Just the Two of Us

Thailand Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Nicha­ree Phati­tit meets four young men who have ce­mented re­la­tion­ships with their fa­thers based on shared in­ter­ests such as vin­tage cars, sail­ing mu­sic and writ­ing

Fa­ther’s Day is tra­di­tion­ally cel­e­brated in Thai­land this month and to mark the oc­ca­sion Nicha­ree Phati­tit had a chat with four well­known pairs of fa­thers and sons who share a com­mon in­ter­est to find out what makes their one-on-one time to­gether so spe­cial

Paul and Thom Sirisant

The hobby shared by Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic Thai­land’s man­ag­ing direc­tor Paul Sirisant (38), also known as Paulie, and his fa­ther Thom Sirisant (72), is an ad­ven­tur­ous one. Trac­ing back to his child­hood, Paulie re­calls how his love for the ocean is in­ter­twined with his fa­ther. “When he was fly­ing for Thai Air­ways, dur­ing his lay­overs my dad would think of the things that he wanted to do and that was when he started dab­bling in prop­erty. He bought his first sea­side home in Bang Saray, Sat­tahip. It was si­t­u­ated near a fish­ing com­mu­nity and from my early child­hood we would be down at the beach al­most ev­ery week­end,” Paulie smiles. “My young mem­o­ries re­volved around be­ing by the sea. I learned to be part of na­ture—I loved run­ning in the rain and catch­ing frogs,” he laughs.

When Paulie was around eight years old, his fa­ther be­gan teach­ing him and his brother, Prom, to sail. “As long as I can re­mem­ber, we’ve done boat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties of some sort. Learn­ing to sail is like learn­ing to ride a bike. Most im­por­tantly, dad was very pa­tient and taught us not to fear the sea but to un­der­stand it,” Paulie ex­plains. “He would teach us how to gauge the ve­loc­ity and di­rec­tion of the wind and how to read the waves—just like the fish­er­men. It’s fun­da­men­tal that you learn to un­der­stand the wind and re­spect the sea, be­cause when you are out there sail­ing or wind­surf­ing you’re at the mercy of the ocean. When I was eight dad took me out on a twin­hull Ho­bie Cat and de­lib­er­ately cap­sized it in the mid­dle of the ocean to teach me how to deal with an emer­gency.”

Now that his fa­ther is re­tired, Paulie says that Thom spends more time with his boats. “We have one big trip a year, which we pre­pare for days in ad­vance. This isn’t plea­sure cruis­ing with a bot­tle of wine—it is se­ri­ous sail­ing us­ing skills and an ac­quired un­der­stand­ing of how the ves­sel per­forms in cer­tain con­di­tions to get the most out of your time on the wa­ter. It’s a great shared ex­pe­ri­ence, very sat­is­fy­ing and lots of fun.” Now a fa­ther him­self, Paulie con­tin­ues the fam­ily’s close re­la­tion­ship with the sea by tak­ing his tod­dler son Quinn to the coast as of­ten as pos­si­ble. As with his time with his own fa­ther, he values the op­por­tu­nity to bond with his son. “When you’re out there on the sea on these trips, it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of bond­ing. You’re away from ev­ery­thing else; you can fo­cus on each other, talk prop­erly and re­ally con­nect. I’d say you never have a bad day on a boat. You can have a dif­fi­cult day, and we’ve been in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions dur­ing bad weather, but you rel­ish the chal­lenge to­gether. For our fam­ily there’s noth­ing quite like it. Go­ing on our sail­ing trips to­gether— it’s very valu­able to me.”

Chailadol and Boon­chai Chok­watana

Chailadol Chok­watana (40), or Munk, is pres­i­dent of Munk Pro­duc­tion and a direc­tor at Far East DDB ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing com­pany. He is also a cor­po­rate iden­tity ad­viser for Saha Patanapibul, of which his fa­ther, Boon­chai (71), is chair­man. “I re­mem­ber well how my fa­ther al­ways tried to make time for me and my sis­ter, de­spite his busy work sched­ule,” Munk ex­plains. “He would think noth­ing of stay­ing up un­til 2am in the morn­ing giv­ing me ad­vice, even though he had to wake up at 6am for work the next day.”

Says Munk, “We are both into cars. To be hon­est, we have many shared in­ter­ests, but in the sense that we are in­ter­ested in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the same sub­ject. For ex­am­ple, I like cars but I’m not that in­ter­ested in the me­chan­i­cal side, while dad is ob­sessed with fix­ing en­gines and the tech­ni­cal side of things.

