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Mum taught me to fight

Not with boxing gloves or firearms but through her tough spirit, covered by a genteel veneer, I slowly understood that the best victories were those that left the victors in awe and the defeated always guessing.

It is as true now as it was then!

Mum and Dad were both born across the Causeway.

That was the well-known name for the long highways that connected the isalnd nation of Singapore with the larger Peninsular Malaysia. Dad was born in the state of Selangor but moved with his family to Singapore before World War 2 and lived out the war in Singapore.

Mum was born in the state of Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, and moved to Singapore after she married Dad in 1963. I was born two years later and my sister followed in 1972.

Dad was (and still is) a man oif firm opinions and convictions. I learnt the love of writing, the English language, and of standing up for the poor and marginalised.

Mum’s greatest gifts, now that I am older and hopefully wiser, were these – that she could look after us kids, manange the household and support my dad where it mattered. I have the greatest respect for working women (my sister is a teacher and mother to my niece) but no amount of scholarly research or psychological soul-searching can ever overturn the fact that stay-at-home mothers (and lately fathers too) still get a raw deal in these ‘enlightened’ times.

Where I was tempted to flare uo in anger at a real or perceived injustice, she shared with me about taking deep breaths and counting to ten ( I later changed that to 50 as I went through a thankfully short choleric phase). I cannot tell you how many times I was delivered from trouble thanks to that advice.

Her Christian faith instilled in my sister and me the firm spiritual foundation that would guide us through the perils of studies, relationships, university studies and later married lie and our own personal struggles.

Through all that, we took courage in the fact that her faith never wavered through the storms but kept steady.

Days home after school, and later when I was away in National Service (military conscription in Singapore) were always followed by grand feasts of my favourite foods, regardless of how long or short the duration was.

When two people marry, even the most star-crossed lovers will face squabbles and arguments. “U was in a foreign country and if I wanted to return home, home was hours away. So I made the best of what I could,” Mum shared matter-of-factly with me once.

But it was after a period of intense trauma that I faced more than 10 years ago that I saw the inner steel that she was made of. When she found out what I went through, Mum said little but was always there for me. When I was finally able to get out of the situation, she said nothing but kept my room open and clean for me to return, as if I had never left.

I later heard from a family friend that Mum had confronted the perpetrators several months later and told them off in no uncertain terms what she thought of them. “I never knew that your mother could be so angry. She never strikes me as such,” the awestruck friend shared.

Mum wil turn 83 in September and I see how the isolation of havig to remain at home during the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker restrictions is hard for her and Dad to bear . But I know that she will prevail, as Dad, my sister and I know rhat she always has.

So enjoy Mother’s Day Mum! May God always bless you and you deserve every flower and gift and heartfelt thanks today and always!

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