Dear Dad

Saturday, June 18, 2016

In light of Fathers' Day tomorrow, here's an edited version of one of my college application essays, dedicated to Papa Yap. I've tweaked it slightly into a more casual tone and to better reflect my actual feelings, rather than having it force-fitted to answer the question posed to me meant for uni apps. 

This piece was inspired mostly by what I've witnessed in February, when my grandma passed away, which was an incredibly trying and difficult time for my father. Of course, it is also a build-up of all I've seen my father do and embody over the past nineteen years of my life, and everything is factual. 

How are you, Papa?”

Having been brought up in a family with stereotypical Asian values, having heart-to- heart conversations with family members are never part of the routine. We never engage in physical forms of affection, and affirm our love for each other only through practical things like doing the dishes–although even that may have been done to escape nagging.

At that point though, showing my dad that I cared for him seemed necessary. My paternal grandmother–or “Ah Ma” as I called her–was in a critical condition in the hospital. She was hooked up onto tubes and machinery, had an oxygen mask on, and while conscious, wasn't able to respond to us at all. 

Ever since I could remember, Ah Ma had mobility issues, leaving her wheelchair bound. As she could only converse in dialect, I never had a proper conversation with her before. Interactions were always kept to a minimum due to my unwillingness to reach out. Afterall, it was difficult to bring myself to connect with someone whom I believed was the cause of the problems my parents had with each other. Ah Ma was always the topic of their quarrels, and I was made to believe that without her existence, my dad will be spending more time with my brother and I, and that he would be more present in our lives, as a father and as a husband. At least, according to the arguments I overheard, he gave up a promising job opportunity and a stable salary years back so that he could take advantage of the flexibility that came with self-employment to take care of his ailing mother. Every single day, without fail, Papa will make three trips to Ah Ma's house–in the morning, the afternoon and the evening–to take care of her. Feeding her, bathing her or taking her to the doctor's, he did it all despite having six other siblings. 

As I saw my dad by the side of her hospital bed, he looked forlorn. He would stand up at regular intervals and adjust the height of the bed–propping her up before deciding to lay her down flat a few minutes later. This would go on, much to the annoyance and resignation of my mum. Somehow, as I observed his actions, I understood. His actions were borne out of love. After more than twenty years of sacrificing and doing so much for her, it was probably incredibly discomforting having to stand aside and watch helplessly–shifting her bed position was the only thing he could do for her there and then.

She passed away that night, and I got my dad back.

I got my dad back, a few weeks before I turned nineteen. If I were a kid, I'd probably be overjoyed to have Papa a lot more physically present, having the luxury of staying home to read the newspapers or take an afternoon nap.

But that night at the hospital, I came to realise that really, he was never even gone to start with. His reply to the simple question I asked him was, “not too good, with Ah Ma in such a condition”. No hiding of emotions nor putting on a brave front for his daughter. There was none of it. It was all very simple–he is a son, a father, a husband, who has an unmistakable bond and appreciation for his mother. For so many years, he has actually been teaching and showing us what it means to be a father, to be an adult. 

It means having the capacity to care for another apart from yourself, without any fear of judgement or backlash, and standing for what you believe is the most important to you. It was a revelation, and I knew very well that when the time comes for me to care for my parents, that I will have the strength to do it the same way Papa does it. And that night, by asking him how he was–was my very tiny first step.

Undoubtedly, having such dedication and devotion towards caring for his mother took up a great deal of his time, which included the time he could have spent with his children. Growing up, Papa was always rushing everywhere, trying to juggle all his various roles and responsibilities. But to me, it wasn't just an attempt, because he succeeded - at least, in the dad aspect. He's able to provide comfortably for the family, he's always there to ferry us around to school and various classes whenever necessary, and he's present for most family events. Over the years, Papa has always appeared incredibly tired and mentally drained, surviving only on at most four hours of sleep every day, but I'm glad he gets to rest and relax a lot more now. My only hope is that he finds strength and meaning in life once more, and for him to be genuinely happy, because he deserves it. 

Happy Fathers' Day! 

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