WHEN I was younger, shorter and not as “wise”, my mother shared a story about my father that has stuck with me till today.
“Ah Bee… did you know, that your father was in Vietnam during the war?”
Mother always knew how to stop me in my tracks, and that particular statement, matter-of-factly told, certainly did the trick.
“What?” I exclaimed in disbelief, “What on earth was dad doing there?”
Thus began an interrogation that would have made a police inspector proud.
What did Malaysia have to do with Vietnam at the time? When did he go there? How long was he there for? Why go there in the first place? What did dad do there?
My mother, possibly regretting having told me at all, glared at me with a look of exasperation and exclaimed: “Haiyah… he was selling scrap metal to the Americans! Now go or you’ll be late for your tuition class.”
Denied access to further information and unconvinced that the man I knew as my father would ever be the type to venture into a war zone — I began doing the math.
The Vietnam War came to an end in 1975 and my father would have been in his early twenties during the tail end of the almost 20-year conflict.
He was certainly of an age where such a journey could have been plausible.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking at this point. Why didn’t I just ask my father directly whether the story was true?
The answer to that requires an explanation about the relationship I have with my father. You see, we don’t really talk.
Well to be more accurate, we don’t dive into deep discussions about life, philosophy or politics. Nor does my father do the typical “Back in my day… nasi lemak was 10 sen” speeches with us.
He was, for the bulk of my childhood, a weekend dad. Appearing for family outings and to be the “good cop” to my mother’s “bad cop”.
But that’s okay, as I understood from an early age that I was the daughter of an entrepreneur, or “Chinese businessman” as they were called back in the day.
These absences were the sacrifices he made to ensure we would never want for anything.
To be an entrepreneur is no easy feat. It’s been reported that 50% of businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail within five years.
Entrepreneurs are risk takers, willing to roll the dice with their money, reputation — or in the case of my father’s trip to Vietnam — put life on the line in support of an idea or enterprise.
Dad probably had no idea what would happen once he landed on Vietnamese soil, or whether success was to be had at all but the point is this, he still went.
As Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”.
Like all entrepreneurs, my father has had more than his fair share of failures between successes littering the trail that is his professional life.
After many years, it got to the point where I feared that finding out “the truth” behind this story might mar the powerful message it conveyed — so I never asked.
This is one of those stories I have been keeping under “family folklore” for my own children (no, not happening anytime soon) and well, everyone who reads this.
I share this also to commemorate this column’s new home within the pages of MetroBiz, a section dedicated to small business owners.
So in the spirit of the strong entrepreneurial will my father demonstrated by travelling to a war zone because he saw a business opportunity, the moral of today’s story is this – Don’t be afraid to take that leap.