“I Love You, Dad!”

[NOTE: Article below was published in “Passage”, the Malaysian magazine for seniors and grandparents]


Have you ever wondered how Father’s Day came about? It is said that a lady by the name of Sonora Dodd  from Spokane proposed a special day to be held to recognise the contributions and sacrifices that all fathers make. You see, Sonora’s mother died at childbirth. Deprived of a mother, Sonora and her five siblings were raised single-handedly by their father. Sonora was not too happy that only mothers were celebrated every year. During her time, mothers were recognised as the nurturer while fathers were generally seen as the provider. To Sonora, her father was both Mum and Dad.

Some of us would insist that every day is Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Yours truly can’t agree more with this. Whether you call him “Abah”, “Dad”, “Father” or “Papa” or by any other endearing term, and regardless of whether you celebrate Father’s Day or not, fathers truly hold a special place in society. Studies have shown that, without a father, children have serious problems growing up. By the age of seven, boys yearn for that father figure they can copy. The father’s hairstyle, how he dresses up, the way he talks and the company he chooses are all observed by his sons at this crucial stage.  Girls without a strong father figure are more likely to develop negative patterns in terms of relationships with men.

My late father was and still is a hero to me. In fact, truth be told, were it not for my father, I wouldn’t be an author today. When I was in my early teens, my father began subscribing to an English local daily that had a column entitled “As I Was Passing” by Adibah Amin. Now, let me assure you; Adibah Amin wasn’t just any writer. She had that rare quality, an exceptional sense of humor. And the way she filled the pages with her words!  The phrases she used, they were so natural, like magic. They held me spellbound. I loved reading her column so much that I often ran through the words again and again. Before I knew it, I had a dream of one day becoming a writer like Adibah. For you and I, buying a newspaper costs nothing. But for a man who earned as little as my father, it costs almost a fortune. A luxury.  Instead of filling our house with furniture, my father chose to sow the seed of a dream in me.

Years have gone by without him by my side, yet thoughts of him still bring tears to my eyes.  He wasn’t the kind of father who was always literally there for his kids. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He was perpetually absent. He was never present during my cousins’ weddings, family get-togethers, Hari Raya, funerals  – you name it. Every one of my kith and kin knew my father would be missing in action. You see, my father was a bus-driver who was paid by the hour – which means no work, no pay. He would be at the wheel from dawn to dusk and his meagre salary was never enough to afford him a holiday.

Even as I write these words, I can recall vividly the early moments each morning when he would tip-toe to the well near the house to take a bath before setting off for work. He was always the first one to wake up before anyone else in the house stirred; always careful not to disturb anyone’s slumber. Every evening he would arrive home late, physically drained from all the bus-driving that he did to support my mother, my four siblings and I.

My father spent a good portion of his last three months in hospital in Johor Bahru. I would take the express bus as often as I could from Kuala Lumpur, taking turns with my siblings to keep him company. On his last days, my father could hardly swallow anything as he had a growth in his trachea. The most he could ingest was a few sips of water. The doctor attached a shunt (a device to allow flow of nutrients into his ailing and frail body through an opening) to his abdomen.

The first time I saw the shunt protruding from the left side of his abdomen, it came as a shock. I remember thinking: What’s this alien thing sitting on my father? What surprised me was that he never complained despite the obvious discomfort he was in. Each time I asked “Sakit ke abah?” (“Does it hurt, father?”) All he would utter was “Tak lah.” (“Not at all.”) with a gentle shake of his head.

My father and I spent many a silent night keeping each other company at the hospital. Me on the sofa by the window and him stretched on his bed with the drip extending from one side. We hardly talked for my father was a man of few words. I often wondered then, and I still do now: How could a man with so much pain be so calm and composed? If there was one thing my siblings and I agreed unanimously until today was this: That my father was an easy man who always put it onto himself not to trouble others. Even at the end of his days when it would have been normal and expected for him to whine and whimper, he had the dignity not to.

You and I, every one of us has unique life experiences that had moulded us into the person we have become today. What if you yourself were not fortunate to have had a father who left indelible fond recollections in the sands of time like mine? If that’s the case, I say: Separate the deed from the doer. Use the pain as a reminder of your resilience and inner strength. You have it in you to lead the rest of your life without these less-than-happy memories. Leave them behind. Right here. Right now.




About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 540 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

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