is what keeps her strong.
She says: "Every time I see my baby's face, he makes me smile. He likes to smile and he makes me happy. I have no regrets. He has made my life happier."
Going forward, she worries about who will look after her baby when he becomes more active.
"I wish he can be independent and become a strong boy.
"I feel this child is a special gift to me. The family is complete now," says Madam Salimah.