It's that time of year when we celebrate fathers, and Hong Kong dads sure do deserve it. It's not always an easy task being a parent in this city: endless bills and mortgages, ruthless pressure and long working hours have made bonding with the children a luxury too often neglected. In celebration of those "super dads" who make the time to connect with their children we asked three of them - an artist, a musician and a successful restaurateur - to spend the day entertaining their brood all on their own. The mothers - and the children - weigh in on how they did.
Riz Farooqi is the lead singer of Hong Kong hardcore band King Ly Chee. He is also the proud father of a two-year-old daughter, Sofia. He decided to spend a Saturday with his daughter but their hopes to pass the day playing outside were quickly dashed by a massive rainstorm. While Farooqi worried the day was ruined, his daughter was delighted. "She loves the rain. She kept yelling, 'Rain boots! Rain coat!', and was all excited to go splash in the water," he says. "So we headed out in the rain: me in my misery, her in her joy."
He had heard of a new indoor playground at the Velodrome in his neighbourhood of Tseung Kwan O and took the opportunity to take a closer look.
"It was small; we were a bit bummed about the size of it: only 40 kids at a time. It was a bit of a let-down because there wasn't much stuff, but at her age all you need is a bit of flat ground to run on," he says.
Then it was off to Popcorn mall for lunch at their go-to spot: California Pizza Kitchen.
"When we go to CPK we know just what to order for her," he says. "It's easy."
Following lunch it was time for a trip to his daughter's favourite bookshop, Book Buddy. "It's a really good bookstore for kids and their parents because they have tons of books for all different ages."
After a long time spent going through the books, his daughter found two perfect titles: "We picked up Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Wheels on the Bus."
At the end of the busy day Sofia was exhausted, so they returned home for a nap that stretched through dinner time.
Farooqi is a hands-on father who loves taking his daughter to do things. Sofia drew plenty of attention when Farooqi brought her on stage in front of 3,000 screaming fans at Beijing's MIDI Festival last year: "I always knew that I was going to expose her to music and the arts at an early age. But when I carried my daughter out I felt an incredible emotion overtake me and fought back tears — it was such a beautiful thing to bring my two biggest loves in life together. I held her in my arms as we sang."
He brought her out again this past January at another MIDI festival, but this time, she couldn't have cared less. "All she wanted me to do was open a packet of crackers. So there I was on stage in front of thousands and I had to be dad for a second and put the mic down and open my daughter's crackers."
Mother's verdict: "He was just as great as any day that he is with her," says Alison Yu. "I would definitely give him 10 out of 10 because he's a great dad."
Daughter's verdict: hard to say with a two-year old, but when Farooqi asked her if she enjoyed her day, her reply was: "Yes. Sofia wants cheese."
Cheng Yee-man — known in art circles as Ah Gum — is one of the city's most progressive artists after he and his wife Clara Cheung founded art collective and alternative art space C&G Artpartment. Together they have two young daughters: Ning-chuan is 3½ years old and Ning-shan is seven. They recently completed a local artist residency at the Asia Art Archive, where they worked on their project Meet the Parents in which they interviewed the parents of Hong Kong artists.
For their special day Cheng took the girls to West Kowloon, where they fished off the waterfront. They caught a small fish early, but rain forced them to change plans.
Cheng had brought along painting supplies from home, but the rain made it hard for the girls to concentrate. "In the rain they just wanted to run around," he says.
So, like a good father, he abandoned the paintings and played in the rain with them. Then it was off to the nearby Elements Mall. In the tradition of great dads everywhere, Cheng took the opportunity to run some errands, hoping his little ones would be distracted by Elements' over-the-top displays. It didn't work: "They didn't really like it, even though they usually like to go shopping."
To assuage his daughters' shopping bug, Cheng took them on a long walk through Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok back towards their home in Prince Edward. "They wanted to buy stuff," he says. "We negotiated and agreed to buy ice creams instead."
They stopped at McDonald's for the ice cream, but the plan almost escalated. "Ning-shan really wanted to have dinner at McDonald's, but I said no."
Instead they headed to one of their favourite noodle places in the Langham Place food court.
Mother's verdict: "My husband is always a great playmate for our daughters. Spending a day together, no matter where they are, is enjoyable for the girls. The most exciting part of the day for them was catching, and letting go of, a fish. Ning-chuan even shared this with her teacher the next day."
Daughter's verdict: both daughters agree they had a great time, though the older one wished there had been time to go ice skating at Elements.
Matt Abergel is one of Hong Kong's most successful restaurateurs. With his business partner Lindsay Jang, he has opened Yardbird, Ronin, and most recently Sunday's Grocery in Kennedy Town. But, the duo's greatest collaboration is certainly their two kids: a three-year-old son — whom the restaurant Ronin is named after — and a six-year-old daughter Lili — whose middle name graces Sunday's Grocery.
The couple is separated and it's Abergel's job to take the kids to swimming practice every Saturday. Their day starts at 5.45am, when his son "wakes up like an alarm clock", then proceeds to jump on dad. Usually, Abergel has just had a late night, but for his son, he'll sacrifice his beauty sleep. He takes him down to the ground floor of their building where Ronin can play on a scooter while waiting for his sister to wake up. "My daughter is at the age where she doesn't want to get out of bed, so I wake her up with Bruno Mars' The Lazy Song and get her dressed while she's still half asleep."
Their morning routine started, as usual, with the family making fresh juice together and then, after breakfast, heading off to the beach. "We have to leave the house by 10 or else everyone starts to go a little stir crazy," says Abergel. "When the weather's nice we go to Big Wave Bay."
After the beach it was time to head for brunch. The kids' favourite restaurant of the moment is Linguini Fini. "It's totally family friendly. We've been going there for so long. It's like we have extended family all over the place," says Abergel. "They run around like they own the place."
His kids are picky eaters, so most meals are a struggle: "Lili likes calamari and their plain handmade spaghetti and pizza. I'll get roast chicken and intermittently try and shove it in their face to get them some protein," he says, laughing. "My son won't eat anything remotely colourful, except ketchup. A chef's worst nightmare."
They often brunch with Jang or other people from the restaurants. "My kids grew up around adults and they know them so well. My son doesn't refer to Ronin by its name, he calls it, 'my restaurant'."
Swimming lessons start at 3pm at the Canadian International School. Getting the kids in the pool is a chore, but a good swim is worth it.
Abergel usually makes dinner for the children at home on Saturdays. Some nights he'll pick up something from his restaurants. On special occasions such as tonight, though, they'll eat out. "We like going to Fish & Chick in Kennedy Town," says Abergel. "It's family friendly, too."
Mother's verdict: "The best part is they have equal love for both households. They don't show any favouritism even though he tries to persuade them with lots of candy. Matt takes one for the team because he does swimming lessons with the both of them which can be the most arduous 45 minutes of the week. Ask any parent."
Daughter's verdict: "I like Saturdays with my dad," says Lili.