Over the weekend, I attended a public talk and the subject of expressing love for fathers came up. The impetus for writing this piece was compelling and germinated at the talk. I seldom talked about my father.
My father was born in China in 1909. He came to Malaysia and then settled in Singapore as a young man. He came to Singapore in search of better living conditions like those who came before him from China. He was illiterate and hence the jobs that were opened to him were to use his physical strength. He chose to be a trishaw rider ferrying people and goods around. During the Japanese Occupation, he married my mother. Women who were not married, risked being taken advantage of by the Japanese soldiers, so the rush to get hitched quickly through arranged marriages.
So my father brought home the money and my mother looked after us, sons and daughter of 5. My father was a quiet man and when he was home after a hard days’ work he seldom talked much to us. But when my relatives came over occasionally, we saw him spoke a lot more. We heard more from these conversations than one-to-one or heart-to-heart talk with him. He did not discipline us as children. That was the job of my mother. Our problems with school work were not something that we can approach dad. He can’t help obviously. So the opportunity for contact with him was further reduced. But he was always there at home, his physical presence was enough. He put food on the table so that we did not go hungry.
In the family, our expression of love to father and mother was not verbal but subtle acknowledgment of their presence and respect was by ways of not annoying them by having bad behaviour.
My father passed away on 7 July 1999, a day short of 90 years old. He did not see the new millennium. The last few months and days of living for him were reclusive, hardly talked. We could only watch his expression on his face for clues on how he was coping. Saying “I love you, father, for what you had done for us” was never in our family tradition.
I heard that in the German language, to love is liber, as in liberty, liberation. To love someone is to let them free and not to cling. We can certainly allow our loved ones space and to leave peacefully. Though my father was gone, but we had memories of him. That will not go away.
Written on 1/29/2007 10:01 AM
Copyright © 2007, the author known as LKT in Singapore.