“Pa, I wasn’t successful at the interview,” I informed my dad.
Brief though the conversation was, I could discern the disappointment in his voice, as he replied curtly over the phone, “It’s OK, son.”
That was in the early 1970s. Still without a permanent job, let alone an established career, it was small wonder that Pa felt disappointed. In later years, my mum would tell me that among his four sons, I was the one about whom he was most concerned.
Some weeks before, I had attended an interview at the Police Academy in Singapore as a result of a job application that had much to do with Pa’s prompting and cajoling. He was all at the same time excited, supportive and expectant when told of the interview.
But it was a job that I neither wanted nor even liked. Anyway, I agreed to attend the interview, hoping that I wouldn’t make it.
Unfortunately, I was successful, and suddenly I was faced with this problem of having to tell Pa that I didn’t want the job. The easy way out, I figured, was to tell him that I hadn’t made it at the interview. How very convenient indeed, but how naive of me.
The whole plan backfired. Unknown to me, the Police Academy contacted Pa a few weeks after the interview to enquire why I hadn’t reported to them.
Next, I got a call from an annoyed Pa. Known for his short fuse, I guess I was spared a proper shellacking only because he somehow realised it wasn’t his call to force me into a career that I didn’t like. This, I read in a subsequent letter when he remarked at the end in conciliatory tone, “I don’t wish to force upon you, anything that you don’t like. Do what you feel is right.”
Sober as this stance was, I guess it didn’t take away the hurt he felt after the betrayal by someone whom he loved and trusted.
This shameful event devastated me completely, for I realised that my dishonesty and deceit had hurt the one person who mattered a lot to me. I would have gladly endured a proper dressing down because his silence made it hard for me to bear. The only thing to do was to lie low and let things cool.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. The whole episode turned out to be a blessing in many ways. For one, I learned an important lesson... When children lie to their parents, it hurts them. I’m not referring to casual or white lies, but those serious ones. I resolved that I would never ever repeat that.
For another, I witnessed a positive change in Pa. He was initially hurt, no doubt, but as if he felt a sense of remorse and also of relief for not having made a wrong move that would have affected me for life, he slowly proceeded to make amends.
Our relationship got onto a firmer footing. For a man of a few words, and I would even venture to describe him as laconic, he became more uninhibited in his letters. I was able to reach the inner recesses of his heart. We corresponded more frequently and became more at ease with each other. Our relationship grew warmer by the day until he passed away a few years later.
For someone from a generation where feelings of affection were often withheld or suppressed, it was quite unusual of him to express his affection openly by signing off his letters, a few of which I still keep, with an endearing “Love, Pa”.
I love you too, Pa. Happy Father’s Day.