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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Father's Day Out

Father’s day is the time of the year when I get to replenish my wardrobe. It’s the day when my wife, kids and some friends express how much I mean to them with the gifts. This has been happening for some years now. Previously it was different. The day just comes and goes… big deal. Unlike Mother’s day that is usually celebrated with so much pomp and gaiety, Father’s day used to be like any other day. That was until I ranted and raved about it one day about the double standards. After all Fathers do form part of the same equation….No? So why the discrimination? From then on, things changed. So now I earnestly look forward to Father’s day each year. It also offers an opportunity to celebrate with some chilled beers or scotch without having my wife breathing down my neck. But I actually wish there were more such days in a year so I can celebrate throughout the year for 365 days without finding for an excuse to enjoy the beers. We should perhaps have Aunty’s day, Uncle’s day, Bosses day, ex-Bosses day (of which I will have plenty), ex-Girlfriend’s day etc.

This year on Father’s day, I wanted to make a difference to another Father’s life……my Father. I wanted to take him to the estate where it all began. So I took the long drive up-country to a God forsaken town called Kulim where my parents now live with my sister. They were with me until recently. But since there were no one in the house when we leave for work, my sister volunteered to care for them. After picking them up, I drove for another 35 km into the interior of Kedah to the estate where my dad used to work at the Group Hospital. This was home to us until he retired in the late sixties.

I still recall waking up at 5am to catch the 6 o’clock bus to school that was located 35 km away. By the time I reached school, my white uniform would have turned beige with the dust from the laterite road. I had even been hauled up once by my discipline teacher for ‘defying’ the school dress code. It was only after I shook the dust off and the white in the uniform returned that he let me off. But I had to endure all this because Dad wanted to provide me with English education that was not available in the estate. Far sighted indeed.

The hospital was situated on a small hillock and our house was located about 50 metres away. It used to be full of activity then with patients coming and going, in-patients chatting away with new found friends in the wards, kids crying or running around or playing. It used to be so noisy then.

But now when we reached the hospital, we found it had been abandoned. The wards had been demolished. The house that we once called home was in a dilapidated state, the compound overgrown with weeds. And the place was extremely quiet. The silence was almost deafening. Except for an occasional crackle of a rubber seed in the distance, or the cry of a cricket in the woods, all was quiet and serene. What a contrast! The estate doesn’t maintain a hospital anymore preferring to send their workers to the government clinic. This was the place where I was born, where I was raised, where I learnt how to cycle, where I burnt my fingers playing firecrackers, where I climbed a jambu tree and fell and fractured my hand, ....there are just so many memories. It’s overwhelming!

My wife held my Dad’s hand and guided him up the steps on the hillock to the side of the office building where he used to work. He just kept looking without uttering any words. After much deep thoughts, he looked up at me…then turned and smiled to himself as if to say “Yes!....... Those were the good old days”. We spent the next half an hour or so walking around the place as I related to my wife about my experience of growing up in the estate. Dad just sat there in the bench outside his old office. After a while, we decided that it was time to leave.

During the drive back, I stopped in a sundry shop in the estate . I noticed that the proprietor was an old man but I couldn’t place him (I was only 12 when I left the estate). I asked him how long he has been operating the shop. “Oh……for over 50 years now”, he said. “Then you must remember me. Or maybe my father”, I asked excitedly while telling him who my father was. He replied with a glint in his eyes that he knew my Dad very well and that Dad used to spend his after office hours in his shop most of the days…….. just to chat and while away the evenings He said both of them used to be quite close but that he had lost touch after my father left the estate after his retirement. “Well, he is here with me. He is in the car” I said. His face brightened up as I said that and he called on his wife to man the shop for a while. He then immediately came out of the counter and approached the car. Seeing him approaching with me behind trying to keep up, my wife opened the door. When he saw my Dad, he extended his hands for a handshake. I could see his excitement as he spoke of how long it had been since Dad left the estate and how long he had been enquiring from some other friends about Dad’s whereabouts and that all his attempts had been in vain. He talked and talked and talked. All these while, Dad just looked at him, a bit puzzled and confused…..but just smiled. After exchanging pleasantries, we continued with our journey back home to Kulim.

I wonder if I will be able to repeat this ‘pilgrimage’ again next year to the land of memories. I wonder if Dad will still be around at that time. You see, Dad is already 98………and has become senile!

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