National service is supposed to turn boys into men. However, if you have a situation where the boys don’t need to clean up themselves, you have to ask what type of men we are producing. I’m close to my mother, but I don’t call myself a “mummy’s boy” because my mother would vomit and go into cardiac arrest if she had to do the heavy lifting for me.

However, that’s exactly what we’re producing: a generation of “Mummy’s Boys,”
instead of “Young Men.” Young men have dynamism and drive. They want to change
the world, and some even do. Mummy’s boys are useless as they only function as Mummy requires.

This point hit home to me around two weeks back when I had to go on a day trip with an 84-year-old lady who needed wheelchair assistance. While the lady pushing her on the Singapore end did a commendable job, she looked frail and should have been doing something else.

Guess what? On the Vietnamese side, the guy pushing the wheelchair was a relatively young man who, whilst not shredded, looked like he had strength for the job.

Funnily enough, this wasn’t a one-off. On the flight out of Ho Chi Minh City, it was a young guy who did the pushing of the wheelchair. He ended up pushing several wheelchairs.

Who met us on the Singapore side? One of Singapore’s proverbial “aunties.” In fairness to the aunty pushing the wheelchair, she did a good job of it. However, it was noticeable that she was not young and sprightly. The only young and sprightly young man in the wheelchair-pushing team at our world-class airport was clearly from India.

This isn’t limited to wheelchair pushing. Go to any random hawker centre, and you’ll see all the young and sprightly people sitting down or doing the light work. It’s inevitably the oldest and physically frailest person doing the heavy lifting.

Perhaps I’m just strange, but there has to be something fundamentally wrong when those of declining strength do the heavy lifting, whilst those who should be at the peak of their physical strength can’t lift a piece of paper without going into cardiac arrest.

I think of the times my boss has sent me down hills to check on abandoned assets but refused to let the 20-year-olds near the same place.

A few years ago, one of my aunts pointed out that Singapore is a weird place. She explained to me that ageing is different in Singapore. In the rest of the world, young people are usually idealistic and are brimming with ideas about making the world a better place. However, once they start work, the reality of paying bills sets in, and they become more conservative as they age.

In Singapore, the youth tend to be career-focused and money-minded, and then, as they get older, they realise that money isn’t everything, and they’re either more idealistic or perhaps resentful of the rat race.

In a way, I’m a classic example of this. As a student in the UK, I took pride in the fact that I worked as an intern for that most capitalistic of institutions – Citibank, whilst contemporaries were busy railing against the evils of capitalism and arguing that whilst they may not have liked Mao’s methods, you had to admire the man’s ideals. That was me in my 20s.

Today, as I approach the half-century mark, I look at the intangible costs of my actions. Yes, money is important, but I ask if my actions will cost me in other areas, like my ability to sleep. Age has taught me that what is legal is not necessarily moral.

So, I am a living example of Singapore’s ageing in reverse. However, I ask myself if I’m just a freak of nature. Are our younger people as depressingly conservative and mainstream as I once was?

As a matter of disclosure, I am a father of a young lady (age 24). I also became a “father figure” to an intern (age 27). One could argue that my views on our youth are clouded by the two “kids” I have in my immediate vicinity.

With the girl, let’s say that I thought I would worry about boys. Instead, I had much of the reverse when she discovered her phone and a host of apps that allowed her to stay indoors. I breathed a sigh of relief when she had a boyfriend (a former regular who served in the Provost Unit and now works as a bar manager).

I guess you could say a father of a daughter gets protective of his little girl. Being a “dad” figure to a boy is a little more challenging because you feel you have to shape him into something resembling a man. My young man announced that I had my work cut out for me when he declared me the “real man.” I’m sure he meant that as a compliment, but it’s unnatural when a guy whose t-levels are still high calls a man whose t-levels should be in decline a “real man.”

To be fair to him, he’s not the only one. I’ve met young men proud to call themselves “mummy’s boys.” Ya, I’m close to my mum too, but is calling yourself a “mummy’s boy” something to be proud of, especially when it means Mummy has literally cleaned up after you all your life? I think of an American guy who got his son into the SAF and observed that Pulau Tekong was filled with Bangladeshi workers hired to clean up after the
boys being trained to “protect” us.

Mummy’s mean well. Who wants their kid to be hurt? Who doesn’t want their kid to have a comfortable job in an office? However, when you prevent young men from doing any form of lifting, you stunt their growth. You have boys who cannot handle mental, psychological or even physical. (You’re talking to the 49-year-old who does the heavy lifting because the kids in the office would go into cardiac arrest if you asked them to lift anything heavier than a paper clip.)

You need to hire Barrow Boys to do the basics in life. Are you surprised that Mummy’s boys don’t reproduce because every girl they look at needs to be Mummy? We need young men to drive society and young women to hold it together. We don’t need a group of Mummy’s boys who go into cardiac arrest when they are required to push buttons on a washing

A version of this article first appeared at