The coffee shop uncle placed one half-boiled egg, a slice of kaya toast and a cup of Milo in front of me. My Dad had double the number of eggs and bread slices, a cup of coffee, and forked out a dollar for both our servings.
He cracked the piping hot egg onto the saucer, added a little black sauce and dashes of pepper. Deftly, I brought the saucer to my lips and slurped the egg down in one mouthful. I gobbled up the toast just as quickly. I waited for the Milo to cool a little, and listened in to the conversations between my Dad and his friends.
They delved in wide-ranging topics: politics of the day; the best food in the neighbourhood; keen enquiries about a relative or friend whom they had not seen for a while. The ‘kopi-tiam’ uncle would sometimes contribute the town’s latest gossip to spice things up a little.
In the times of yester-years, little was needed to bring relatives and friends together. Food was cheap and good; conversations as flavourful as the watery eggs and crispy toasts.
This, despite the meeting place being mundane, with cracked marble table tops and dirty, wobbly ceiling fans. Stray dogs were free to potter around, lapping up crumbs on the stained terrazzo tiles.
Notwithstanding, Dad and his friends remained oblivious to the surroundings. They were too absorbed in intimate, authentic conversations. Till this day, I remember that as I listened to them, I had noticed they were of different race and creed.
Theirs was a friendship that lasted through the years, even though the coffee shop where they used to gather had been demolished.
The shopping complex that sprouted in its place, today, hosts a string of fast food joints, Italian pastries, Chinese cuisine, Korean buffet, ‘Coffee Bean’, to name a few.
The ‘premium’ coffee outlet there sells coffee, tea, cakes and pasta dishes. Business is thriving despite the prices.
One day, I strolled into the café, ordered a cup of coffee and sat at a corner. I reflected the times when I was in the dingy coffee shop; and compared it to the ‘happening’ Coffee Bean.
Their environments could not be more different. The coffee shop was grimy, hot, sweaty and noisy. Coffee Bean, on the other hand, was clean, air-conditioned, comfortable and quiet.
Hygiene aside, it was also ‘cool’ to sip ‘Latte’, ‘Cappuccino’ or ‘Espresso’ from designer paper cups and to savour the sweet cakes. Many of the young, including school-going teenagers had no qualms paying for the experience – inspite of the rather hefty price tag.
My observations at the café triggered a reflection of the general environment in which my children are being brought up. I realised they expect more than the fullfilment of their basic needs and that they have a wide spectrum of wants and aspirations.
Eateries have to provide more than just ordinary-tasting food; they have to look good as well. Electronic gadgets have to provide more than basic technical functions; fanciful applications are welcomed ‘necessities’. Bags are more than just carriers; they are important accessories and clothes are more than fabric to be worn and to keep bodies warm.
It is no surprise that often, children prefer fast food joints because of the clean, cool, comfortable eating environment. They also request to be endowed with the latest smart phones, and an extensive variety of applications and games for pure entertainment. Branded clothes and shoes are adorned to attest to their premium tastes. They brandish their affluent lifestyles as they openly relate tales of their numerous overseas escapades.
I am powerless to stop the march of progress. I realise that not much can be done to slow down the rate of change in this modern world.
As a father, what I am more concerned about, however, is the impact of these changes on my children.
In this regard, I constantly strive to highlight to my children that many products and services have hefty marked-up prices due to branding and marketing gimmicks. I try to teach them the benefits of spending wisely.
I also try to explain that as human beings, we defined by our value system and not by the price at which we acquire material possessions.
I point out to them that confidence emanates from their hearts, not their clothes or shiny accessories; clarity of communication is evident in the choice of words, not the latest electronic device; knowledge is gained by the sheer willingness to learn, not by attending a popular or ‘branded’ school; the aroma of coffee stems, of course, from the beans themselves, and not Coffee Bean.
As these thoughts ran through my head, I recollected the good old times my father shared with his group of friends and drew a parallel: Their friendship was sealed not because of the coffee shop or its reasonably priced coffee and toasts, but by the regular, genuine exchange of thoughts, feelings and ideas.
It was mutual openness that cemented common values and friendships, regardless of race or socio-economic status.
My dad and his friends still meet up today, on the occasions of birthdays, wedding anniversaries, children’s weddings and so forth. Their unchanging values bind them tightly together in an ever changing and shifting world.
I learnt this valuable lesson from my father’s generation. Yet, as a father myself, I am now faced with a real challenge: To impart these same lessons to my children.
As they grow up on life’s fast track and become engulfed in a sea of constant change, I have to help them stay in front of the tidal waves, lest they be washed away. I have to know what lies below and identify undercurrents that hold a ship steady, whilst riding the chaotic water sprays above.
As a captain of my children’s ship, I appreciate the rate of change in and surrounding our lives, but I am determined not to let it rock or dilute the values embedded in our family life.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
Categories: Dads' Stories