It almost feels as if it was just yesterday that I interviewed Didie on her new business venture for another story. She was a well-known figure in the local fashion and beauty industry, and we clicked instantly. The young, bubbly and kind-hearted woman spilled the beans to me about the dreams she had for her businesses back then (Dynda Designs and Dida Cosmetics), and what made me have the utmost respect for her was when she said, “Despite the battles that I have to face, I’ll continue to do what’s right and make a change for others in whatever way I can.”
Not to mention, Didie’s warm and positive aura filled the space where we sat, bringing hope that despite every struggle we go through in life, there are better days to look forward to. Despite all that she had poured into her business, eventually she parted ways with her business partner at Dida. She went on to start a new company with her husband, Yassif, called Dynamics Inc and even became an advocate for mental health awareness after going through depression as a result of her fight against colon cancer.
Three months ago, those of us who knew Didie woke up to the shocking news of her passing at the age of 35. It was almost impossible to think of how the entire incident affected her loved ones, especially her husband and two kids. This Father’s Day, Yassif opens up to us about the beautiful relationship and life that he shared with Didie, and reminds us that our health is our wealth. As a single father, he is now ready to start the healing process caused by the trauma that he went through for the sake of his kids.
Didie loved to challenge me. It made me realise that I wasn’t always right.
WHERE THERE IS LOVE, THERE IS LIFE
Can you take us back in time to when you and Didie first met? How did she win your heart?
“Our relationship started 16 years ago when Didie and I were introduced by a mutual friend. We didn’t hit it off at first, but things slowly started building up. What made me fall in love with her was the fact that Didie loved to challenge me. She didn’t do it for the sake of confrontation, but she did it so that I could do better and she made me realise that I wasn’t always right. The more she did it, the more I fell in love with her over time.”
What were the three things that Didie taught you in the past 16 years?
“The first would be to have a better sense of awareness. Most men have a very big ego; they’re kidding themselves if they say that they don’t have an ego because everyone is selfish. But being self-aware and overcoming these things to become a better person was what Didie taught me to do. The second was how compassionate she was. She always gave people the benefit of the doubt, while I’m the opposite. Now that she’s gone, I’m looking back and learning how to be as compassionate as she was. The third would be to not take life too seriously. Didie was always about having fun and enjoying the company of others. She laughed a lot, and I think that anyone who knew her would’ve known the kind of happy-go-lucky person that she was. Didie taught me how to be ready for anything and become more spontaneous.”
We spoke about how the kids and I should move on and live.
MARRIAGE IS A JOURNEY – FOR BETTER OR WORSE
What were some of the initial struggles that you went through when you discovered that Didie had cancer?
“Didie was wheeled into the emergency ward after she wasn’t able to pass motion for an entire month. The doctors initially kept saying there wasn’t anything wrong and prescribed solutions for her to clear her bowel. On the day she was wheeled in, they finally did a scan and told me that it’s more than likely cancer as it had started to present itself in the liver. It came as a huge shock to me and all of us.
Didie and I did everything together and were always honest with each other. This situation was a little tough as we were both confused on how to go about it. The biggest fear I had was the possibility that she could die. It was the only thing, and it was the hardest to digest. There’s a saying that the hardest thing is for the living as the other [person] has left. It was one of the things that we were trying to work through, but I was frank with her about the entire situation. We confronted our emotions and when I admitted my fears and feelings, something clicked and we came up with the solutions instead. We even spoke about how the kids and I should move on and live. It wasn’t easy to prep for, but we took it one step at a time.”
As a father, what were some of your biggest concerns?
“There were so many! In the past, before Didie passed away, I was usually the sterner one. Didie even addressed this and told me that I needed to start showing the boys some form of tenderness, which wasn’t easy for me at all because that was her. Our kids are like bees to honey, she said that they can’t just be hooked to their games; they need to go out and have loads of fun and adventure. It’s been quite hard to do that, seeing that we’re going through FMCO, but I do make sure that the kids have playdates since we didn’t have a lot of that before, and we even go for walks regularly. Once things are clear after this MCO, I want to do more outdoor sports with them, like hiking.
The other thing is that I went through my own parents’ divorce at a very young age and I know how it affected me. So I’m concerned and have to make sure that they talk to people and get the right treatment for potential trauma or mental issues, which is why we’re planning to go for a family therapy session with a professional as the implications of losing their mother is huge. I don’t think anyone can wrap their heads around it. As a father, I’m now very protective of them. Protective and stern, yet filled with tenderness in a nutshell. Being a single parent when the other half is alive is one thing, but being a single parent that’s taking the place of both parents is an entirely different thing altogether.”
What’s the hardest thing about being a mum and dad to your sons simultaneously?
“It’s narrowed down to having to learn and be the ‘other’ person to them – the mother figure. I think it’s important that my kids don’t feel like there’s anyone who can replace their mother and I’m sheltering them from that. I have to keep in mind what Didie would have done or how she would deal with things – and balance the parenting skills. That’s hard and I’m still learning how to do that.”
