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  • Writer's pictureA.K. Lee

My Father.

I apologize for not posting much recently. Part of the absence was due to depression, taking the form of the inability to focus on anything requiring mental engagement for more than ten minutes. Part of the reason was some unexpected news.

My father passed away in June.

I received the news in late July. It has been a month since I found out, and the first time I am putting my feelings and thoughts to words.

My father and I were not close. He and my mother were never married; I am, by definition, a bastard. I only found out very recently that he was fifty years old when I was born - there is no birth date on his identity card, just a birth year, more than a decade before World War Two.

The fact that I got to know as much of my father as I did is something of a miracle. I saw him two to three times a week when I was in primary school. He signed my report cards and was proud when he realized I could forge his signature. I saw him once a week from the time I was in secondary school till I was a teacher. After I got married, I saw him about twice a month, and then once a month, and then maybe once every two months. When we did meet up, we didn't have a lot to say, though we'd have a meal, and he liked my husband, and he always asked how my mother was doing.

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking about all the things I didn't know about my father. I don't know if he snored in his sleep. I don't know what he liked for breakfast. He was hospitalized for a fall; I didn't know until after he was discharged. He had cancer; I didn't know until after the first round of treatments had brought it under control. He had another family, and he had children - two daughters, one son, all three older than me - and he had grandchildren - my nieces and/or nephews - and I know nothing concrete about them. I do not have their names, I do not know what they look like, and I definitely do not know if they know about me. I don't know if I want to find out. I probably don't.

I did know that he was a staunch Communist for much of his early life. I heard songs about the greatness of China under Communist rule when I was a kid riding in his old pickup, and then later when he drove a Toyota Corolla. By the time he changed to a Mercedes, he only had on the radio tuned to classical music. I know he spoke Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, and some Tagalog and possibly Tamil, though he only ever spoke Mandarin to me. He read Xinmin Daily at night and Lianhe Zaobao in the morning, and had deep contempt of corrupt politicians. He was a construction contractor and took pride in a job well done, even if the job wasn't the showy stuff: he'd told me about the foundations that his crew built, or the straight lines that he didn't need to use those fancy laser plumbing tools to put together. I remember going with him to the printers when I was little to pick up rolls of blueprints. He'd told me before that one of his greatest prides was having helped to build the library at the National Institute of Education; he told me after I'd signed on to be a teacher.

He was there at my graduation ceremony, and was a witness at the Registry of Marriages when I was very nearly late to my own marriage ceremony (my cousin drove like a bat out of hell to get me there on time for my appointment). He was among the first to come see the homes my husband and I got, both the first one and this current one, and true to his nature, pointed out the flaws in the construction around the estate. He sponsored my first trip to Taiwan when I was eighteen and traveling without any adult for the first time; he told me that he hadn't been allowed a passport for much of his life - a fallout from the past when he was an agitator for the Communist movement in Singapore. He told me about how he ran away from home and came over from Malaysia on the back of a pineapple truck. He told me about a type of seed case which had a powdery residue on the inside which, if scraped into a tin and then scattered on the back of someone's neck, would give them a very bad itch and the prankster a lot of laughs.

We were supposed to take a trip last year to Jinmen, Fujian. It would be the first time we would go overseas together. However, he had another fall and then a bad bout of flu. I think that was when I knew that I would never be able to travel with him. He gave me a collection of old movies and songs, and an anthology of love poems. Before the covid lockdown began, I called him, and he said we'd meet up when he felt better.

Like I said, I'm not close to my father, so I didn't call him for some time. Then, for some reason, every time I thought I should call him, something would crop up and I'd be distracted. Until I got a letter telling me to contact the public trustee's office, I had no idea at all that he'd passed away.

And that's the thing about loss, isn't it? That we couldn't possibly know when that final time would be. I have no recollection of the last thing I said to him. Probably something along the lines of "Take care of yourself".

I don't doubt that he loved me, and I told him before that I loved him - he was almost embarrassed when I told him that. But we were not close. I never had a chance to be exasperated at him, or to know when he was fed up with me. We never had the opportunity to live under the same roof. He never got to tell me off about my messy desk or to chide me for staying up too late. All of that, I think, went to my half-siblings, whom I will probably never meet.

What I have of him I will treasure. I just wish I had more. I wish I had more memories of my father. I wish we had outings outside of just having meals together. I wish he'd seen me in my wedding gown at the wedding banquet, that he had been in the videos, that he'd met my husband's large family. I wish I had the chance to travel to Jinmen with him, and have him tell me more about our ancestry.

I didn't know my father well. But I miss him. I will miss him for a very long time.

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