Lee Hsien Yang on his father: ‘I did not feel regimented or restricted’
In what areas of your life was your father most involved in?
Mr Lee Hsien Yang: Well, I guess he was always busy with his work. And most of the sort of day-to-day care was taken care off by my mother. And they would consult and I suppose at key points when one was looking at what schools to go to and what course to take, they would give advice and I think he was concerned that we were well educated and they saw that as the key to being — the key to life. You know that they wanted us to achieve what we could.
What was his involvement in your daily life?
Mr Lee: When I was little, he would be in the office and we would sometimes go to the grounds in the Istana in the evenings and play, and he would be playing golf. We would often have dinner together. But usually at lunch only my mother would be at home.
And your fondest memory?
Mr Lee: I guess (that would be when) we had holidays, when we went away. Not very far, but to Fraser’s Hills and later on to Cameron Highlands. We used to wander around the golf course and play in the streams and we would sit around the fire place in the evenings.
What was it like at home — how would you see him as your father?
Mr Lee: You know, people think of him as being very stern and very strict. I don’t think we ever felt that at home. I think he himself felt that he had a very strict father who would often be quick to discipline the children, and so he did not do that with us.
I think that would be a surprise to most people. And the characteristic of your father that you liked best and you most admire?
Mr Lee: Well, he has a sense of integrity that is not just a question of what’s right or wrong but also doing in what he believes in. And sometimes not necessarily what is obvious or not necessarily what is popular. And he’s prepared to say it, (whereas) many people, especially politicians, are politically correct.
What was it like for you when he said those things?
Mr Lee: Well, I suppose after a while you sort of get used to it. It’s not like as if I knew how it was like not to be the PM’s son.
What was it like to be the PM’s son?
Mr Lee: I don’t know. I mean, you have to ask yourself the opposite question and I never knew that. So to me this was the normal and after a while I sort of got used to it.
He is a great believer of discipline, as we all know. What was it like growing up with these high standards?
Mr Lee: Well, I don’t remember feeling that there was, you know, that we lived a regimented life. I think we all did a lot of things when we were young and had a full schedule. But … I did not feel regimented or restricted.
Did you hear stories about him as a young boy? What did you hear about him as a young boy?
Mr Lee: No, I was the last child and I was born quite late in life. I think by the time I was born I’m not sure how old he would have been but certainly in his late 30s and, you know, we didn’t talk about it.
What was Mr Lee like as a grandfather?
Mr Lee: Well, he would engage with the grandchildren sometimes. He listens to them. I think sometimes he takes on board what they have said. They don’t necessarily agree with him on things and you know are quite prepared to engage him.
How often do they get to see him?
Mr Lee: Well, when they are around we try and do Sunday lunch as a routine and we gather. And sometimes we just have lunch and sometimes we have a discussion.
Were there issues when you were growing up that remain in your mind as when you really had differing points of view between your father and yourself?
Mr Lee: I’m sure there were but I’m not sure I want to share them (laughs)!
If there were stories that you would like to share what would that be?
Mr Lee: Well I guess (one story would be that when) I wanted to go to postgraduate study, my parents were both quite keen that I should go to the East Coast of the United States and I thought, you know, it would be quite fun to go the West Coast. I guess I did what I wanted to do.
So in the end even though you may have had a different point of view you would sometimes get your way or mostly get your way?
Mr Lee: I think parents who are good manage to guide their children along without making them feel constrained.
Much has been said about the great relationship that your mum and dad had. If there was something that you would take from that relationship and bring to your own life what would that be?
Mr Lee: I supposed they had a partnership. It was not a relationship (that had a) superior and inferior, and in many senses he took counsel from my mother and respected her views. And I think they had a very open relationship. It’s sometimes difficult to do. … Relationships take a lot of work to nurture and I think they did it very well.
As a son, how would you like Mr Lee Kuan Yew to be remembered?
Mr Lee: I guess you know people think of him as a very strict person but I think he would often take on board views that he didn’t necessarily agree on. Sometimes he would change his views on things. And you know I think that flexibility and ability to take into account new circumstances is perhaps something which is not fully recognised. And it’s a very difficult thing to achieve when you have been in a position of authority for a long time.