A chat with the inspirational teacher and dad to celebrate Fathers' Day
Who ever said men can’t multi task? We’ve found one. He’s a husband, father of 3, boarding house master to 160 students, a teacher, champion paddle boarder and SurfAid’s highest contributing fundraiser. He’s also into his tenth year living on campus with his family at UWCSEA. Meet Jackson English.
On the eve of Fathers’ Day 2014, we had a chat to Jackson to get his take on fatherhood, life lessons and upper cuts learned through parenting. A more inspiring role model for kids would be hard to find.
Hey Jackson! Tell us about Jackson English – dad, teacher, surfer, paddle boarder, pastoral carer…
My wife, Anna, and I have been married for 13 years and we have three gorgeous children Grace (9), Lily (6) and Max (4). All three of them were born in Singapore. Watching the kids grow up has been such an incredible experience. Not one day with the kids has been the same in all these years and I love that. Our house is always full of noise and fun.
In 2004 I was offered a job teaching at the UWCSEA Dover Campus. At the time I’d only been teaching in Australia for a few years since graduating. I’ve been at UWCSEA for 10 years now (4 years at the Dover Campus and 6 years at the East Campus). I’ve learned far more than I could ever have imagined. I’ve seen hundreds of kids grow into fine young adults who have the passion and intelligence to make the world a better place.
I was lucky enough to grow up close to the beach and have parents who were surfers. I’ve been fortunate to surf in some amazing places around the world and some waves are still etched in my memory like it was yesterday. When you’re in the ocean, everything gets washed away. When you are on a wave, there is no chance to be thinking about anything else.
The hardest part about living in Singapore is that, although we are on a tropical island, there are no real waves to surf. One of the advantages of living here is that it’s so close to Indonesia and the incredible waves that are on offer across the entire island chain. I’ve been on three surf trips there this year and next week we are heading down to Bali for a month.
My life on a paddle board is another thing that keeps me in the ocean. I was lucky enough to be involved in the Surf Life Saving races in Australia as I was growing up. I then heard about a 52 kilometre (32 mile) paddle race in Hawaii between the islands of Molokai and Oahu. The race is considered the world championship of paddleboarding and is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done physically. After my first attempt across the channel, I vowed never to do the race again. Since 1999 I’ve done the race 9 times and have finished 3rd three times and 2nd three times. Each time across the channel is a different experience and one I will never forget.
To train for the race I do a lot of paddling from Tanjong Beach. It’s nothing like Hawaii but it is still enough to get me up each morning. Watching the sunrise whilst on the water is a great way to start the day.
What’s it like living on Campus at UWCSEA?
It’s crazy to say the least! We live in the Boarding House at the UWCSEA-East campus with 160 students from Grade 7 to 12. Along with being a parent to my own children, we deal with all the highs and lows of teenage life. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch the students grow into incredible young adults. Two weeks ago the first group of graduating students finished their exams and after graduation they moved back to their home countries to be with their families before heading off to University. It was sad to see them leave as we all grew very close to them.
We have students living in the house from over 40 different nationalities. Every day I learn something new about different cultures that I’m able to share with my own family. I’ve learnt enough about teenage life to be prepared for when my own children are teenagers themselves. I’ve also heard just about every excuse that teenagers have when they want to get out of doing something. I could write a book!
You’re SurfAid’s number one fundraiser. How do you balance it all?
It’s not easy. I choose to be involved in the things I do because I love doing them. It’s easier to do something when you are passionate about it. I’m passionate about being a great role model for the kids first and foremost so I want to show them that doing the things you love is far better than sitting around waiting for something to happen.
In practical terms, fitting everything into the day usually means waking up very early (well before 5:00am) and going to bed later than I want to. Before kids, I used to go to bed before 8:30 every night. Now I spend some time at night doing things like working on my Masters’ degree, which I want to finish by September. It’s on the value of homework for primary school children. It’s taking me a while to complete but I’m looking forward to getting it done and sharing my research findings.
You sound like you must be a goal setter! How do you stick to them ?
Setting goals is the most important thing anyone can ever do in my opinion. If you don’t have a goal to achieve it’s easy to get into a rut and not really bother about anything. A friend of mine, who represented Australia at the 1996 Olympics, used to say, “Set your goals high so that you have something to aspire to.” So, I’ve always had one goal or another to try and achieve. Right now, it’s to complete the 10,000 words of my Masters’ dissertation. After that I want to get fit again and get ready to tackle the Molokai to Oahu paddle board race in July 2015.
We reckon you’re a great role model, what are your 3 guiding principles for raising kids?
1. Laugh and have fun with your children.
2. Make connections with your children so that they know that when things are not going as planned they can turn to you for help.
3. Let your children develop an enquiring mind so they have the confidence and ability to tackle any issues that come up with an open mind.
What has having kids taught you?
Having kids has taught me to remember to smile when things are going downhill quickly. There have been many times when our kids have had monumental “melt-downs” all at the same time in very public places. It has taught me to be patient. I was once told to “Hurry Slowly” and it has stuck with me. And having three healthy, happy kids has also taught me to remember how lucky I am. I have amazing parents, in-laws, friends and a wife who are all role models to aspire and look up to. I take parts of all the great things they do and build on it for myself, and in turn to make the lives of my own children as happy as can be.
One piece of advice for other dads…
Spend as much time with your kids as you possibly can so you can help guide them in the right direction but also allow them to make mistakes so they can learn for themselves.
What would you most like to do on Fathers’ Day?
My ideal Fathers’ Day would be to wake up early, before everyone else is awake, and go for a surf. Then I’d like to spend the rest of the day at the beach with my family and friends.
What do you think you will actually be doing on Fathers’ Day?
I’ll be woken up early by one of the kids wanting breakfast, clean the house, do some work and hopefully go somewhere nice for lunch where the kids won’t complain too much about the food. We’ll then spend the afternoon either in the pool or at the beach if the tide is right. Dinner, wash the dishes and bed. And I’ll be happy with that.
Thanks Jackson and Happy Fathers’ Day!
(Editor’s note: SurfAid is a non-profit humanitarian organization whose aim is to improve the health, wellbeing and self-reliance of people living in isolated regions, connected through surfing.)
Images: Suasti Lye Photography & Design for Honeycombers