I often remember my dad with nostalgia. This is different from when Aunt Ivy passed away. I was in grief when she left us. But my dad’s life and demise is more surreal to me.
My dad’s mere existence shaped me into who I am. That seems to have been his major contribution to my life, and the most important factor in my formative years. Because of him, I learned to be self-efficacious since a toddler. I learned to regulate my own emotions, I learned to be emotionally prepared for what might happen. I learned to accept when bad things happen and move on quickly to do what I have to do.
My dad didn’t teach me these things in the traditional way. He suffered a brain haemorrhage in my early childhood which left him with cognitive impairment and me to mentally and emotionally fend for myself. My dad fought a very tough battle to live the best he could. With a part of his brain dormant, my dad couldn’t sustain his job. He was a landscape architect. I used to watch him draft waterfalls and landscapes. He even did landscaping for a sultan. But gradually, his work performance deteriorated until he had to defer all his projects to his friends in the industry.
Then, he started sleeping throughout the day seemingly lethargic and apathetic. Memories of my dad in my early childhood were then replaced by what people started to say about him – that he was lazy, dependent, uncaring and irresponsible. Later, some even accused him of being a scoundrel because Aunt Ivy helped us a lot.
I wasn’t old enough to know that the people who called him such have issues within themselves. What they said about him affected me. Although I never truly believed in their words, I was confused. My dad did seem unreasonable and irresponsible. They said he did not love me because he did not exercise his paternal responsibilities. Yet he never laid a finger on me. Something in me felt that he did care. Yet the insults and accusations of other people continued all around.
So I grew up wanting to be anything but the things that people thought my dad was. I don’t want to be lazy, I don’t want to be useless, I don’t want to be dependent. Sadly, this affected the relationship between my father and I that became ambivalent. I didn’t know how to feel towards my dad. Is my dad who I feel he is? Or is he what people said he is?
They said he was ungrateful despite surviving the stroke.
Was that true?
In the last couple of years, some of my friendships led me to reading about the biological causes of Psychopathy and Sociopathy. Although my dad’s behavior did not qualify for the diagnosis of these personality disorders, they did show how a small impairment of the brain can possibly make the person unable to care.
When my dad was hospitalized for the last time, he kept writing to me on my whiteboard, “I love you”. “My greatest daughter”, and their variations. My dad could never express these emotions to me, not until his very last days. It was as if somewhere in him knew that he will soon not have the chance to say them to me anymore.
On the night of October 16th 2010, I paid my father a routine visit in the hospital while mom waited outside. The machine that monitored his pulse kept beeping. I didn’t know why then but it was because his pulse was already so weak that the machine could not trace. When my dad saw me, he held my hand gently without gripping for obvious reasons. His eyes were only a quarter open and even then, I saw mostly whites. He couldn’t turn his head to face me, but his eyes did. My handbag was sliding off my shoulder so I said to him, “Let me put down my bag first”. He let go of my hand, clasped both of his hands together, placed them on his chest and closed his eyes.
I thought that he was tired and wanted to rest.
I didn’t realize that he had been struggling to keep breathing until I came. If only I knew, I would have stayed with him for the next two hours until his heart stopped. But I didn’t know he was dying.
Dad clung onto life for me.
Now that my dad is really not here anymore, I can finally see the purpose of our relationship, the big picture. Beneath what other people thought about him, therein lies my father’s destiny to teach his daughter strength. Our relationship was a test, a life training for me.
I sometimes wished that I had a sibling to share the responsibility of caring for my parents. But there is no guarantee that the other child will also learn to be strong although we grow up in the same family and share the same childhood experiences. I almost learned to be bitter. Thank God for everything else around me, I did not go on to that path.
I am sure those times my dad spent praying before the altar, he was praying for me.
My speeches now includes the story of my father and my growing up years. Firstly, it is because many people have asked why am I so strong. Secondly, because I want to raise awareness about how stroke can cause cognitive impairments and how it affects the victim’s family.
Although I wish every child will grow up strong to face the future, I wish no one will have to go through what I had. If they must, I pray that they will be able to rise above their pre-conditionings and environment.