A gift of love

by | February 4, 2013

A senior shares his life through a coffee table book and booklet for his children and grandchildren.


BY: Eleanor Yap


Tan Peng Ann’s parents and grandparents did not leave him something to remember them by. And, he didn’t want that also to happen to his six grandchildren so he decided to do something about it. The father of two came up with a coffee table book last year filled with pictures, and a booklet of anecdotes for his family to get to know him better.

Agelessonline finds out more about this gift and how he went about putting the book and booklet together:


How did you come up with the idea of putting together the coffee table book, and what was your purpose?

The cover of Tan's coffee table book.

When I conducted workshops on ‘gracious retirement’ as a life coach, I often suggested that retirees have time to reflect on their lives. One approach is to go through the many photographs that they have taken of themselves and their families. They could organise them, share with their family members, and also leave behind a legacy.

I decided to walk the talk. Over a period of four years from 2008, I scanned the many old photographs and the certificates that I had, including my birth certificate and my school-leaving certificate, for the daunting task. To talk is easy but to do is difficult. To start putting the pictures together is even more so, as I did not know how to start. I had to decide on a format and a storyline. I had none.

It took a personal medical condition for me to realise that life is unpredictable and it is important to quickly put things together. In early 2012, I had to cut short my work in Cambodia to return to Singapore. I was hospitalised for internal bleeding. While in hospital, I decided that I should quickly organise this very important record for the family. I wished that my parents and my grandparents had left me with some of their experiences and records.

I set the target to complete the book on my 64th birthday in late 2012, following the song sung by the Beatles, “When I am 64”. I wanted to present something special to the family. I wanted my children and grandchildren to know about their backgrounds, their younger days, and the happy times we shared. I did it as a hardcover coffee table book based on a family theme, so that we can flip it and also bring it wherever we want, without the need for hardware.


How many pages is the book?

I planned originally to have 88 pages. As I went along I increased it to a 108-page “Story of my life”.


What do your family members think of it? When did they receive their copies?

I did not tell the family about what I was doing until when I needed the latest family photographs. My son organised a photo shoot and that was when I saw the “wow” look in their faces. My wife did some editing work and my children had a preview of the photographs and layout. They liked it. (See some of their feedback in the sidebox.)

Tan's son and daughter-in-law receiving a copy of the book.

My son suggested a family gathering to present the book. We organised a ‘book party’ dinner for some 30 family members and I presented the book to my wife, children, grandchildren, children’s in-laws and siblings.


It must be hard selecting what goes in and what stays out in your book. How did you decide?

I had so many photographs. I suppose on a subconscious basis, each picture has a meaning and purpose in the book. Knowing what photographs I had, helped. The photographs selected were based on the storyline and the title heading of the page. I had to limit to about five to six photographs per page, in most cases. The selection of the photographs was difficult. If I had the luxury of unlimited pages, I would have loved to include more.


You self-published it. How many copies and how much did you spend?

The book is meant for family members and a few selected close friends. Printing 30 copies was more than sufficient. This gift of love is priceless. I must have put in more than 2,000 man-hours over the four years; the last month was extremely intense.

The 30 copies of full-colour hardcover book costs me S$5,000. It could have been more, if not for the very special design and layout fee. I think it is money well-spent. I hope I have sown the seeds for the “roots” to a strong family foundation and the generations to come.


Of all the pictures/moments you related in your book, name three that are your most fondest moments and why?

I think every photograph brings fond memories. If I have to name three only, I run the risk of not being fair to the many family members who are important in my life. However, if I really have to name the three, it would be these:

1) The family portrait ­– I was emotionally happy when we took the outdoor family shot of the entire family. I teared quietly.

2) Two photographs placed side-by-side in the book of my children and grandchildren. One photo is of my son and daughter playing with a set of Boulder Hill toys when they were about five years old and the other is that of my grandson and granddaughter playing with the same set of toys. My son had kept that toy set for some 30 years. He had told me then that he would keep them to play with his children. He did, and I am proud that he had done it.

3) The third is that photograph of my wife and I with our grandchildren.

These photographs linked my past with the future.


You included a few pages of your son/daughter-in-laws too. Why did you do this?

Although it is “story of my life”, I adopted a family theme. This is a five-generation book. I have dedicated pages for my grandparents, my parents and parents-in-law, my siblings, my children and my son/daughter-in-laws and my grandchildren. They are all a part of my life. My life story is my life with my family. My social life, in school, work and play are important but secondary.


You also did a small photocopied booklet reminiscing some milestones in your life, which contains more words than pictures. Why didn’t you just subsume this into your coffee table book instead?

The small photocopied booklet.

I decided that the coffee table book be pictorial and carry the family theme. The photographs are to be enjoyed, laughed over, talked about, and reminisced.

Yet, I wanted to share some of my personal life experiences, anecdotes and stories with my children and grandchildren. I had missed sharing with my children when they were younger. So I recorded in writing little snippets of happenings in my life, so that my grandchildren will know more about their grandpa. I hope to be able to inspire them.

The photocopied booklet with the 12 stories is a work in progress. I plan to increase the collection of stories and anecdotes. My target is to present it to my granddaughter when she starts schooling in 2014. She then will have some stories to share with her friends. My other grandchildren will each have an updated version when they go to school. This will be my special gift to them.


What have you learned from putting the coffee table book and booklet together?

As I reflected on my life, I realised that I had been very fortunate to have a very happy family; that I should be happy with what I have done and achieved; that wealth is not everything in life; and that I should continue to pursue my dreams. I also realised that I should specially thank my parents, especially my mother for guiding me to be who I am today.

I also learned that I must not procrastinate, and to do what is fulfilling in my life.

I have convinced myself that I should encourage and help people to prepare such a record that can bring happiness and joy to themselves and their families.


What advice would you give to other seniors who want to do this? They could even do it as a blog, right?

I want to share with not just the seniors, but with everyone that:

  1. It is good to commit time and effort to do this family record of your life for the sake of the family and future generations.
  2. It is not such a daunting task if this is done as a group, with mutual support.
  3. Start small, by doing maybe a 20-page document and moving on when one is more comfortable.
  4. Shorten the learning curve and learn from someone who has done this.

Tan's daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter getting their copy of the coffee table book.

Although a blog is a good platform, I feel a hard-copy book allows for the flexibility to flip pages and to share moments in a less formal environment. Of course, those who prefer to use the IT platform can do so.


Will you do another updated coffee table book this year?

Not so soon. My son says he will consider doing the same as a record for his own family.


Do you think other seniors are doing this? If not, why not?

I have spoken to many friends who have not done this. Many say it is not necessary. I think the benefit of having such a record is not obvious. I personally feel many do not know how to go about doing it. I will love to talk to the seniors and guide them in the preparation of their own “Story of my life”.



SIDEBOX: Feedback on the book from his family

“This book written by my father is a wonderful record of the family through his eyes. This record will serve as a testimony and repository of memories not only for me but for many generations to come.” – Dr Adrian Tan, son

“I am proud to receive the copy of the book. It provides a comprehensive record of my parents’ family over five generations. It makes it easy for my children and I to appreciate and connect with our past.” – Michelle Tan, daughter

“I am glad that my husband had put together the many photographs which would otherwise be kept in albums and shoeboxes. We have spent much time and money taking those pictures. If not organised, they all go to waste. I find the book enriching.” Linda Tay, wife


** If you want to learn more about how to do your own coffee table book or booklet, contact Tan Peng Ann at: tpengann1@gmail.com.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *