Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Father's Day Dedication

Today is Father’s Day, dedicated to all the fathers of the world, yours truly included. Unlike last year, CY (aka Big May) sent her wishes in the form of a blog article. The wonder of Internet.

But what is more wonderful is found in what she has penned for this special occasion, though I would like to rededicate her words to all the great dads in the world, your perseverance has not been in vain.

That got me thinking about my own dad, though he is no more around to partake of my reminiscences. But I would go ahead anyway.

My dad was a man of few words, having trudged for thousands of miles from Southern China to the then Malaya in the early 1900s, a diaspora driven by economic imperatives. I can only imagine the arduous journey that he had undergone, and the difficult startup that he had to endure to feed his family. By the time I was old enough to be aware of the going-on around me, he was already retired of sort, we being born in different centuries. So a lot of his ventures I only knew through second-hand accounts, from my elder siblings, and cousins.

My most vivid recollection of my dad, one that has etched into my memory, is him sitting on his rattan chair, one hand holding a cigarette, and the other holding a glass cup of whisky, seemingly in deep thought. His eye lids would occasionally flutter, indicating that he might be wrestling with an issue in his mind. Then he would tap lightly on the small table next to him, and that would be my cue to fill up the glass, one third whisky and two thirds water. Then he would be back to his ruminating self.

Sometimes, I would summon enough courage to report on my academic achievement to him, in an attempt to garner parental recognition as most kids do, even today. In response, he would give a slight nod; but that’s as far as he would go in terms of oral encouragement. On the few occasions that he uttered something to me, it would usually signify something I committed that had incurred his wrath, and he did have a booming voice for his relatively small frame. But those were rare occurrences, and were usually reserved for my elder siblings. Perhaps I was the youngest and as a result he could have cut me more slacks than others.

I could relate two other incidents that further illustrate our interactions. He had made his living by operating a rubber dealer shop in a small town, but we lived about half a mile away up on a small knoll. Despite his advanced age (in his 70s), he had never failed to commute between the house and the shop to oversee things (by now one of my cousins was doing the actual day-to-day running of the business), in a vintage Austin sedan driven by either my elder brother, or my brother-in-law. Sometimes, my other cousin chipped in too for he and my brother-in-law both worked in a trunk garage (an elder brother ran the transport trunk company) located just next to the house. And I and my other siblings would be cycling for the daily trip (except on weekends) to help out in the business, which I started when I was two years removed from going to middle school.

On this particular occasion, none of the designated “chauffeurs” was available to take my Dad back to the house. So I was designated as the navigator so that he could drive himself home. But my presence was just needed toward the end of the 10-minute journey when he had to cross to the other side of the main road to enter an unpaved road that would lead to our house, to make sure that the way was clear of oncoming traffic because of his failing sight. I guess along the balance of the way he was more guided by his habitual instinct rather than actually being able to see clearly where he was going. And perhaps I was young and thrilled by the prospect of doing things alone with my Dad, I did not feel apprehension, but rather a sense of adventure. And that remains the only thing that I had done with my Dad, just the two of us against the world, and that’s how I remember it.

The other occasion is under a less than amicable circumstance. By then I was already studying in high school, in Singapore. While there, I lodged with my elder sister and brother in a condo housing near the top floor. Though I was on a scholarship, periodically my Dad would give me some extra money to help defray some of the living costs. During semester breaks, I would return to my hometown and relive the life that I had left behind: helping out in the business, and, yes, the ritual of filling up my Dad’s glass. When it’s time to return to school, I always bade good-bye to him (by then we had moved to the shop after reconstruction when a second was added to become living quarters.).

On one of these occasions, I forget what the precipitating matter was, only that I walked off in a huff, never even getting the money that was put on the table by my Dad. And I had just enough money in me then for the bus ride to Singapore. I knew I would be in dire straits, financially, having being severed from the paternal support (which obviously was the natural consequence when one walked away from the family, and so I thought) that I had assumed would be coming no matter what, and I remember consoling myself that I would worry about that when tomorrow comes. You know, one of those naïve moments when you think nothing can touch you, and how bad can it get, driven along by that blind ego when things do not go your way, until reality hits. Luckily for me the reality did hit, but not as I had expected.

That evening, while I was pondering my seemingly bleak future at the dining table in my brother’s flat, all alone, a knock came through the door. My other elder brother, who lived on a lower floor on the same block, walked in with money and laid it on the dining table, saying, “this is from Dad.” Apparently, my Dad had called him from my hometown and to get him to pass over the money. And then I felt it: Dad would never abandon me no matter how strong our differences are. I was an impulsive brat, so consumed in my wants that I never gave my Dad a chance to explain his reason for the disagreement.

And I never had the courage to say thank you to him, even though opportunities abounded. And for that, this regret will always stay with me.

Dad passed away when I was a junior in a local university. And I was not even at his bedside when he departed (the university was about 200 miles away). But I would cherish my memory of him. May he rest in peace.

No comments: