The Missing Father
Today happens to be World Cancer Day, as I found out this morning at Marymount Kindy when the assembly lifted a prayer for all those suffering from cancer. So instead of peeking to see if Matthew had his eyes closed as instructed, I closed mine to join in the prayer.
After all, today is also the fourth anniversary of my dad’s passing. Just another life cut short because of cancer.
I headed to Mandai Crematorium after leaving the kindergarten – my usual routine (when I do go there, which is hardly ever), is to light a cigarette for my dad, then sit beside his niche to have a smoke with him. Honestly, I’m not quite sure why I do that. It’s a lot of sentimentality that I don’t really feel for, because in this case of smoking, I did what I had to do when he was around.
It was CNY four years ago and Dad was clearly dying. He wanted a smoke, among many other pleasures denied him. In the end, I convinced my family that it really wouldn’t make a difference if he had that one more smoke. And we did, together. In fact, the photo above was taken just two days before he passed on – it was our first and last smoke together. I captured the moment that I had always wanted ever since I officially became a smoker. Though it wasn’t in the situation I had hoped for – well, it was definitely not in any circumstances I had ever imagined, that one cigarette together meant two less regrets for me – I got to have my smoke with Dad, and I got to help him reach for something he wanted in his last days, one that nobody else but a smoker would understand. It is also to accord a dignity I feel everyone deserves – to have a right to decide how they wish to spend their last days.
Four years on, and sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten Dad, because I’m not grieving for him. And I’m not grieving because I know he is with God… and because I choose to think of him elsewhere, as I would explain.
Do I miss my father though?
Definitely. Even though we had never had the sort of relationship where we sit and chat about life, I knew he loved me. He was the only parent I had who told me that anyway.
I don’t know what he would have said about the different chapters of my life that he has missed. I wish I did. But I know what really, really makes me wish he was here. The fact that I am now a mother, happy with her two children.
My father had a way with children, and he had his ways with those he took under his wing. You would feel favoured if he decided you were one he wanted to take care of. He did that with my cousins, who till today, remember him and cherish him with all their hearts. He did that with Maya and Inca, when Augz and I moved back home in his last months. He welcomed them into our family home, and doted on them like they were my children, simply cos he knew how much I loved them.
And with Matthew and Emma? I have no doubt that he would have doted on them every single day, teased them till they were shrieking with delight, tickled them till they were crying with laughter, and well, just… loved and pampered them like the treasures they are meant to be… just like how he did with me when I was a toddler… 34 years later, and I still see so clearly how he was throwing me on the bed and tickling me, and how I was screaming with laughter – the same way Matthew does now. He may not have been the most expressive father, but I know with a dead certainty that he would have been a fantastic grandfather. He may not have been the most attentive father, but I know he would be the grandfather who sees nothing else but his grandchildren.
And for this reason alone, everyday, I wish my dad was here.
So yes. I wish I didn’t have to go to some stupid niche as my final act of filial piety. I know he’s not there, and I can’t even make myself imagine to feel him there. I guess I would remember him most at our old home, but that’s being rented out now.
Most days, I just think of my dad as being away, like he’s overseas (not that he ever travelled much) and not contactable. And I catch myself thinking, if he doesn’t come home soon, the kids will be grown up and he would have missed out on everything! That feels real to me – the frustration of not being able to contact a father who’s happily gone elsewhere, and a daughter’s pining for her father to come home soon.
I can live in that world. ‘Cos I don’t know how else to think of where Dad is. And so, I will.
Come home soon, Dad. We have missed you for four years.