As I sat sipping my coffee and munching my toast, with a pen in hand to write my usual morning reflections, I saw a middle-aged father walking in with his teenage daughter. He was dressed simply in a grey collared tee and dark blue berms, carrying a black backpack slung over one shoulder. She was in a bright pink top and white shorts. He ordered breakfast for his daughter and himself, and repeatedly turned over to check that he had ordered sufficient food - he wanted to ensure she had enough to eat. She had rice, while he merely had bread and coffee. They ate mostly silently, except for a few exchanges of animatedly-spoken Indonesian conversation.
The sight of them reminds me of my dad, and created a wishful longing for quality time and intimacy which has been missing from my life for over 10 years.
As I thought of him, I'm puzzled myself that I did not long for a similar intimacy with my mom. Though she played the crucial role of sacrifice in the family (my only recollection of her is just that - lots of hard work and sacrifice), there was almost no exhibit of intimacy, support and encouragement; no providence of knowledge and recreational fun. She was constantly labouring away, making sure there was money for household expenses, the children's education, and savings. There was never a moment of indulgence or luxury. Everything was spoken in terms of money saved. Growing up, she never told me she loved me, was proud of me and never indicated the need to spend time with me, to bond with me.
My dad, on the other hand, though an extremely hard, stern and ready-to-punish man, gave me what every child needed - love, support, encouragement, knowledge and recreation. His declaration of love and demonstration of fatherhood was never conventional - while maintaining a stoic and practical demeanour (at all times - he has never let up or changed, all through the years), he supported me in my love for language; brought me books (from relatives, having not enough money to buy them); encouraged me to read and write extensively; was a strict teacher at home to ensure my good grades; made me read the newspaper and watch the news at nine every night; prohibited me from watching drama serials which to him were a complete waste of time and uneducational; played with me; encouraged me to play with kids in the neighbourhood, saying all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; brought me and my friends to places adults wouldn't usually bring their kids to - abandoned houses with drug addicts, seedy back lanes of red light districts - in an effort to teach me 'general knowledge' and expose me to the 'real' world.
For all of that, I am very grateful. He was very real, very human. He never tried too hard to become anything he wasn’t. And when I say he was a hard man, he really was. And still is. For all the fond memories he brought me, so many more were painful, for I endured excruciating beatings for my disobedient ways and constant rebellion. My sister was often privy to the display of my bloody wounds, now healed with time.
How very often I've tried to write about my mom, a woman far virtuous and gracious above any other I’ve known, but I have ended up writing about my dad instead. This is yet another instance, a true account of my life, even as I'm still searching for the right words to pen them all down and do justice to those whom I’ve not credited enough.