MY FATHER was my hero growing up, and he remains my hero today.
On Boxing Day, I said goodbye to him for the last time as he and mum sent me off at KL Sentral to catch my flight back to England.
I would not get the chance to speak to him again; four hours after I landed, my dad had a seizure attack which led to his passing barely a week later. He was 73.
My heart is broken, as you would expect, but also happiness in reflecting on the privilege my sisters and I had to call him our father.
We really struck the daddy jackpot.
Everything I currently have in life, I owe it to mum and dad.
But today, as we say our final goodbyes, it is all about my father Alex Cheong Koon Yan.
Those who have been following this column over the years might remember me sharing many of the life lessons my father had imparted.
But in the few days since he has left us, I am still learning so much about him.
Dad’s many friends and relatives over the years have shared with me their best memories with him.
When they describe dad, there are not many words used – “good man”, “kind person”, “great” keep getting repeated.
While I appreciate that people are often kind at times like these, I knew my father – he was all those things and more.
Yet dad was many things to many people.
To his younger cousins, he was the eldest of the generation – highly respected, and the easiest to bully and make fun of.
To his high school, teacher’s training college and Universiti Malaya mates, he was also a cheeky rascal.
To my mum, he was more than a loving husband.
To me – and my sisters I am sure – he was the best daddy in the world (he’s got a couple of mugs with that written on it if you need any proof).
Beyond his personal relationships, dad was also a man of the world.
It is his “fault” that I have such a free spirit and this intense wanderlust.
Dad was a curious man and had so much respect for diversity.
He once paraphrased an old saying to teach me a lesson – across all four corners of the world, all men are brothers.
It is no wonder why he loved travelling.
If my values and politics lean to the left, that is also something I inherited from dad.
Dad was a true progressive although he was from “that generation”.
After his passing, I looked back at the booklet he published in 1990 tracing back eight generations to our ancestor who first arrived in Malacca.
It was the product of years of research, but one paragraph jumped out at me.
He was explaining the passing down of generational names – all his male cousins were “Koons” for example – but noted the patrilineal approach to such traditions.
He wrote that no prejudice was intended, by him at least, to female members of the family.
It is no surprise then that both my sisters and I share the same generational name, unlike most of our cousins.
I am not the first male feminist in my family.
Besides all this, for me personally, dad was my intellectual hero and a great teacher.
He was the smartest person I know and had such a varied interest that I do not ever recall a topic of conversation he could not engage in.
Which is no surprise, dad loved to talk.
He left the teaching profession very early on but continued “teaching” in many ways.
I am not sure it is a coincidence that all three of his children are in academia.
Over the past few days, dad’s health had been deteriorating.
He was never the same person after the stroke he suffered in 2002, although he worked so hard to recover well enough to go back to work.
Later that decade, dad would again be admitted to the hospital because of prostate cancer.
In 2013, he was diagnosed with semantic dementia followed by numerous incidents of seizures until his last few days.
But dad was also very blessed.
Besides having the luxury of my mother’s love and care in all those times, he was also cared for by some of the best doctors and nurses, some of whom were family friends.
Our family cannot thank them – especially the staff at HUKM in Cheras who cared for dad – for their hard work and support in difficult times.
As I write this, we still have a couple of days left before the final send-off but I miss him already.
His loud voice always reverberated around the house, but his presence was always felt wherever I was in the world.
You could always count on dad.
I know for a fact that many others beyond my immediate family too are reeling from this loss but I am also thankful that we all have so many amazing memories to cherish.
I have always told myself how I would like to grow up to be just like daddy.
But as I sit here reflecting on this man I have spent 36 years with, I would count myself very lucky if I could become half the man he was.
I love you, dee.
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