Letter To A Special Needs Dad — On Faith. Hope. And Love.

low angle photography gray sky

Dear Mr. Xavier Yap

First and foremost, may I call you Xavier? I know it’s presumptuous of me to ask since you don’t know me. And, up until January 22, 2022, when news about you first broke nationwide, the rest of Singapore and I didn’t know you either.

This week, however, we found out more when news of you emerged again. Four days ago, your sentencing was announced by the court of law in our land. That was the day details of the series of events and decisions, which led to what happened last year, were publicly revealed.

It was news that brought me, and no doubt many others, back to that fateful day in January 2022.

At this point, Xavier, you might be tempted to stop reading and dispose of this unsolicited letter, but please hear me out.

I’m A Special Needs Dad Too

father and child s hands together
Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on Pexels.com

My name is Kelvin and I’m a blogger and stay-home dad. I’m also about your age.

Like you, I have two sons. My eldest is 14 this year, and my youngest is 12. Besides age, my youngest, Caleb, shares something else in common with your twins Aston and Ethan. You see, Caleb has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) too. And coincidentally, just like your boys, he was also officially diagnosed with ASD in 2017.

I say all this, Xavier, knowing none of it means anything to you personally. But, at least you know a little bit about me now. At least you know that, like you, I’m also a special needs father. So I have slightly more insight than most people about what daily living is like with a child that has ASD.

I say “slightly”, because I only have one child with ASD (my eldest is neurotypical).

You, on the other hand, Xavier, have two.

Yes. I use the present tense “have,” because I firmly believe they are still alive. If only in your mind and heart. In fact, I firmly believe it even more now, because of what the local media reported this week.

Because of everything you did, leading up to that fateful day of January 21, 2022.

Why this letter?

person holding fountain pen
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Xavier, let me assure you right away I have no desire to repeat here what was reported. The last thing I wish is to be insensitive to what took place, what you went through, and for you to relive those painful memories. That’s not the purpose of my letter.

Frankly, I don’t know why I’m writing to you either. I know that sounds ridiculous. If, again, you feel like discarding this letter, I’ll understand.

It’s just that, when the details were publicized this week, I felt like a time-travel wormhole had suddenly appeared underneath me. I was once again hurled back in time to that fateful day on January 22, 2022. That was the day the local media reported about a father named Xavier Yap who was arrested as a suspect in the killing of his twin sons the day before, on January 21.

That date, January 21, is locked into my brain because, exactly a week before that, my family celebrated my son Caleb’s 11th birthday.

That fateful day in 2022

close up shot of a calendar
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Pexels.com

When the news broke, I remembered I could barely hold back my tears.

I struggled to read beyond the headlines. To read the rest of the report.

I feared my floodgates would burst wide open.

When I eventually regained my composure to read on, I knew with instant, blinding clarity the struggle you had raising not one, but two boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I was moved subsequently to pen a piece on my blog that talked about the challenges of being a special needs father. I needed to process for myself an unspeakable tragedy that seemed too immense to comprehend. Something so far removed from my own reality, yet paradoxically, also hitting too close to home.

You see, I both understand and don’t understand what happened.

Processing the tragedy — what I understand

sad mature businessman thinking about problems in living room
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

What do I understand?

I understand the ongoing struggles of a father, caring for a child who finds daily living skills most take for granted a challenge. Skills like tying a shoelace or packing a school bag.

I also understand the daily frustrations of a father repeating the same instructions (“brush your teeth”, “tidy up your toys”), and having those instructions fall on deaf ears.

At the same time, I understand too the mundanity of daily routines like supervising baths and homework. Though there are also moments of joy in the parenting journey, such moments seem few and far between. Compared to the maddening grind I feel on most days. Like I’m in an eternal cycle of wash-rinse-dry-repeat.

Having read the details of the news this week, I firmly believe you understand far more about this eternal cycle than I do. And that your love for your sons was no less than my love for mine.

Over the last four years since I began blogging, many of my posts speak openly about my cluelessness in navigating the world of special needs. Even now, though I try to understand how best to parent my son, I remain clueless. So, I just live one day at a time. It’s not a clever strategy I’ll admit. Still, it has helped me on most days to keep my sanity intact. Not all days, just most days.

