Some of my Dentistry classmates are puzzled that I look forward to going home for dinner even though we have more time this special semester to hang out after school. I did not tell them the reason till recently – it is part of a larger conscious effort on my part to spend time with my parents in my university days.
I pen this to reflect on how Dad has influenced my outlook on Family as an institution and pay tribute to my old man.
As the saying goes; it is only when you lose something that you truly cherish it.
I place immense value on Family because I experienced a two-year void in which I lost the physical presence of Dad and my younger sister, Karen.
He accompanied Karen as she pursued her junior college (JC) education in Melbourne. For me, communication with him was restricted to Skype.
On hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise. I grew up very fast those two years.
For once in my life I did not have the bedrock of Dad to rely upon. I needed to fend for myself in National Service (NS), a new ball game altogether. Yet this did not discount the many ‘book-out’ weekends where I craved family dinners like before.
Dates with Mum were comforting, but incomplete. Standing on the commissioning parade square some 11 months after enlistment, my proud heart turned sour when I saw parents affixing the fresh epaulettes on their sons’ shoulders.
Instead, it was Mum and Aunty Mooi, her close sister, who placed my new military rank on either side. I took it that Aunty was doing it in place of Dad. But, the sense of longing was compounded as I had won a military award.
After an award drought in Raffles JC where I was a small fish in a big pond, I finally achieved something that Dad would be proud of. But, he was not there to share my joy.
After the parade, I rushed home to Skype Dad, praying he had not fallen asleep (Melbourne is two hours ahead). I did not lean back on the car seat lest my ceremonial parade uniform crumpled.
I wanted Dad to see me in my smartest.
It was like those years back when that geeky St Andrew’s boy could not wait to show Daddy the medal won at Sports Day.
I cried when Dad confessed emotionally over webcam, that not being present at my commissioning was one of his life’s regret.
So my ‘split’ family lived our parallel lives-Karen studied hard in Melbourne while I served my nation. And, I continued feeling a need to catch up on lost time -all two years of that family vacuum in my life.
I also place emphasis on Family because of Dad’s influence on me as a family man himself.
When I become a father, I want to emulate Dad in three ways.
First, to grow up closely with my kids – Dad has always been there. He attended all my kindergarten concerts. He moonlighted as the family taxi driver, driving Karen and I to enrichment classes. He came for the weekend league matches in my Raffles hockey days, encouraging me after each game -whether we won or lost- with a cold can of 100-plus.
Second, to instill the right values in my children, which Dad took great pains to inculcate in me-it was he who taught me the fighting spirit. Despite losing his own father at the tender age of seven, he eventually became a respectable associate professor. At the same time, Dad taught me that “humility is the only way forward.”
Third, to lead my family well as head of the house, even if it means speaking out, standing up, and making hard decisions. As an adult, I now comprehend that certain decisions Dad made in the past, were for the family’s interests and well-being.
I also found unprecedented respect for Dad when he voluntarily took up the huge burden (no, “a son’s responsibility”, as he corrected me) to care for his mother, who suffered from dementia. The fulfillment of his filial duty in action, and not just words or money, is something that I hope I can live up to.
Going into my second year in Dental school, I enjoy a great deal of freedom, and answer for the consequences of my decisions. Even if I have more convicted mindsets and opinions on life issues these days, I still rely heavily on Dad’s invaluable insights and wisdom.
Nonetheless, when my parents recently expressed concern that my attachment to them could somewhat impede to my socializing with friends, I replied that I am old enough to make balanced decisions. And, spending more time with them is a conscious choice I am happily making.
About the Author: Paul Sim Ruiqi, a 22-year old undergraduate in a local university, writes about how his dad’s love has sculpted the way he views Family, and why he cherishes having dinners with his parents at home in the hustle and bustle of his school life.
First published on 17-06-2013.
Categories: Ages and Stages