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I seldom talk or write about him as he was seemingly a reserved and unapproachable figure. It has only been the last few years that we can connect more and engage each other more deeply in our conversations. I started to get to know him better. This is my tribute to a soft-spoken, hardworking man with endless patience, whom I call Papa.
Primary School Dropout
Born to a lorry driver and housewife, Papa had to skip school after completing Primary 3 as finances were tight at home. With limited education, he had to take on physically demanding jobs such as heavy vehicle driver, cleaner and odd job labourer.
His face and hands are wrinkled and weather-beaten. They are poignant reminders of his 35 years of arduous work under the sun and his selflessness contributions to the family.
My Obsession with Tracing Paper
Grandpa reviewed my progress in Chinese studies and Mathematics while Mama took charge of the English subjects during my early academic years.
Although Papa did not read stories aloud nor sing along with me while I was growing up he taught me to write. We did art and crafts together, which I enjoyed immensely. My obsession with tracing paper was ignited after he introduced them to me. What a discovery! Since then, I had been tracing cartoons and pictures whenever I was not studying, watching TV, eating or sleeping.
Moment My Siblings and I Look Forward To
Papa would bring the three of us (siblings) to a provision shop at a market along Bedok North Road on his pay day. He would then ask us to pick a toy each. The conditions were simple: It must be our favourite toy and it must be affordable. Naturally, we love most of the toys displayed in the shop but our buying power was limited.
Amongst my siblings, we had a game to see who would be the first to get his/her toys approved by our parents. It took us a few trials before we learnt of the golden limit - $10. Deep down, I hoped that the trips could be more frequent and the limits could be raised infinitely. But I gradually realised that money did not come by easily for my family during our growing up years. I believe my siblings feel the same way too.
Kicking Off An Unhealthy Habit for the Family
Papa followed in Grandpa’s footstep and began to smoke in his early twenties. I could vividly remember being his runner, dashing to the convenient store to get his favourite “Dunhill” cigarette pack. After every trip, he would reward me with the small change that I used to supplement my daily school allowance.
Naively, I looked forward to every trip, not knowing that every order delivered and every puff taken would endanger Papa’s health. Thankfully, as a result of my sister’s persistent persuasion, he successfully quitted the unhealthy habit that lasted for about two decades. (Thank you, Sister). Many years later, I learnt that he was very relieved that he quit smoking for the family. He has since been enjoying good health.
Papa's Familial Duty
Papa is not perfect. He has flaws like many other individuals. However, in my opinion, he has dutifully fulfilled his role as head of family and husband to Mama. Several years ago, when Mama was very sick, Papa kept to his marriage vows and stood by her all the way.
Although their love story may not be as romantic and fairy tale-like (their marriage was not filled with hugs, kisses, and loving exchanges), he showers Mama with his love through his acts of service. He is a man of few words and does not publicly express his affections. But his commitment towards our family is unwavering, and that is important to me. I witnessed first-hand that a marriage has its difficulties, and the way parents ride through challenging times will bear lasting effects on their children. Though Mama can get very demanding and critical at times, Papa keeps his cool very well most of the time. He has made a huge impact on my parenting style and the way I handle conflicts in relationships.
Unconditional Love from Papa
Despite the odds against him, Papa was not stingy with his love for our family. When I was serving my National Service, he used to chauffeur me between home and camp whenever he could. On a few occasions, I had to stay longer in the camp for last minute exercises, Papa did not utter a word of complaint even though he had to wait for me for more than 2 hours!
Now that I am 39 years old and a father of three, he still stays up and waits for me whenever I work late. While others may view him as an overly protective Asian parent, I see this as unconditional love and concern for his loved ones.
Despite having a difficult life, Papa does not pressure us to pursue material gain and financial success. Instead, he always advises that it is of utmost importance to do the right things and fulfil our duty as an individual in society, with a clear conscience. He simply wishes that all of us in the family stay together and look after each other. He is contented when we are happy.
Papa is 72 years old now and has retired for more than a decade. His days are now mostly filled with precious moments with his grandchildren, reading and watching TV programmes - - his favourite past time. To enable him to reminisce about his parenting days, his grandchildren have the liberty to draw anything that their grandpa would like to see on a wall called “Memory Lane”.
("Memory Lane" Wall as viewed from Papa’s armchair)
To My Papa From the Bottom of My Heart
Papa, I am sorry, I could have always done more and better in the past. Thank you for giving me life, a happy childhood and all your contributions in the family. I love you.
I wish all Fathers a Happy Father's Day and may you always be blessed with happiness and good health. Thank you for all that you have done for your family.
Written by Chin Hock
Edited by Sondra
A version of the article was published in Families For Life at https://www.familiesforlife.sg/discover-an-article/Pages/Tribute-of-Love-And-Thanks-to-Papa.aspx
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Chin Hock (Holdinghands in the Media)
Founder of Holdinghands and Filial Piety Award Recipient 2013