Today is my father’s birthday and even though he does not read this blog, I would still like to write this.
I have never written any letter to my father so let this be the first. And let me start from the beginning. My father was not around with my mum when I was born. He was studying for his degree overseas in UK. This is not so rare, except if you think of Singapore in the late 70’s and if you know that my father comes from a family of farmers. And for him to travel so far away to study while his wife was pregnant, he must have had a very strong impetus for wanting to do better in life to support us.
My father returned when I was 1. My mother said when he carried me, I cried and he was very angry.
We grew up in my grandmother’s house together with all my 7 uncles so the house was heavy with laughter, noise and food all the time. I grew close to my uncles when my father started his own timber business when I was young. When I woke up to go to school, he was already gone. He comes home when I have slept. Those were difficult times for all of us but I was too young to know better.
Now that I step back and I can see the past clearly, I realise that my father did the best he could, under the circumstances that he had. KW and I married 8 years ago and from that day on, it was as if a veil had been lifted on our lives and my father and I spoke again. Freely. The life lessons that he has taught me comes to me at rare but important moments in my life and I am grateful for that.
Today is his birthday and as the years pass, I think of the things that he stood for and what he has taught me:
– Typewriter : During my school holidays when I was in secondary school, there was nothing better I liked to do than to sleep till 12 noon and laze the whole day away for a month. My father could not stand this and got an old typewriter from his office with an instruction manual, and he demanded that I taught myself 1 page a day. He is not somebody that you can say no to easily so I grudgingly got up early one morning and started from page 1. And what do you know? I soon found myself having fun and having a great sense of achievement every single day.
Lesson learnt : Till this day, I am the only person I know who can type at my speed. I have worked at 4 organisations till now and nobody I know can type as fast as I can and without looking at the keyboard as they type. It has greatly lessened my time in the office and I can type emails twice as fast as anyone can. I can type as fast as I think and that has made me efficient in the workplace. I now know how a simple holiday task has benefitted me at work.
– Playing the piano : My father had visions of me and my sister playing the piano well and so he engaged piano teachers for us when we were young. I hated sitting myself down for an hour 3 times a week banging on that dumb instrument that caused me so much insult and agony from the teacher. Neither my sister nor I have any music inclinations and it was pure torture for 3 hours a week that way. One day I finally summoned my courage and told my father that I would not play the piano anymore and he can save his money instead. He kept very quiet. And you know what he did next? He took out a piece of paper, and told me to write it down and sign off on it. He said ” write it down, that you are the one who rejected lessons and you will not blame your father for this years later.” I laughed inside and happily scribbled it down and threw it on the table. The teacher did not come again. And you know what, part of me felt shame for letting him down.
Lesson learnt : Responsibility. I now realised that he was trying to teach us as many skillsets as we can have and that we have a limited period of time when we are young, to learn them. Once you start working, time runs out. Other commitments take over. I now know that in life, everything we do has consequences and he wanted to teach me that. He did not want me to quit things lightly and if I wrote it down, I would not blame him for my failures, if it came to that. And though my parents are divorced, he has never once shrunk his responsibilities towards my mother or my sister and I.
– Be kind : No matter the situation, my father has always taught me to be kind. If there is 1 constant between my mother and my father, this is it. BE KIND. Be kind to others and always try to do good. My father has always lived by this mantra and sometimes we catch ourselves wondering why he would help someone who obviously is out for his money or time. And he would always say – because the person needs it more than him. And till this day, he still lives by that. Every chinese new year, he still delivers presents and gifts to his mothers’ friends even though she has passed on. The things he does has no returns but that has never been what he is after.
Lesson : They say girls marry someone who is like their father. To me, this is true. KW is one of the kindest people that I have met and sometimes when I see his actions, it reminds me of my dad. And I am secretly pleased that I indeed married my father. And till this day, I am kind to others. I am kind when there are no returns, simply because that is how I have brought up. The both of them have singularly shown me that in life, kindness rules. Between KW and me, there is no contest who the kinder one is and sometimes I get upset when I think he is getting the short end of the stick. But it is often my own pessimism and negativity that overshadows his graciousness. Somehow after we married, we meet my father a lot more for dinners and lunches.
– Don’t start the fight but you end it : My father runs his own successful timber business and he often tells us about his experiences starting his own business from scratch and running it successfully, even till now. He has always taught us never to bully others but by hell, if someone started a fight with you, you have to be the one to end it.
Lesson: Till this day, this is what I believe. I will end fights with others but I am seldom the one who starts it. In fact, my dad has instilled in me a hatred for shit-stirrers and believe me, they are everywhere.
But most importantly, my father has taught me that as long as I am leading an honest life and not hurting others, he is proud of me. I might not be a teacher as that is his favourite profession of all time, but I am good at what I do and that makes all his life lessons well received.
Today, I wish for my father many, many healthy, happy years ahead, and I look forward to more dinner sessions with him.