He likes to buy good qual­ity se­cond-hand cars and we en­joy search­ing for them to­gether. He values my opin­ion and I en­joy watch­ing him drive a hard bar­gain—it is a les­son in busi­ness. There have been oc­ca­sions where I’ve wanted a par­tic­u­lar car and I’ve had to ca­jole the old man into think­ing it would be a good in­vest­ment. Some­times it works, some­times it doesn’t,” he chuck­les. “When I want a cer­tain car, for in­stance the Lam­borgh­ini we cur­rently own, I have to plan out an ar­gu­ment for it with the pros and cons and then talk to my dad into it.”

Does the pair ever dis­agree over the cars they buy? Munk smiles, “Dad likes to mod­ify his own cars and go on test drives. When I was younger, I loved be­ing taken along on these rides—sit­ting in clas­sic cars such as a Fer­rari or a Rolls Royce. I re­call the ve­hi­cles break­ing down some­times—on one mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion in the mid­dle of a bridge. Some­times parts would fall off them. There was also an oc­ca­sion where I took out a car that my fa­ther had been work­ing on and found that I couldn’t turn the steer­ing wheel, which lent an in­ter­est­ing di­men­sion to the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, as did a jammed ac­cel­er­a­tor on one of his old Mercedeses. It’s a won­der I’m still here re­ally! I laugh, but in fact dad is an ex­cel­lent me­chanic.”

Munk adds, “When my fa­ther is in­ter­ested in some­thing, he be­comes re­ally in­vested in it. For in­stance, he also col­lects guns and has them by the hun­dred. Then there was a pe­riod when he got into koi carp and sud­denly four large ponds full of the fish ap­peared in the gar­den. We share a pas­sion for col­lect­ing but un­like dad, my hob­bies don’t re­quire much in­vest­ment—although he says I have far too many cam­era lenses while I ar­gue that he has far too many guns.”

Pana and Nat Yon­tararak

The Yon­tararak fa­ther and son duo are a force to be reck­oned with in the mu­si­cal scene. Pana (34) and dad Nat (64), a Sil­pathorn and Stein­way artist, share a multi-faceted re­la­tion­ship as a fa­ther and son, teacher and stu­dent and mu­si­cal col­leagues. “Our re­la­tion­ship is quite unique. It’s al­ways been more than ‘daddy play­ing with his lit­tle son’”,

says Pana. “As a fa­ther he helps to over­look my lec­tures at King Mongkut’s In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Lad­kra­bang. We chat about what I’m lec­tur­ing on and some­times he’ll gives sug­ges­tions on what I can add to make it bet­ter. As a teacher, he can be tough, ob­vi­ously.” A highly re­garded pi­anist, Nat also taught Pana the pi­ano. “He’s very metic­u­lous with de­tails, es­pe­cially when the stu­dent starts to reach quite a high level. As my boss at Nat Stu­dio Mu­sic School, he in­structs me on how to be a good teacher. He em­pha­sises that it is im­por­tant to in­spire young learn­ers with the aim of draw­ing out their tal­ent.”

To­day Pana of­ten plays for Sun­day church ser­vices and Nat isn’t short of ad­vice. “Back when my dad was my age, ev­ery Satur­day night be­fore he headed off to play at church on the Sun­day my grand­mother [he in­di­cates a framed pic­ture of a lady smil­ing down from the wall] would ask him to play for her, and she didn’t tol­er­ate any mis­takes,” he laughs. “It’s ac­tu­ally our be­lief, that when we have a call­ing, in this case, a tal­ent for mu­sic, then we have to give back to so­ci­ety.” With Pana the tra­di­tion has con­tin­ued. “So now it is my turn to play to my fa­ther on Satur­day nights and his op­por­tu­nity to cri­tique me. He says things like ‘you’re rush­ing too much here’ or ‘when you play for the con­gre­ga­tion you have to wait for them a lit­tle, sing with them and play at the same time’ and so forth,” Pana laughs. “Dad is also a com­poser and an ar­ranger and he would come to my room out of the blue and drag me to the pi­ano so he could play what­ever he was work­ing on and ask for my opin­ion.”

Pana has also played his fa­ther’s com­po­si­tions—an ex­pe­ri­ence he found to be both ex­cit­ing and chal­leng­ing. “I played one of dad’s sonatas last year. It was a 37-minute piece that he’d com­posed for the oc­ca­sion of the late king’s golden ju­bilee. He told me that as a com­poser he has to be even more metic­u­lous than when he teaches. Be­cause he’s the com­poser, he knows ev­ery sin­gle de­tail of the work and ex­actly what he wants. He told me that a mu­si­cian should be able to tell how a piece is meant to be played through the com­poser’s back­ground and his­tor­i­cal con­text. Play­ing his sonata was very chal­leng­ing for me. The first time I heard the piece was when I was around 10 years old, when dad pre­miered it. It was later used to ac­com­pany the bal­let Matana­p­ata by Than­puy­ing Vara­porn Pramoj with my dad play­ing it live for three days in a row. In 1997 I said to my­self, ‘I’m go­ing to play that piece one day’. In 2004, be­fore I left to study abroad, I asked for the score. Dad said if I could play it one day, he would be very proud.” That day came in 2017, when Pana per­formed at a me­mo­rial event for the late monarch. “Learn­ing the piece with him was tough and it took a while as we were us­ing my fa­ther’s hand­writ­ten score—but it was so worth it.”

