21 Jun 2015

how long it can take to say Happy Father's Day

I never said it much growing up.
We are Asians.
Father's Day wasn't invented yet - not to me anyway.
If it existed, and I knew about it, I'd probably have resisted it.

Not much to celebrate about, I'd say.

So dead wrong I was.

My children are now fifteen and turning ten.
The wheels of time just keep rolling on. In my lesser moments, with the crowding of unpleasant memories - and with Mother's Day still vivid (did he do anything anyway?) .... no need to be so insistent on fussing over what a man's got to do.

So wrong I am.

This morning, the actual Father's Day, I woke up because I heard him call my name. But I turned to see that he was still sound asleep. The voice was recognizable, distinct, clear, firm. Perhaps it was God? So I did the Samuel thing: speak, I am listening! Nothing.

I was asleep one moment. Then I am awake. It doesn't normally happen this way at all.

It's Father's Day I thought to myself. My first thought, honestly, was my preaching coming up later in the morning. Then I whispered, "Happy Father's Day'" to God!
Then I thought about my father.

The one who with my mom were the chosen lives to come together and combine their genetic material to generate me. 

My picture of my dad is not a clear portrait - all gleaming, wall-hanging ready. It's more like bits of mosaic lining up unequally and unevenly.

He could do things with his hands. I remember one time, he brought home timber! He sawed, hammered, nailed... and a chunky double decker bed emerged. I don't remember climbing into it much less sleeping it. Perhaps it wasn't sturdy and my mom had him take it down.

Then there was the time he came home once with an accordion. I had never before seen such a thing and was fascinated by the way it folds and the sounds that whinnied out from it.

He sometimes told jokes. My mother laughed once or twice at them.

Quite a few times, he returned much later than expected and it seemed he had taken the wrong bus. {like the way I get lost I suppose - the blood carries strange things}.

I remember we watched three things repeatedly: Hindi movies, nature documentaries, and wrestling. Thanks to my dad, I am adept at eating with my hands, never let skin colour bother me, can recognise David Attenborough's voice anywhere... {but no, I did not take to the wrestling bit}.

From my mother, I got the story that he had been suspended from school because he was too playful. Apparently, in order to keep him restrained, the teacher had drawn a circle. He stepped out of it. They asked him to step out from school. His father and mother didn't cared. He never graced the doors of a school again. He never took us to school, except to bike my baby sister to her kindergarten.

He loved the thrill of a good gamble; but he made humble bets. Although we did have encounters with loan sharks at one time. Each time he did win, the house would fill with something. But they don't last very long. They go missing pretty quickly. He must have lost then.

He smoked. I had a sensitive nose. When I turned teen, I self-righteously berate and made him feel bad/guilty/worthless for inflicting us with second hand smoke.

If I loved my dad as a child I do not remember it. I wished I did. I would have made music with him, learnt to build a thing or two, maybe got lost together on those bus rides. 
Perhaps I did not love him because we were busy getting by.
Perhaps I did not love him because my mother was struggling with her deep disappointments in life: she had vowed not to marry someone who gambled, but her mother set her up with my dad. And a mother's shattered dreams are shards that are best avoided.
Perhaps I did not love him because there was a sorry need for love in my own little heart.

Thankfully, at age eight, God became a reality for me. Among the many things I would learn and discover about God, I found I had a heavenly father.

God became the father I wanted and needed.

But when I was old enough, God turned my attention back to my earthly father. It began with the mission all good Christians embark on: saving folks. My dad needed saving, that wasn't difficult to see. But in time, God showed me, my father would once again be God's instrument: his cold, indifferent, cavalier attitude about God, called forth Christ in me. I needed to be saved from my lovelessness.
Patiently God waited for me to grow up. When God said, be a friend to your dad through my gushing tears - and I said 'yes' - a whole new capacity opened up within me. I saw how he was a hurt, unloved person in so many ways; and appreciated how much it must take for him to even be who he was.

I miss my father. I certainly miss it that he did not get to walk me down the aisle or see my children. His silliness would be wild fun for them!

I cannot recall how many 'happy father's day' I managed to say in the end. But I am glad I got to say it, finally. 

That verse in Malachi about God turning the hearts of children to their fathers? God is always doing that. He is love; it's what he does. Later Paul puts it slightly differently when he said that God has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation.

It took me a long time to say Happy Father's Day because I could not see what a gift my dad was, stuck as I was in what the model dad should be; forgetting that he did not have a father who showed him how, and without God in his life; how was he to ever know?

Yet this is valour --

When he got married and he saw his bride thumbed and abused by his mom, he courageously took her, their two pots and one bag and left in the middle of the night. 
When the children started coming, he worked with a changkol [shovel], he worked as a coolie. It was back breaking and he was tempted to get faster gains and his gambling habit grew. But he never indulged himself. It was always to help us live a little better. Get a toy or two. Eventually he became a clerk at the Harbour Board. But a horrendous driver came up and threw him off his rickety bicycle. They gave his job away. There was no one to look to for recourse. 
If his work outside did not work out, he worked at home. He cleaned and cooked. I still miss his best dish - pig's tongue stewed with soy beans and onions. No one makes it like he does. Sometimes we came home to hand written messages that the water had been boiled and is safe to drink. In a lighter moment, we captured a photo of him using our first vacuum cleaner. 

He didn't have much going for him in life really. But he had an optimistic, can-survive demeanour. We probably got them from him too. Not to mention his linguistic ability. He didn't have many opportunities and no patrons or mentors.

But God did give him am amazing wife. With her, they had nine children! I am glad to be one of them.

When a man has given life his one best shot, as he knows how... it is worth celebrating. And Mr Ho, he gave being a dad a shot. He did not supply us with plenty, but he looked to see that the rice urn and the sugar and salt was there. He did not know how to egg us on to success, but he never held us back and we could see his quiet pride at every graduation. He never told us his love or demanded from us anything. He accepted gifts reluctantly and his sanguine self can go very quiet when attention was fastened on him. But God knows, he tried. I thank God for opening my eyes to see it before it was all too late.

Now, he is having a well deserved rest and a truly wild time in heaven, just fit for his personality. He is home, safe and free at last.

Happy Father's Day dad!

where I grew up

And - to the man who is partner to the children I now have, that's a different and no less important Father's Day to celebrate for sure!


  1. Thank you for this honest and touching post on your mosaic memory of dad. Thank God for the space He created in your heart to forgive, the bitter-sweet remnant that is no less precious. Proud of the blessed woman you have blossomed into in Abba Father's loving hands!

    1. Thank you so much Pat for this encouragement! Means a lot.


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