As I sauntered into the kitchen my brains telling me where to head for the breakfast already prepared in my mind since this morning…I pick up the papers with headlines about bullies on it. Dropping it on the table, I reach into the fridge for the 'can't believe it's not butter' tub and the so-so kaya I bought yesterday. What to do? When you have cravings, you settle for the next best thing just to ‘buang gian’. Though it’s tolerable, it’s so scrumptious when I picture myself biting into the bread. Ah…the power of the mind.
Anyway, after some twenty eight minutes later, (had to open the can of condensed milk, fill into the bottle…to make my coffee and buttering every side of my 3 slices of bread and then layering kaya thickly….) I finally sat down. Arranged my coffee to my right side so as not to ‘accidentally’ knock it down (oh, you not met klutzy me), bread in front and papers on my left….I start reading breakfast.
Mmmm….some nice pics of cute men but wait! There are kids who look and dress like them with them. Ah…dads and their boys. Typical to have boys with boys, where are the girls? Not that I’m complaining…*smile* Then I realize it’s Father’s Day today. Now, that has wiped the smile off my face. I lost my dad to cancer three years ago and I guess you never actually stop missing the ones you love.
He didn’t talk much to me about things. Only when he’d get into chatty mode or in a bad mood, that’s when I get to dig up some family skeletons! He loved food and he’s drummed that in us since I can remember. We love our food though I draw a line at eating out of the norm stuff. He taught quite a bit of western food while mum did the local dishes. Their passion for spicy food crept into us and we too can’t resist the variety we see oh, everywhere in Malaysia.
While I was in primary school, we used to breakfast together. Mum would make half boiled eggs; 2 for me and 3 for him. He’d then break them into bowls and we would add in the kicap and pepper and I loved breaking my yolks and mixing them up. On the count of three, we'd both swallow our eggs to see who finished first! It was fun and he tried all ways to get me to eat cos I was very very skinny then and they were darn worried. Even on days when we ate out, we would see who could eat the most satay. Couple of times we had a total of 80 sticks between the two of us not counting the black mee, lor mee and ying yong noodles! Mum would shake her head sometimes and chide us but it was fun for us all. Of course, we’ll be belching and groaning and moaning about how full up we are, tummies sticking out as we take a slow walk home. That walk always helped a bit.
Dad was not physical in showing his emotions so when I did hug him on certain occasions; he’d be gruff about it and grunts a ‘mmph’ at contact. Guess that’s where I get it from…I take a while before I would hug a person I’ve known for a while unless….these days it’s easier but I am not consistent so people tend to misread me weird, sometimes warm sometimes aloof. Can I blame them?
Since dad was diagnosed with cancer, it had been very hard on us all. For years this proud man who never stayed in the hospital and was strong like an ox, lost his confidence when he had a mild mild heart attack due to some complication in his treatment, he became anxious when he was short of breath and preferred staying in the hospital….it was painful to see him lose hope. Then his cancer went into remission and he became more of his old self and it was almost as before. Though I must admit that tempers flared often as he fought for his independence to do things as freely as he used to when he was stronger. Especially with me, I’d be yelling at him to eat or something just to push him out of the self pity he put himself in. People would look at us and think me to be a heartless kid but my dad knew, he knew what I tried to do cos he dumped his frustrations on us and we were not about to let him go down with them. Usually after the flare ups he’d do as he is told when he cools off and tries to redeem his stubbornness with jokes.
That’s living with a sick person as they struggle within themselves with their sickness and the limitations that come along. He soon had a breakfast gang whom he met every morning, coming home nearly mid-day and resting till lunch time. He began going to church regularly, seems a norm when people get sick…look for god.
Through all that, we went about our lives for the next few years, adjusting to his varying mood and health changes. We had our selfish moments at one time or the other as we tried coping with the fact he was a living time bomb, to be prepared for anything at any time. Fragile and precious he was.
We went to Rome in 2001 in the middle of summer. The heat was overwhelming. The hotel had no air conditioning and nights were warm and quite difficult to sleep. That didn’t stop my parents from singing in my ears every night haha. We went to the Basilica, did a day trip tour of Pisa, Florence and Michelangelo. 16 chapels was a mistake as we were literally being moved by the crowd from room to room. Just stand there and when you feel bodies pressing into you, forget walking. I assure you, you will find yourself in the next room within minutes! The biggest mistake was in St Peter’s church. We went to the mid balcony inside the dome and went through a doorway to head back down. Almost halfway some very narrow slab stones stairway, we realized we were ‘accidentally’ heading up towards the highest peak of St Peter’s.
Poor dad, he sat in every window nook and crevice we found along the way and bless my friend who came along, was patient, helpful and caring. We couldn’t go back down as it was narrow and people were coming up. Finally at the top, after climbing steeper stones with a rope to hang on to; I told dad to check out the view. He went ‘bah!’ and sat down catching his breath. To our dismay, we had to walk down halfway before we could get into a lift to the bottom and dad was quite furious at Rome by then. Haha. All in all we got back fine and I must admit I was oblivious to the chorus that night. Who knows, I probably joined in too! *Smirk*
Few months later we began suspecting the worst as dad kept complaining aches in his limbs. His next check up confirmed and even though the doctor spoke to him, we realized he was not fully aware of the situation. Mum and I kept telling him to sort his bank books and papers, etc as he was fond of hiding stuff in his things. I realized he didn’t understand the extent of his illness and it was a difficult decision for the family to make whether to tell him or not. Personally, I felt he ought to be told so he could finish what he wanted.
Finally, I asked him if he understood what the doctor told him and he said yeah, that the cancer had gone into his bones. ‘But I will be ok right?’ My heart tore to see the light of hope go out in his eyes when I told him… for the first time I cradled my crying father as he mourned for his limited time with us. It was hard on us both as I told him not to give in to his cancer and not lose faith in God; to be thankful God gave him 6 years to watch his grandchildren grow…It was a very emotional yet touching moment for me, the only time I felt so close to my dad.
Since that diagnosis, he was put on a morphine patch and due to his weakness; he was initially mostly nauseated and sleeping. He was more stoned than the Rolling Stones most times! Soon, he adjusted and we had moments of meals out together only this time he pinched at the food as he couldn’t taste well (medication he took affected his taste buds) and appetite was not so good. Another five months and he got worse, sometimes hallucinating about dead old friends visiting him and he started to have this glazed look in his eyes.
Pretty soon he hardly talked and stayed in bed, holding his knees and rocking side to side, he’d be humming tune after tune. His favourite… Jesus loves me, still brings tears whenever I hear it today.
We believe he hardly noticed his pain thanks to the patch but it left us little chances of communicating with him much. We would talk to him, encouraged him to go when he wanted as we didn’t want to see him suffer long. He’d respond to us when we had to sponge and change him by moving himself in the right directions.
The day my sister was flying in from the UK, he had suddenly gotten up and was flailing his fingers at the tube that was inserted the night before through his nose. The maid and I were trying to stop him from pulling it out and I was shouting over his ‘aaiyah!’s when suddenly he shouted ‘I am not pulling’ . Maid and I looked at each other behind his back and grinned! We couldn’t help it…we had not heard him say anything for three weeks. He said his nose was itchy so he rubbed the side of it for relief. He asked to go out of the room and we helped him but almost immediately after sitting down on the chair he wanted to go back to his bed.
That was the last I heard my dad speak. He left us four days later and till today I still miss him. Our challenges, bets, jokes and fights. I do know he is much happier now, free of pain and I happily wait the day I will see him again in that place somewhere. *smile* I love you dad.
Happy Father’s Day.
19th June 2005.