But above and beyond all these insights, I understand far more the single, unifying fear every special needs parent has, from the day our children received their special needs diagnosis. Their “sentencing.”

We wonder, in bone-chilling silence, what will happen to our kids when we’re six feet under?

Processing the tragedy — what I don’t understand

person sitting outdoors
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Which brings me to what I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why there are no easy answers to the question of what will become of our children after we, their parents, pass on. Why the deep sorrow that follows when we ponder our special needs children’s potentially-bleak future can feel like a sudden vortex. The kind that sucks the very oxygen we need to live right out of our lungs. The sorrow that drains our insides until we lose all sense of breathing. All sense of living.

I also don’t understand how there are days I can harbor horrendous thoughts that say stuff like “Maybe it’s better I outlive my kid.”

As I read the methodical way you went about taking out first Ethan then Aston that fateful January day, I couldn’t imagine anything else that could have driven you, other than the sorrow I just spoke of. And I couldn’t understand how this deep sorrow and conviction you carried (no one would take care of the boys”, they would be “bullied by others”, I can take away my “wife’s burdens”), gave you that singularity of strength, purpose, and determination to complete what perhaps in your mind was a mercy killing.

The depth of loneliness, despair, and sheer helplessness you must have felt right up to that moment of steel and resolve? I’m sorry, but I just can’t understand that level of pain and hopelessness.


Or maybe, just maybe, I do.

Faith. Hope. Love.

photo of cross in an ocean during dawn
Photo by Ryan Delfin on Pexels.com

For, were I to concede, somewhere deep within me lies a father who does understand why it happened that way. God knows I have enough daily reminders, as I parent my child, to help me get to that depth of anger, despondence, and hopelessness that must have been what propelled you into action on Jan 21, 2022. That would propel any father driven to the edge of a cliff, with only a steep drop into the abyss below to greet him.

So maybe I do understand after all.

And that brings me to why I felt compelled to write to you.

I have been a Christian for nearly four decades now. In all that time, I have seen how my Christian faith has come through for my loved ones and me in times of great need. Despite many trials and tribulations, I have seen the hand of God lead desperate people like me out of hopelessness and into hope.

More precisely, Faith, Hope, and Love.

For in the final lap of life’s marathon, only these three virtues remain to sustain every human being, in a world that appears to hurtle every day closer to sheer anarchy and madness.

Peace and Grace…

silhouette of man sitting on grass field at daytime
Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

Xavier, I want to tell you that, even as I recoiled viscerally back in Jan 2022 when I first read about you and your sons, I never once judged you. How can I? In those final days leading up to the tragedy, who’s to say with any degree of certainty that I, or anyone else in your then state of mind and circumstance, would have acted differently?

That whole decade before 2022 you spent caregiving Aston and Ethan, but not yourself.

That whole decade before 2022, filled no doubt with endless anguish, denials, and self-recriminations churning relentlessly in your mind and spirit. Who can handle that level of stress?! I know I can’t. And I give thanks to my God every day I’ve not reached such a level of stress. Yet.

If I do reach such a level, Faith, Hope, and Love will have to be my lifelines.

But the greatest of these lifelines is Love. Not just love from family members and a supporting community that’s blessed my child and me these past 12 years. Not even the love for my child, though there’s still plenty of that even during the worst of times. But the love that comes from God, my heavenly Father, who is the very embodiment of Love itself.

And because of that knowledge and experience of love, I know my child and I will be alright. No matter what happens. No matter where our life leads us.

Xavier, my prayer is that you will also, in time, experience for yourself the healing and sustaining powers of Faith, Hope, and Love. And may you emerge thereafter with an unshakeable, unbreakable sense of abiding peace and grace. The kind that transcends all human understanding. That empowers you to live on. For your sons. And for yourself.

And you must live on Xavier. You must. For then, your family’s story, our special needs community’s collective story, will live on too. And not be forgotten by the rest of society.

God bless you, Xavier, my fellow special needs dad.


Leave a Reply