Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Generally, most of us identify with a parent of the same sex. Or so the narrative is supposed to go.

Anyways, this post is about my father. Or rather, my relationship with my father. It has always generally been good, except for that period from early adolescence until college where I expected more freedom than I generally got. Sometimes, he's a fucking grouch, but that's to be expected.

My father taught me how to cook and sweep the floor (yes, there is a specific way of doing so in order to maximise cleaning efficiency). He taught me how to be a responsible person and I can't remember the number of times he's close to bopped my head for not paying attention to my surroundings, the things that need to be done around the house, and my general chores. He took me out to volunteer at various society meets.

Even during our most trying years, my dad and I maintained some positive activities. We went to Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra performances together. They were spaced out every few months, and I made a big deal and dressed well. We sat together, and sometimes we talked.

My father always expected more from me, than I felt capable of giving. Once, I failed Math. It was awful and I tried explaining to him that everyone else failed it too, and he said, "you shouldn't judge yourself by how others are judging themselves." Which was his (and my Mum's, too, admittedly) way of saying, "don't compare yourself to other people's low standards, expect more from yourself."

I did shittily in school and continued to do shittily in school until I got to college where the medium of instruction was English. We had our fights. My brother and I admit that there's no one in the world who could make us feel like complete shite the way my dad does - it's excruciatingly humiliating: the mode of questioning, the sneering tone, the way his eyes narrow in severe disapproval.

And yes, again, sometimes, it's just him being a fucking grouch.

But he taught me some really important things, and more importantly, was a prime role model for what he taught me:

Pursue your dreams and stick to them. My father saw the opportunity to explore two of his favourite things: "food" and "science". He went on to work in the food technology industries. It's possible that if he hadn't seen that Universiti Malaya was offering it, he would have stayed in his course of teaching Science. Out of his class, he's one of the few who actually stayed in the business.

Be honest. He was so scrupulously honest. Except when it came to a few things, and those were deeply private and personal.

Offer help wherever you can. My dad never hesitated to offer to buy stuff from Nestle House with his staff discount for his friends. Whenever he went out of town, he asked his relatives if they wanted anything. My mother sometimes resented this habit of his (she's a 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' sort of person) but it made an impression on me. Not only that, but he also offered free accomodation where he could. Friends visiting from overseas knew that they had a place to stay in our house. They repaid him by offering us a place to stay when we visited. We saved a lot on hotel costs, and we had, I daresay, a better time that way, because that's the kind of human connection which is terribly important.

Love nature. Dad was, and I think still is, part of the Malaysian Nature Society, and we went hiking a lot. I never went on some of those extended treks, but the most memorable trek I went with him was to Mount Irau, when I was 15. Whenever I go home, we hike at Gasing Hill. His instructions for his funeral are simple: he wants to be cremated and his ashes scattered along the Gasing Hill trails. I figure that that's not too difficult, and would save me a trip up to Penang every so often.

My dad can get loud and he's very funny. His humour's not the kind which depends on malice or mean-spiritedness. On the Irau trip, he was in charge of getting people to congregate in the main meeting hall. They didn't have a bell, so he banged a big spoon onto a big pot and shouted "EVERYBODY COME TO THE MAIN HAAAAALLLLLLLLLL!" And he had been put in charge of announcements, and said, in a very authouritatively comic fashion, "I HAVE BEEN MADE THE TOWN CRIER. THAT MEANS, IF YOU DON'T LISTEN, I MAKE YOU CRY. OKAY?"

It was kind of embarrassing. I avoided the hall when he decided to read Poe's Raven like it was hip-hop. (Incidentally, my dad was the first one who read Annabel Lee to me, and although he didn't know what a meter is, or a foot, he knew it was rhythmic and beat the rhythm for me to hear, to explain why it sounded so beautiful to read. I took that book he read from and found other works in it. I discovered Shakespeare through him, indirectly. He also introduced Khalil Gibran to me. Go figure.) But he loves to make people laugh.

My dad's not very good at the whole emotions thing. He's better than most, but when I first told him about my depression, the first thing he did was get me pamphlets on depression, stuff which I'd already known. Would've been more helpful if he'd read them himself. We had many long upsetting discussions about this, especially after I'd left home and my brother moved home, because he just didn't get it, being perfectly sanguine himself despite coming from a family with a hideous history of depression. I don't know how it skipped over him, but he is annoyingly perpetually cheerful in his own way. I sort of inherited that from him, but really, it's just a useful coping mechanism.

My dad's not too keen on competitive sports, but he was a fencer in high school. When the Commonwealth Games played in Malaysia in 1998, he brought out his foils and taught me some basics. That was pretty fucking awesome. While watching one of the fencers having difficulties with her game, and she went off to the side in what looked like meditation, my dad told me, "sometimes, you have to do that. Just don't focus on the pain of failure and try to recognize why it happened." Well, maybe not in those words, but close.

It would be rather impossible for me to catalog everything about my father (though I certainly try), but that's not really the point. I'm twenty-four years old now, and certainly, my father may not be the best father ever (nor am I the best daughter ever, could just be a compatibility issue), but for every good father like mine, there are a few deadbeat ones, and possibly twenty average ones, and by average I mean, passes the baseline for fatherhood and could do better.

Everybody deserves a father like mine, who recognizes their children as agents of their own will who will act and behave their own ways, with their own passions. Who doesn't say "no" but asks "are you sure?" and who supports their kids, with the simple condition of, "do your chores."

Happy Father's Day.

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