Prabda and Suthichai Yoon

“When I was young I re­mem­ber that my fa­ther was very busy be­cause he was in the process of es­tab­lish­ing The Na­tion news­pa­per with his brother Thep­chai,” says 45-year-old Pradba. “I was born in 1973—it was a time of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Thai­land and so it was a pe­riod when there were many un­cer­tain­ties. So my dad was very pre­oc­cu­pied and I didn’t feel very close to him be­cause he spent so much time at work. I would get to see him once a week on Sun­days when he would be home. I was closer to my mother back then. My dad and I did talk but as a man from a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fam­ily he could ap­pear to be quite dis­tant and strict from a child’s per­spec­tive.” How­ever, this did not mean that Prabda felt iso­lated from his fa­ther. Like a big tree that sus­tains mul­ti­ple branches, the fam­ily and Prabda were con­nected to the pa­tri­arch. “Life within the house­hold is all con­nected to dad. If we are do­ing some ac­tiv­ity, go­ing out for din­ner or go­ing on an up­coun­try trip, he’s the man with the plan and I like to go along with him.” Dur­ing his child­hood, Prabda and his fa­ther would of­ten take trips to Pat­taya and Hat Yai to mark qing ming or the tra­di­tional Chi­nese an­ces­tor’s day.

“I think as I have grown up, I have be­come closer to my fa­ther,” says Prabda. “He wasn’t so good at in­ter­act­ing with chil­dren but now that I am older we can dis­cuss top­ics as adults and that has def­i­nitely helped to cre­ate a bond. We still only meet once a week,” he laughs, “but now we have lots to talk about. We dis­cuss pol­i­tics and news, life, fam­ily and so­ci­ety.” Plenty of scope then to ar­gue about what’s go­ing on in the world. “My par­ents are quite open in terms of the way they think, they’re not rad­i­cal and they lis­ten to my

opin­ions. If they share a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to mine on a cer­tain mat­ter, they don’t try to dic­tate how I should think or what I should be­lieve.”

Now that Suthichai is re­tired he is busier than ever. “Dad never stops,” Prabda smiles. “He hosts a cou­ple of tele­vi­sion pro­grammes and has be­come a dab-hand at Face­book. Given that he was so ac­tive in his pro­fes­sional life, this does not sur­prise me—he needs to feel busy.” While both fa­ther and son pour their hearts into their work, they are very dif­fer­ent. “It’s not like I have a bet­ter work­life bal­ance than my fa­ther, it’s just that my work is mostly artis­tic and I can give my­self more flex­i­ble dead­lines. For in­stance, writ­ing a novel or di­rect­ing a film—they are self­con­tained projects and once com­pleted it is time to move on to the next chal­lenge. That is dif­fer­ent to dad’s work in which top­ics and events are much more fluid, much more fast­mov­ing and with many dif­fer­ent vari­ables. His sched­ule is far tighter than mine. Whereas I am busy dur­ing a project but then have a quiet pe­riod in which to plan my next un­der­tak­ing, his work is al­ways on­go­ing.” Does Prabda re­gret that he and his fa­ther don’t spend that much time to­gether, even now? “Ac­tu­ally I’m thank­ful that my fa­ther is who he is. From a young age I have en­joyed the free­dom to grow in­de­pen­dently and it has shaped who I am to­day. It has worked out well in our fam­ily. I would feel un­com­fort­able if I had to re­port ev­ery­thing to my par­ents or get my fa­ther’s per­mis­sion be­fore I did some­thing.”

fam­ily tree (From above) Baby Quinn gets his in­ter­est in boats and mech­a­nisms from grand­fa­ther Thom; Munk is both fa­ther and best friend to his daugh­ter Meg; (op­po­site) Paulie Sirisant, now a fa­ther him­self, still of­ten goes boat­ing with his own fa­ther; for­mer cap­tain of Thai Air­ways, Thom Sirisant

fam­ily ties (Clock­wise from top left) Munk and fa­ther Boon­chai are both avid car lovers; Nat and Pana per­form a two-hand piece at the fam­ily-owned Sala Su­dasiri Sobha; a modern fa­ther, Munk wants to cre­ate a fun and dy­namic re­la­tion­ship with his daugh­ter

in the blood (Above) Pana and Nat make a per­fect per­form­ing duo; (op­po­site, clock­wise from top) young Prabda and Suthichai of­ten trav­elled to­gether; Suthichai and Prabda have both made waves in the world of jour­nal­ism and lit­er­a­ture

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