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AIA Breeze: Frederick Ma and Christine Ma: Good Character Breeds Success

Sep 2014 Frederick and Christine Ma, father and daughter, are both distinguished persons in Hong Kong. The father is former Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, serving non-executive director of a listed company and holder of the honours of the Gold Bauhinia Star and Justice of Peace. The daughter is a brilliant educator, founder of a character education school of which she has been the principal for more than five years. Apart from being excellent in their own right, both of the Mas are easy-going and humorous. So, what are the parenting secrets behind the intergenerational transmission of wit and wisdom?

On the day of the interview, Frederick Ma stands at the door, and it is his daughter Christine who welcomes him in. Mr. Ma is in a pair of green socks and leather lace-up shoes, his eyes narrowing into slits as his beam widens. Like a child, he speaks with his arms akimbo, smiling: “Mommy reminded me not take off my shoes today ‘cause they were especially selected for me as a gift by my beloved daughter Christine. Don’t they look good? Come on, give your praise!” Everyone bursts out laughing and claps in approval: “Great taste!” Right away, Christine brings forward a small stool, sits on it and has her dad’s shoes thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before they both step into the small learning house dedicated to children’s character education, which has to be kept clean and hygienic at all times.

A child bathed in love

In Frederick’s words, he and his wife brought up the Ma daughters with “overflowing love”. According to him, he has never ever even yelled at the girls. “Everyone celebrates his/her birthday annually, but Christine got a birthday cake on the 23rd of every month! This ‘tradition’ was maintained for many years, proven by pictures.” Frederick recounts that his own dad was a typical stern father who was as strict as a general. Once orders were given, the children had to do as told. Although he did love his children deep down, there was no room for communication. Frederick, in Christine’s impression, is the exact opposite: a kind father. “Dad answered my requests quite easily, and he could be easily coaxed too. Comparatively, Mom was a bit stricter. She started teaching us morals when we were two or three. She taught my sister and I to respect and care for others, and also to be sympathetic.”

Frederick explains: “Many have asked why I didn’t tell off daughters at all. This is not easy to answer, but I’d say my twos girls could really behave themselves from a very young age. I’ve always believed that love and support are the most important elements in raising children. Children who grow up in love are naturally self-confident, and they won’t be too naughty. This made us love them more, and as such a virtuous circle was built.” It’s widely acknowledged that communication is essential in any admirable parent-child relationships, and Frederick cherishes frankness with his daughters. Christine says: “Basically, there’s no secret in our family. We describe Mom as the COO (Chief Operations Officer) of the family while Dad the CEO (Chief Executive Officer). Because the CEO is a busy man, we report everything to the COO and leave it to her what to tell Dad.” Each parent played a unique, complementary role in cultivating the daughters’ growth.

A character education school that fulfilled a dream