It's been 19 months since I last flew back home to Malaysia.
We sometimes take things for granted and often not realise how much the person beside us has done for us. And then one day, we find ourselves overwhelmed with memories of how much that person has influenced our lives.
I lived with my parents for nearly 40 years till I got married and left for overseas three years ago. I didn’t give much thought about going far away because, as someone who is used to travelling, I believed that I could always visit them whenever I wanted to. In fact, in the first two years, I went back three times.
Recently, while talking with my husband, I realised that I was speaking like Appa would. I started crying, overcome by emotion.
The next day, on a call to Appa, I just burst out crying. I told him that he had taught me so much and that I was truly thankful for it. I apologised for the many times that I had hurt him. He went teary as well. We’ve had some clash of opinions and misunderstandings, mainly due to the generation gap of 45 years and how we viewed certain things a little differently. Nevertheless, the care was always there.
Years ago, Appa and Amma drove me to a maktab in KL for my Diploma studies. Only upon reaching the college did we realise there were too many students staying in the student accommodation nearby. That was the first time I saw Appa in tears. So he and Amma spent one whole week staying in KL to look for a comfortable place for me to stay, and they found one.
He always advised me to spend wisely and never take things for granted. I cultivated the habit of saving money since young. He always advised us to save for rainy days and that we shouldn’t resort to borrowing money from anyone. Once I started working, I started travelling, which he loved too. I still remember bringing back the US$300 he gave me for every trip I went on. I would refuse it every time but he’d insist that I keep it, in case of any emergency, but I’d travel within my budget. It was he who taught me to live within our means.
Appa is also one who believes in not stressing out too much on anything. Years ago, it so happened that I had an SPM paper to sit for, the day after Deepavali. Seeing me cooped up in my room for hours engrossed in my revision, he came in and told me to put my books away and go watch a movie on TV. I still remember the movie Duet. He is a practical man. He wanted me to have a relaxed mind before the important day. He knew that when I set my mind to do something, I wouldn’t stop until I achieved it. He encouraged me to do what I love but also told me not to work too hard. Even now he tells me and my husband not to overwork and to have little breaks every now and then to avoid unnecessary stress.
Since young, I had wanted to become an English language teacher like Appa, and he encouraged me to pursue it. He always told me to follow my passion and gave me the confidence I need to achieve it.
Appa loves writing. Be it writing a letter or an opinion article for the newspaper, he did it with ease and flair. Naturally, I developed that passion, too. I may not be a great writer, but I learnt a lot from his style of writing. When we were younger, he’d often write certain grammar points on the whiteboard in our dining area and then call us, including Amma, and explain it to us. I then started writing. He was so proud of me whenever my articles got published.
Another important life lesson that I learnt from him is to be kind and not disrespect people who are less fortunate. I often saw Appa talking in a friendly manner to the ones who did odd jobs in and around our home. He didn’t look down on them. In all the three schools I taught in, I had good rapport with the cleaners, gardeners and office boys and they were always nice to me.
I also learnt not to get worked up when something beyond our control happens. He hardly blamed me or got angry over any wrong thing I did, let alone keep harping on it. In one incident, I was driving his car when a small lorry hit the passenger side of the car and the window was smashed. When I reached home and told him, the first thing he asked was if I was hurt. Only then did he step out to see the damage. I’m sure it broke his heart but he remained calm. He said it was an accident and even though I was careless in a way, he knew I that I’d be more careful next time.
When we were younger, Appa brought home a dog whom we named Julie. Unfortunately, she passed away unexpectedly. As fate would have it, another dog came into our lives in 2000. We named her Julie too. I saw how Appa loved her. I had seen him feeding strays, even on his trips to India. And so, my love for dogs, especially the abandoned ones, kicked in. We rescued, fostered and rehomed many homeless dogs when I was in Malaysia, and all the dogs we’ve had are the ones we rescued.
From him I learnt to be kind, not only to others but also to myself. Before leaving home three years ago, I told him not to worry about me as I’d always take care of myself and be happy, and this is because of all the confidence he had built in me over the years.
I owe it to my Appa for how I view life and I’m so proud to be his daughter. Everything that I am today is because him and Amma, and I love them both beyond words.