Heart and Soul: My military dad

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During a recent conversation, a colleague told me that she usually drinks with his father when she goes back to her hometown.

Suddenly, my eyes almost welled up. The conversation was so heartwarming and, with just that short description, I could feel the close relationship between a father and a daughter.

At that moment, I imagined how would it be like if Dad was still with us.

I never had such a close relationship with Dad. He was always a "military dad".

So, when I heard the story, I was amazed at how intimate my friend's relationship with her father was. That was the relationship I never had with my Dad.

When I was growing up, my definition of a father was one who is serious, one whom his children feared, one who instilled discipline at home, and one whom his children would stop everything they are doing as soon as they sensed his presence.

We would never ever joke in the presence of Dad lest we went overboard with the jokes – and I would not want to imagine the repercussions. We were always on our toes when Dad was around.

When we were young, it was always pretty quiet when we were at the dinner table because we were not supposed to talk when we had our meals.

When I was young, I would watch TV programmes depicting family having dinner together and freely having conversation with each other at the dinner table – I knew that was just fantasy.

I knew then that when we had meals together, it was a serious task and we had to finish the meal as soon as possible. Only when we had relatives visiting that we could spend a little bit more time at the dinner table listening to the conversation between our parents and our relatives.

For as long as I can remember, I never gave Dad a peck on the cheek, or vice versa.

I remember I was gobsmacked when I once saw one of my classmates give her father a peck on his cheek as she was getting out of the car. I thought it would be awkward if I were to do that to Dad – and it would not be proper but disrespectful.

As I watched more and more TV series, I realised that such an act is common, but not to Dad. He was not used to public displays of affection, and did not expect such from his children.

But on his deathbed and seconds before he breathed his last, I managed to give him a peck on his forehead – I guess I longed to do it, but there had been no opportunity. And, I guess it would be the biggest regret if I didn't do what I did.

Dad was a man of few words. I believe I talked to my friends more than I talked to Dad. When I started working, I believe I talked to my boss more than I talked to Dad too.

Usually, we only talked to him when we had to – for instance, to get his permission to go out at night, to let him know that I was ready to go out to work or that I was on my way back from the office. These were probably the routine and predictable daily conversations I had with Dad.

When Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, we made certain changes in our schedule so that at least someone would always be at home to accompany him at any one time.

A few months before his passing, I would accompany him in his room at night and sit next to him. He would be reading the Chinese newspaper and I would be reading the English newspaper. Most of the time, we would not be having any conversation. It may be an awkward situation to an outsider, but, to us, it seemed the most natural thing to do.

Occasionally, Dad would be playing with his tablet and he would ask me to help him with the settings and that is about all that was happening in the room then – pindrop silence most of the time, but I guess we enjoyed the company nonetheless, in a unique way.

Besides that, I also accompanied him every Sunday to watch the news or documentary on TV. While watching, Dad would pass comments on what he was watching.

I felt that I had more conversation with Dad during the last few months before his passing than all those accumulated over time before he was diagnosed.

I thank God that I could have a "normal" father-daughter relationship during the few months before his passing. No regrets. Of course, sometimes, I wish that I could have had more time with Dad and that I could have had a drink or two with him, just like my friend and her father.

I miss him but I know that he is in a better place.

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