SINGAPORE -Actor-host Mark Lee thinks about his family before taking up movie and television projects.
“If there are bed scenes, I wouldn’t do it,” the 52-year-old says. “If the role is morally wrong, I’d say ‘no’ to it.
“Because if I were to do these, what would my kids’ teachers and friends think of them?”
Lee and his wife of 21 years, Ms Catherine Ng, 48, who helps him with his businesses, have three children – Calista, 12, Maksonn, nine, and Calynn, seven.
But Lee was not worried about playing a drag queen in the film Number 1, though. It opened in cinemas last October.
“I like the script very much. At the heart of it, he is a family man who is struggling to make ends meet.”
His stellar performance scored him a Best Leading Actor nomination at Taiwan’s prestigious Golden Horse Award – dubbed the Oscars of Chinese-language cinema – last November.
Known for his wit and humour, Lee has been in show business for more than 20 years.
“My kid’s tutor told me that she watched my comedy series, My Classmate Dad (2008), on okto channel when she was in primary school. And now, she’s tutoring my kid. I’m so pai seh (Hokkien for embarrassed),” he says with a laugh.
The funnyman turns serious as he tells The Straits Times his hopes and worries for his children.
How fatherhood has changed him
He ponders before making purchases, especially for himself. “Before I became a father, I didn’t have to. I just spent freely.”
In earlier interviews, he confessed to splurging up to $5,000 a week on 4-D in his younger days.
He has since cleaned up his act and appeared in a video for the National Council on Problem Gambling in 2019 to warn others of the perils of an addiction to gambling.
Then, when he and his wife conceived their first child after eight years of marriage, the excited new parents went all out to buy the finest for her.
“Now with three kids, I’ve to control our spending,” he says.
Given that he has found success in show business, set up a talent agency and production company, as well as co-invested in a hair salon and food and beverage business, it is safe to assume he is doing well financially.
But he is careful about his spending and thinks about his family finances first.
“I’m 52 years old. My oldest kid turns 13 this year and the youngest turns eight. I’ve to think about their future and pave the path for them,” he says of rising inflation.
Plus, education does not come cheap now, he adds.
“In the past, our parents had to pay only $2.50 for school fees monthly. But now, no more.
“The kids go for tuition too and these fees can add up to a lot.”
His top parenting concern
He hopes that his kids would put in their best effort academically.
He often tells them that their studies are important, but his son once retorted playfully: “But ah mah (grandmother in Hokkien) said you had only secondary school education.”
To which Lee replied: “Can you imagine if I had gone to university? I’d be doing 10 times better.
“That’s why you have to study hard. Not everybody is so lucky like me.”
He also reminds his teenage daughter not to pursue boy-girl relationships at this stage.
“I told her, ‘Even if you have a boyfriend now, it’s hard to be forever. So why waste your time? Focus on your studies now and it may help you find a better one in future.'”
And if his kids want to follow his footsteps and join show business, he has this to say: “You want to sing, dance or act? Complete your university studies first.”
He does not want his kids to win
Lee went through the school of hard knocks before hitting the big league. He hopes that his children learn from failure as well.
He says his son loves to take part in competitions, from mathematics to storytelling to water polo.
“I’d encourage him, ‘Go for it, but I don’t want you to win. Take it as an experience.'”
But the boy asked: “Papa, why are you like that? Everyone wants their child to win. Why do you want me to lose?”
Lee explains that if he wins on the first try, he would not be able to savour the sweet taste of success as much. He wants to teach him about staying the course.
His son took up water polo last year. Lee recalls that the team was crushed 24-0 in their first match. In the subsequent matches, they were defeated 21-1 and 11-3.
“I said, ‘You see, your team is improving. Very good.'”
Bonding with his kids
Lee drives his two younger kids to their primary school before heading to host the weekday morning show on Love 972 radio station. In the afternoon, he would pick his firstborn from her secondary school.
These car rides give him the chance to interact with them.
For example, from his teenage daughter, he learnt about American boy band Why Don’t We and singer Ariana Grande.
He takes the chance to “give parental guidance” and discuss any suggestive lyrics and salty language.
“I told her, ‘We cannot stop others from saying f***, but I don’t want to hear it from your mouth. Otherwise, I’ll cancel your Spotify account and confiscate your mobile phone.'”
No matter how exhausted he is, he would entertain his children’s requests and questions.
“Whenever they ask me: ‘Papa, why do you look so tired today?’, I’d share my day with them.
“It’s important not to brush them off and say, ‘Aiyah, you won’t understand’ or ‘Don’t ask so much.’
“Otherwise, wait till you are old. You will get the same response from them.”
He stays strong for his family
His youngest child Calynn was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis, a rare kidney disease, when she was five.
Lee had always put up a strong front and was seen shedding tears only recently when he recounted the dark period on a Channel 8 talk show, The Inner Circle.
He tells The Straits Times that Calynn’s health condition is now “so far, so good”.
She still needs to go for regular check-ups and possibly take medication till her teenage years, when her immunity becomes stronger.
“Whenever I hug her, aiyo, I feel like I’d crush her bones. She’s too skinny,” he says. But he and his wife have to watch their daughter’s diet.
“She has to eat healthy, but she loves ice cream and potato chips.
“We will all share a pack and try to eat faster than her, so she has less to eat,” he says. “Now, we’re the ones putting on weight.”
Keeping his marriage strong
Lee and his wife are seen as a loving couple and he rarely goes on overseas work trips without her.
Lee says she is the “chairperson” of the family, the “chief executive officer, chief financial officer and chief operating officer” of his investments.
“She helps to look after my businesses. I still put movie and television projects as my priority,” he says.
He also leaves her to handle the kids’ academic matters, such as choosing tutors.
But they often share different views. “What’s important is to give and take, as well as how you communicate with each other.”
He has seen many couples getting into heated discussions that eventually strain the relationship.
“Just talk nicely and gently. There’s no need to raise your voice and go, ‘Why did you do this?’ or ‘Why did you buy that?’
“Even if you are angry, be patient and give your spouse a chance to explain. Try to understand each other’s perspective.”
Raising his kids in the public eye
He does not want them to have a sense of entitlement just because they are “Mark Lee’s children”, he says.
He prides himself on making them wait in line with him at crowded restaurants and declines offers to let them jump the queue.
“I take such opportunities to teach and remind them that they should not expect privileges. If we did not make reservations, we should just queue up like everybody else.”
Original posted at www.straitstimes.com