Heart & Soul: Memories of my dad, Datuk Rastam Hadi

ON May 9, at 3.20 am, I lost my father. His name was Datuk Rastam Hadi.

When news of his passing circulated among the Malaysian community, I was inundated with messages and phone calls. People were sending their condolences. Many remembered him as a great leader, a no-nonsense individual who spent most his life serving his country. A post by The Malay College Old Boys’ Association indicated that “Our nation has lost its son”.

My father held various roles within government: he was Under Secretary of Treasury (1962–1969), Deputy Secretary-General at the Defence Ministry (1969–1972), Deputy Governor of Bank Negara (1972-1974), and first Managing Director and Senior Vice President of Petronas (1974-1989).

Ever since his retirement from Petronas in 1989, my father lived a quiet life behind public scrutiny – people did not know much about him.

I often heard that those who worked under him would cower in fear whenever they saw him.

But I was never afraid of my father. He had a lovely sense of humour and often came up with jokes during dinner with family or friends. When I was younger, I once asked him why he never took the LRT. His immediate response was: “Don’t you know what LRT stands for? Lambat... Rastam... Tiba!”

Dad would sing me songs of P. Ramlee, his favourite singer. And did he love to dance! But what he loved most was reading. He would buy copies of his favourite books and distribute them to the family and his close friends. He told me that when he was young, his family did not have enough money, so he saved any cash that he had (including for lunch) to buy books. During my primary school days, dad implemented a strict protocol and taught me to be cautious in my expenditure.

Also, he often requested to see my written work, and it would come back with red markings and edits. He constantly encouraged me to find more elegant ways of expressing myself.

My father’s talent in mathematics did not go unnoticed. He could solve every single maths problem that I got stuck on, all the way past high school. He would never provide me with the answer straightaway. I had to show that I had genuinely attempted the question and I most certainly would end up having to do another similar one. He introduced me to algebra when I was seven, and made sure I could solve simultaneous equations by age eight. When I got to university and informed him that I was doing quantitative econometrics, he told me I was old enough to solve my own problems.

Logical thinking and artistic creativity are often seen as polar opposites – this is a widely known stereotype. For a mathematician, my father had a great love and appreciation for poetry. He would often cite phrases from Othello by William Shakespeare in a dramatic fashion, drawing on his memory and lending emphasis to the words that count to ensure perfect delivery. When I read him his favourite poems, I would find the biggest smile on his face as he muttered, “Oh, it’s so beautiful!”

Dad was always humble. He never really told me much of what he did until I started asking him. A few years ago, I asked him to teach me negotiation techniques and I saw the excitement in his eyes as he gave me examples based on his experience working in Petronas. Just like me, he too liked the idea of being challenged. And when it comes to life as a civil servant, he was as straight as it comes, with a zero-tolerance policy for corruption.

As I listened to his work stories and observed his ways, what echoed was his love for our country as he worked tirelessly to safeguard national resources, raising revenues to improve the well-being of his fellow Malaysians. During his time as MD and Senior VP, Petronas started with a paid-up capital of RM$10mil and became a billion-dollar multinational oil company.

Dad was always in control of his emotions. I barely saw him shed a tear.

But I did not fail to keep him on his toes. When he brought me to his board meetings, his colleagues noted that I was going to be just like him. I disagreed and told them that I was going to be better.

In 2012, when he discovered that I got a job at the Department of Treasury of Western Australia, he beamed with pride and joy. He told me he was so proud of me.

Over time, I learnt that what mattered most to him was not how much he had achieved, but spending time with his children and educating us to ensure we succeed in life. He was my toughest critic.

On the night of May 8, my sister called – I knew it wouldn’t be good. She thought dad was waiting for me, and encouraged me to say my final words. No matter how prepared I thought I was, nothing in life had prepared me for this moment.

I smiled and told him he was the best dad I could have ever had, and that I loved him to the moon and back. I promised to pass on his teachings, so much so that when I do have children, they will hear about their amazing grandfather.

And for the first time in my life, I saw tears running down his face. A few hours later, he drew his last breath.

Sabrina Rastam works as an economist at the Department of Treasury, Western Australia. She loves outdoor recreational activities and going to the beach.

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Datuk Rastam Hadi , Petronas


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