My father was born in Malaysia and moved to Singapore with his parents and siblings several years before World War II broke out in Southeast Asia. He was 12 years old when the war ended and his education was disrupted because of the post-war period and also the untimely death of his father, my grandfather (He died before I was born).
My father started his career as a teacher and soon rose up the ranks to become a vice-principal before he retired in 1993. Along the way, he met and married my mother and raised a family – me and my sister.
What do I mean by stating that my father taught me to stand my ground?Long before it was commonly spoken, my father taught me that everyone was equal and nobody was to be discriminated because of skin colour, religion or any other aspect that differentiated them from us. Family friends of all stripes and persuasions were frequent visitors to our home and many of them praised my father for his foresight and kindness, even in hard circumstances. He pointed me to the examples of civil rights champions such as Mahatma Gandhi, John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr and urged me to follow their examples – even when it was hard and inconvenient for me to do so.
My father always had a heart for the poor and disadvantaged. He spent many hours working in church and civil committees to help the poor and disadvantaged in Singapore, and this often meant long hours and days away from home. My mother learnt to support my father’s work and capably took care of the household while he was away – not an easy task in those days.
My father’s championing of the rights of the poor and marginalised was not popular and often cost him friends – but he knew his cause was right and he stood his ground even though much of the work was voluntary and had little or no remuneration. His example instilled the love for those same causes in my sister and me, and we still believe in those causes today.
“Be a gentleman always.”
Those were my father’s words to me when I was once censured by a teacher in primary school for being rude to a classmate. “You do not need to be rude to make your point, but soft words will soon make friends.”
Dad did not chastise me further about that incident but his words made an impression on me. The next day, I apologised to my classmate and today we are great friends.
Throughout his life, I can only remember one instance where my father raised his voice. In fact, I never knew that he could ever get so angry at that time because he had never shown such an emotion in all the years we knew him. But that made me understand how deeply my father ingrained his own life philosophy and so I learnt how to walk the talk.
“Be polite but firm, soft-spoken but strong, and accommodating but steadfast,” my father always reminded my sister and me.
Having grown up under the terrors of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore and Malaya. Dad knew the evils of war and the terrible results of the inward-looking attitudes of hatred and racism.
He always urged my sister and me to be open-minded and non-judgmental about people. He encouraged us to believe in the best about people wherever possible, especially as we had been forgiven of our sins through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and we in turn should show His love to others.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the politeness and courtesy he showed to people who did not like him. Throughout his career and community work, he faced people who either did not like him for no clear reasons, or actively opposed the work he did.
But at no time did he ever behave rudely or speak an unkind word about them during conversations with them or others. The only reaction he ever gave was when he ticked off one of those people for speaking ill of my sister and my mother, something he would not tolerate.
In February this year (2020) my father turned 87 and many Father’s Day celebrations have come and gone. But this Father’s Day will be special – it will be the first after the easing COVID-19 restrictions in Singapore, so we aim for a good celebratory meal together as a family (Mother’s Day this year was muted because the restrictions were still in effect).
So this Father’s Day, I just want to tell you dad – Thank You for the simple yet powerful lesson you taught Sis and I – not from a book or the characteristic “Do as I say, don’t do as I do” method but by sharing your life in the open with us.
So here’s to Father’s Day 2020 and many, many more Father’s Days to come!