A Dad's Dedication Of Love A Dad's Dedication Of Love

17 Jun 2016

A Dad's Dedication Of Love


Award-winning photographer Bob Lee, 40, may have photographed numerous important figures as well as famous celebrities in the course of his career, but his favourite subject is much closer to home. After working at a local newspaper for a decade, he gave up his full-time job in 2011 to spend more time with his son Junle, 9, who has autism. His personal documentation of life with Lele (as the boy is affectionally known) offers an intimate glimpse into this family’s life.

What first inspired you to share your photos of Lele and why do you find this process important?

After we accepted Lele’s condition, we realised that there was no point hiding it from others. Sometimes, we needed to apply for leave to bring him to the therapist and being open about his condition allowed our colleagues to understand our situation and work with us more easily. Our initial motivation was just to record his life and share his story with our friends. I uploaded mainly happy photos of Lele but soon realised that when people look at the photographs, they misunderstand what autism is. Many of them think that his condition is actually alright since he always looks so happy.

After that, I decided to capture the whole story. Lele throws tantrums easily; he cries and makes noise when he encounters changes. When we feel down and share our experiences on social media, we receive words of encouragement and sometimes we receive comments from other parents who identify with our situation. It helps to know that we are not in this battle alone.

Along the way, we’ve also discovered that sharing Lele’s photos is important as some parents have young children with autism and are experiencing the same challenges we did when Lele was first diagnosed. When they saw our album, some of them were actually able to draw inspiration from how we attempted to solve Lele’s problems in the past and learn from what we did.

I still enjoy sharing these photos, regardless of whether Lele is happy or sad. But sometimes when Lele throws a tantrum, I end up photographing it instead of calming him down. (laughs) My wife will tell me to stop clicking away and help calm Lele down instead.

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

A Dad's Dedication Of Love

How did you first introduce Lele to photography?

Some people believe that kids with autism have special skills, but that’s actually a misconception. We’re not sure where Lele’s strength lies so we try to introduce him to a lot of different things. We have a keyboard and guitar at home even though I don’t know how to play those instruments and we’ve introduced hobbies like drawing and cooking to him as well.

But since I’m a photographer, of course I hope that he can learn photography. On our last trip to China, we felt that we should let him try photography. Previously, we’ve let him explore different kinds of compact cameras but he tends to play with the video function and we end up with many random, meaningless videos. I wanted him to concentrate on taking photos, so I gave him a Polaroid camera instead. He actually found the whole process of the film developing quite interesting.

How do you use photography as a tool to communicate with him?

Instead of letting him explore with the camera himself, I decided to use the camera to teach him to listen to instructions. I asked him to take photographs of a building and told him: “I want a roof, but no window.” Surprisingly, he followed what I said. Throughout the trip, I just kept telling him that I wanted the sky but no roofs, or a tree but no sky. It turned out well, not on the basis of photography or aesthetics per se, but because he learnt a new skill.

Photography can also be used as a tool for Lele to interact with other people. During the school holidays, I brought Lele to a nearby market and asked him to take his Polaroid camera along. I requested the uncles and aunties in the market to let Lele to take their photos on the premise that he was doing a school assignment, and explained to them that Lele is autistic so he can't really communicate well. Many of them were very friendly and willing to help, striking a pose for the camera. I just hoped that people in our community would have the chance to interact with an autistic child and understand more about their condition. Every time I do something, I feel that I might as well seize the opportunity to raise awareness about Lele's condition for him, and to let more people to understand autism. I don't want to waste any chances.

Which part of fatherhood has been the most rewarding?

When I quit my job to take care of Lele, I suddenly realised that I had a lot of time to spend with him. That was when I really saw his improvement, day by day. I always tell people that we didn’t get a normal kid, but we got a closer family. Because of Lele, our family members always call to encourage us, show their support and ask about how we’re doing. I’ve always believed that when there’s a will, there’s a way. When it comes to children with special needs, there are a lot of things that we are still learning.

Parents are usually seen as the ones who teach their children but on the contrary, do you think that you have learnt anything from Lele?

In the past, I was always rushing. When opportunities passed me by, I felt bitter and found it difficult to let go. Raising Lele taught me to take things easy and be more accommodating. I’ve accepted that there are things I can’t control. I’ve become a more empathetic person as well. In the past, it was easy to cast judgment on people who caused a scene in public, but now I try to understand that they may have certain conditions or compulsions which I am unaware of. My wife and I started seeing things differently and thought about things that we didn’t care about before. We’ve become much more accepting on the whole.

How have people supported you through your challenging journey in raising your child?

Once, when our family went out to eat, Lele started crying because his mum and grandma didn’t wait for him before entering the restaurant. This mother at the table beside us asked her son to give his toy to Lele to calm him down. The boy offered Lele some candy and said: “Are you okay, Kor-kor? Don’t cry.”

Sometimes, people just give us a nod to reassure us that Lele did not disturb them. But this parent went beyond that. It’s impressive that it’s not just the parents who are doing something, but that they’re educating their kids to make a difference as well. That was just one instance but we know that there are a lot of angels beside us who have always helped and supported us. I believe in karma –when you help others, you will receive things as well, but maybe in different forms.

What would be your greatest wish for your son?

Even before Lele was born, we knew that we wanted his name to contain ‘le’, the Chinese character for happiness. I think that being happy is important, but we definitely hope that he can be independent and support himself in the future. He could be working in a small company, doing data entry, washing dishes or working in a restaurant, as long as he can survive on his own.


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