The time spent with dad – good or bad – will always be cherished.
HOW should I describe my dad? I guess I could liken his attitude towards friends to how a triad boss treats his friends. He was very loyal, egotistical and put his friends’ interest before his own.
I remember how he travelled to and from Singapore a few times just to be with his terminally ill friend. All it would take was a call, and he would be there beside the friend the next moment.
I had the chance to accompany Dad at home during the last few months before he passed on. I realised then that the way he showed his love towards his children was different from Mum. She always thought about ideal situations while he imagined worst-case scenarios. Of course, he always meant well and it was for our own good: this we have come to understand and accept.
Mum’s approach was often democratic while Dad adopted a more “military” tone – the when-I-talk-you-listen style. Perhaps that’s why they were husband and wife for such a long time – opposites attract.
At times, Dad spoke his mind without any “filters”. To me, sometimes his words were like a knife stabbing through the heart. Of course, it hurt but knowing that it was for our own good, forgiving and forgetting was the key to upholding the peace.
There’s a Chinese saying that goes: The more bitter the medicine, the better it is to heal an illness. Likewise, a truthful comment, although it may hurt, builds character.
Dad didn’t believe in luxuries even though we often told him about the benefit of paying for quality goods as they were better made. When it came to food, he would prefer a smelly joint to an air-conditioned restaurant because it looked luxurious and implied that it was pricey, and the food, not very good. To me, different eateries have their own merits.
I’ve bought things for him and ended up being nagged at the whole night until my ears “bled”. Dad thought that I bought the stuff without checking the price tags.
From then on, anything I bought for Dad came with a discount. The last thing I got for him was a bottle of biscotti so that he could dip them into his milk drink. He liked variety, and I figured he would like to taste something different from his usual biscuits.
Dad believed in giving red packets to his children during birthdays and Christmas. On all our birthdays, we received ang pows, with his famous tagline: “I don’t know what you like, so take the money and get yourself something you like.”
Every Christmas, when we exchanged gifts, he gave ang pows instead, just like Chinese New Year. In return, he insisted on getting red packets for his birthdays and Christmas, too. Of course, being the sentimental nut that I am, I sometimes rebelled and bought him something which I thought he might like. He would nag as usual, but he took the gift and used it anyway.
Now, it seems I’ve gotten used to the naggings which became music to my ears, and I miss the scolding.
One year, Dad shocked us with gifts and souvenirs from a trip to China when he visited my brother there. This was the first time that he had bought, not just ordinary items, mind you, but ladies’ accessories such as bangles and chains for the women in the house! After all these years, I still wear them and, to me, they are priceless because they came from Dad.
He was someone who could never sit still for too long. He participated in walkathons and almost every day, he would jog around the area where we lived. If you were to ask our neighbours about the uncle who jogs daily around the neighbourhood, they would immediately know who you’re referring to. When we went on holiday, he would wake up early and explore the places near the hotel where we stayed on his own.
Mum, Dad and I were always a team: we would make sure that we were colour-coordinated when we were out on trips and even had similar clothes for Chinese New Year, just the three of us.
The first tour that we took together was a short visit to London, after attending my sister’s wedding in Scotland almost 12 years ago. The last country we visited together was Taiwan, three years ago. We were supposed to visit Turkey two years ago, but then, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.
We loved to go on food trails. The last stop was Festival City Mall’s Sushi King when he was still able to walk without much assistance. I still remember that there was a heavy downpour when we left the mall that day. He told me many times that if he recovered from cancer, he wanted to take a train ride to Klang for seafood and drive to Penang to continue our food trail. This never came to pass because Dad never got better.
I consider it a blessing that I could hold Dad’s hand or that my shoulder became his “armrest” when he was tired from all that walking.
The last act that I did for Dad was wash his behind after he passed motion. I was happy to because he was always complaining of constipation, and I sensed his relief. To Dad, daily bowel movements were important every morning and he felt uneasy with constipation ever since he started on his medication.
I felt blessed to be able to watch him sleep peacefully every night for a month prior to his passing. Although sometimes we hardly spoke, I felt my presence comforted him and he felt more secure with me in the bedroom.
I’ve since learnt that Dad had a very high tolerance for pain. Before he had his radiotherapy and increased the dosage of his painkillers, he had forced himself to walk in and out of the bedroom without being assisted. I know God provided Dad with the strength and courage to fight this battle.
A friend of mine asked whether I was at peace with my Dad’s passing, and I said yes, because my heart ached every time I fed him his medication as he had difficulty swallowing the pills and I saw how he struggled with his breathing. Now I know he is free from pain and discomfort.
I know that God is with him and taking care of him now.