Guys shouldn’t be afraid to cry to acknowledge their feelings.
FATE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOUR PLANS – IT IS WHAT IT IS
How are you coping with the recovery period that you’re going through now?
“Recovery isn’t easy. It’s learning how to live, and I’ve bought some books for myself and the kids, which helped. The one I got for my kids was The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and it was the best analogy with regards to having a connection with their mother, which made things easier. But we’re working on things and taking it one day at a time. It’s about finding a new routine and that’s hard because I used to wake up and have Didie by my side. I also relive our moments together, except now I do it alone and it’s part of the healing process. For instance, we used to go to a particular restaurant in the past and I go to the same restaurant now without her. I have a good cry about it and sort it out then and there. Even photoshoots like this is more of a Didie thing. I said yes and I teared up a little having to do it without her, but I have to relive these experiences in order for me to heal. I acknowledge that it’s a slow process. It might even take years; you never know, cos she was the person I thought I’d be spending my entire life with.”
People like to think that guys aren’t allowed to be emotional or reveal how they feel. What do you have to say to that?
“I think I learnt it the hard way; that you must be able to cry and that men shouldn’t be afraid to cry. That was one of the things that Didie and I confronted – our feelings and realities. When you cry, you’re acknowledging your feelings and letting it out, and it’s important to be able to do that. You can’t just brush them aside cos it’s going to be worse later. Men in general must overcome that common misconception and false social construct. They should know how to acknowledge these feelings, work through them and improve. Focus on improving yourself and confront your feelings. If I didn’t cry about Didie’s passing, it’s going to come out worse. There are really bad days when I spiral into depression but crying makes me feel so much better and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it.”
What’s the message that you’d like to convey to people about cancer?
“Please don’t take your health for granted. I think everyone should know that we’re all at risk of getting cancer. So please always get tested for even the simplest thing. Find out more by reading. Don’t just listen and believe what people tell you. Try to be prepared for it and make informed decisions. Don’t get caught up in what you believe to be true. In the beginning, Didie wanted to go natural and I didn’t understand at first as I believed in western medicine. But I had to suspend my beliefs and accept that she wanted to do it. In the end, she went for western medicine and it didn’t work, so I was wrong. This is about life and cancer generally. If you’re the patient, you should be doing all the reading. She didn’t end up going natural because other people had their own beliefs and the hardest part was considering what they believed in. But learning from this lesson, if you know of someone who’s having cancer, you should let them make their own informed decisions.
The person going through it needs to be at peace with their decision. As caregivers, we aren’t the one going through it, so at times, the extent to which we give our opinions should be held back. Whatever situation you’re in, you need to take control of that and if you’re the patient, you need to make that decision. There’s no such thing as a wrong decision. Some might work and some might not, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad decision. As long as you’re at peace with the decision you made for yourself, then it’s fine. If you’re the caregiver, hold your opinions about their decision because if the patient were to take your advice and if it didn’t work, you’re going to have to live with that guilt.”
Nothing fears me more after seeing Didie fight through cancer.
TAKING IT ONE STEP AT A TIME
Moving forward, do you have an idea of what you’re going to do next, career-wise?
“I’ve been on the entrepreneurial journey with Didie for the past few years before the pandemic and cancer hit. The career and business have had to take a pause. Restarting our business after Didie’s death has been hard and challenging, but I think nothing fears me more after seeing her fight through cancer and supporting her while we were going through this pandemic together. You see, that’s the thing about life. Once you’ve been through a big change, nothing feels hard anymore. So I’m taking the step to challenge myself to heal like how I’ve challenged myself in the past year.”
Coming from a background where you were raised by a single mother, how was your relationship with your dad?
“My parents went through a divorce when I was young and I grew up living with my mum. I went to a boarding school and lived with her, but I never lost touch with my dad. The biggest impact that my father had on me was his habit of seeking knowledge. He was very well read and taught me how to seek knowledge, and that’s why I have a habit of not trying to assume anything. I believe in stats, science and the things that I learn from other people and books. I don’t rely on social media for information.”
This Father’s Day, what’s the one message you’d like to share with other single fathers out there?
“It’s not easy to be there for your kids, but you have to forgive yourself. At the same time, you also have to remember who you’re doing it for. As long as you remind yourself that the inconveniences you’re facing are for your kids’ future, then you’re already doing your best as a father. Single fathers will definitely not find things easy, but as long as you’re trying to improve yourself, your kids will always love you.”
Photography & videography: Tan Guo Xiang
Art direction: Zariel Zahann
Styling & coordination: Yang Mei Ling
Assisted by: Vasenta Selvanayagam
Grooming & hair: Kenny Yee/Makeup Miracle
Location: Joy Design Studio