Raymond Anthony Fernando is slightly peeved.
When I spoke with him yesterday, he grumbled about the trolls which had beset him after he had shared what he felt was a good idea with the national newspaper.
“All the negative vibes,” lamented the author. “And many of them don’t even show their real faces,” he added.
He had written to The Straits Times Forum on Sunday to suggest that couples should be rewarded for every decade of marriage.
It might, at the onset, seem like a very twee suggestion, but Raymond believes it would do a world of good. His letter to the ST Forum was in response to a report published in The Straits Times on Sept 3 about an initiative by the Registry of Marriages to celebrate couples who have been married for 50 years. The Golden Jubilee celebration – slated for next year’s Valentine’s Day – is aimed at encouraging strong marriages and couples would be given a commemorative certificate at the event.
Then-Minister for Social and Family Development and now Speaker of the House Tan Chuan-Jin said in the report: “I think celebrating their 50th anniversary is just one way of recognising couples and to encourage others to also try to emulate and, in their own way, reach their own key milestones as well.”
But why wait till 50?
“How many people would live that long?” asked Raymond. He suggested taking it a step further – by rewarding couples for every 10 years of marriage instead.
“Some rewards can be in the form of shopping or dining vouchers, or holiday packages, with better rewards the longer the marriage lasts,” he wrote. He added that he believed commercial sponsors would be more than willing to support such an endeavour.
The letter, which was posted on The Straits Times’ Facebook page, received more than 600 reactions and was shared about 400 times. It also garnered more than 150 comments.
Unfortunately, most of these were negative.
“If there is a need for the government to give incentive so that a couple will stay married, that couple shouldn’t even be married in the first place,” said one.
“Always looking for a handout, always looking for a free meal! How about getting a backbone and take full accountability?” said another. And these weren’t even the most mean-spirited ones.
Raymond’s suggestion was by no means for his own marriage. His wife died in 2014. Doris, who was married to him for 40 years before her passing, struggled all her life with schizophrenia. In 2004, Raymond wrote a book, titled Loving a Schizophrenic.
“When we got married, I was 24 and Doris was just 21,” he said. “She was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 17.”
Raymond, who is proudly Catholic, was born on Valentine’s Day 67 years ago. Doris was born on All Saints Day (Nov 1). The union seemed made in heaven. But getting married on earth was no easy task: Raymond said they had to wed in secret.
“Doris’ family did not like me because I am Eurasian. You know, during those days, marriage outside of one’s own race was practically unheard of,” he told The Pride. “Also, they did not trust me to manage her because of her mental condition.”
He explained that his in-laws were afraid that he would be a flirt or a womaniser, which would have been devastating for Doris in her fragile mental state.
“Sometimes, being good-looking has its disadvantages,” he said in all seriousness. Thankfully, when her family saw how he took care of her over the years, they had a change of heart.
“But It was only after about 10 years that they came to accept the marriage,” said Raymond.
He worked in radio (starting at Radio and Television Singapore in the 70s before it gradually evolved into today’s MediaCorp Radio) for 30 years, the last 15 of which were in public relations. He left in 2001 to care for his wife.
“Doris was needing more and more support,” he said. “She would tell me, go ahead and work, but she would be crying and depressed when alone, so I decided to quit to take care of her full-time.”
He started to write books with the aid of government grants, and to date, has authored 30 books – from inspirational titles, several pertaining to mental health matters, to fiction, poetry and even humour. He also succeeded in persuading Doris to write a series of cookbooks.
“She was very reluctant, at first,” said Raymond of her maiden effort, Cook With Love.
“She was Peranakan-Teochew, and an excellent cook,” he said with enormous pride in his voice. “She combined what she knew with my Eurasian influence and came up with some excellent dishes. Most of all, she cooked with love, which is what we called her first book.”
With his help, Doris completed eight books before she died.
Raymond regards his late wife as a role model for people suffering from schizophrenia and depression. “She was my inspiration,” he said.
So how on earth did his suggestion to the media inspire such nasty comments from so many Internet users?
Raymond had meant for the milestones in marriage to be something that the community could celebrate, instead of merely rewarding couples for remaining in a marriage. Perhaps the message was lost in the brevity of the letter.
He suggested that it is a great way for community representatives and the Member of Parliament to be in touch with the citizens, to listen to their love stories and be aware of the things that real people go through in their daily lives.
“It would be an excellent way for the MP and grassroots leaders to understand the people they represent and what’s important to them,” said Raymond. “It would help build rapport between the two.”
“Whether it is a small ceremony or a gala dinner, it would be a celebration of love. Younger couples could learn a thing or two from older ones celebrating their 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th or 50th anniversaries. The older and more experienced they are as a married couple, the more they will have to share, and the entire community can gain from their experience,” he said.
Raymond’s own marriage to Doris fell a decade short of its Golden Jubilee, but no doubt it would have lasted 50 years – or longer – had Doris not succumbed to pneumonia a day before Good Friday in 2014. She was only 61.
Upon her passing, Raymond penned a loving tribute to the love of his life – She Said Goodbye, With a Rose. Without a doubt, the couple would have had no need for dining vouchers or travel packages to keep their love burning, had Doris remained alive.
As he contemplated a photo of Doris’ niche at the columbarium, he declared: “She taught me how to love unconditionally.”