The prospect that our human memory is not infallible worries me. After twelve years of his absence in our lives, which is now more than the number of years we had spent together, I am afraid that all the memories I have of him will unknowingly seep out of my mind. I am afraid that as my mind makes way for new memories formed without him, the old memories I have with him will become a blur and one day disappear entirely. It makes me feel helpless to think that I may not be in control of my own mind, that I am not able to keep all my memories safe.
This feeling of helplessness. Was that how my father had felt when life was trickling out of him?
I always hear from my mother how much my father loved to play with me when I was first born. “You were like his favourite toy,” she would say.
And it was the same for me as well—my father was my first playmate and my favourite person to be with. Yet, I don’t remember the games we once played together; instead, what made up most of the happy times in my memories was when we were working on my studies side-by-side.
The fondest memories I have of my father was how he would always sit beside me while I did my homework and wait for me to complete it. How he would patiently guide me through if I had any problems or doubts. How he would set the timer for my abacus practices. How he would help me mark extra practices in assessment books. I was a very motivated and enthusiastic learner as a child, and I believe my father was a major contributing factor. He was always there with me in my journey of learning.
While I have painted a pretty picture of myself being an obedient girl when I was young, I have to confess I was also as stubborn as a mule. I was pampered; I wanted everything to go my way, and was not used to admitting to my own mistakes. I always took advantage of my father’s good temper. From an outsider’s point of view, my father was the person I was rudest to, because I was always arguing with him, often unreasonably, and just so I could “win” the argument.
I remember once he was explaining to me how I had gotten a Math problem wrong because my concepts were inaccurate, and wilful as I was, I just refused to bow down to the right answer though I quickly realised my mistake after he explained. Somehow, he would somehow turn the argument in my favour and all would be well. Even in situations like these, he never scolded me; maybe he would maybe give me a stern talking-to at most, but he never raised his voice or caned me. I was Daddy’s girl. This vicious cycle repeated until I was caught and punished severely by my mother for my insolence.
I came in first in class when I was in Primary One. My parents were invited to my prize-giving ceremony and I could tell they were exhilarated. The night before the ceremony, I was so nervous and excited that I practised my part several times in front of my parents: walking up the stage, receiving my prize, bowing to the audience, smiling for the camera, walking down and repeat. My parents could not stop laughing. We were such a happy family back then.
When I was in primary school, my father would walk me to school every day before he took the bus to work. He carried my school bag and I held his hand, chattering excitedly to him about everything under the sun. I thought this would go on forever. I envisioned myself in secondary school: we could take the same bus together and I would alight first before he stopped at his office later. I was so naïve as to think that this would go on forever.
Then my father fell sick, and we drifted apart. I still went to him for problems with my schoolwork, but he was no longer there all the time. We didn’t play, we didn’t sleep in the same room as we did before, we didn’t walk to school together anymore, and we didn’t spend as much time with each other as we used to. My father did not smile as much, and I started to sense a tone of irritation when he talked to me at times. Things had changed, and I was no longer Daddy’s girl.
In our house, I felt the change as well – the mood was low and my mother, the Iron Lady I looked up to, broke down frequently. Dread and sorrow hung over the entire house. I was scared as I witnessed with my own eyes how my father became weaker with each passing day. I knew one day his illness would take him away from us, but I didn’t expect the end to be so soon. I prayed with all my heart that he would get well. Though we might not return to exactly how we were like before, at least if he got better, we could still be a happy family – our family would be complete again.
On the morning of 8 August 2002, my mother was crying as she woke me up. That year, I missed the National Day celebrations in school for the first time.
At my father’s funeral, I kept myself as busy as a 10-year-old could. It all felt so surreal – one day ago I still had a father, and the next, my father gone.
One, two, and now twelve years have passed by without my father’s presence. It seems too soon that the number of years without my father in my life has outnumbered the years I have spent with him.
It makes me guilty to say that I do not think of my father all the time, considering how close we had been, and this makes me fear that I am starting to get used to not having him in my life. Yet when I do think of him, it is with much anguish; and I realise, it is often when I am facing obstacles or failures in my life that I think about him most.
Perhaps academic achievements are not very important, but it still matters a great deal in a typical Singaporean family like mine. I thought of my father a lot during my ‘A’ Levels preparation period when I was under so much stress, stemming from my lacklustre results and the struggle to meet both my mother’s and my expectations. I thought perhaps I would not be struggling so much if he were here with me.
After I managed to pass my ‘A’ Levels with flying colours, I had to deal with the many possible routes leading to university that lay before me. Seeing the doors close on me one after another as I kept on trying was utterly demoralising. As I received countless rejections, I especially missed my father and I wished he could be by my side again, providing me with his guidance and reassurance. Maybe he had been looking down on me all along, but it was not the same as before.
When I think of my father, most of the time I wonder if he would have been proud of me. At my father’s funeral, my mother heard from his friends that my father was always beaming with pride when he talked about his young daughter and her academic achievements.
Papa, are you proud? Am I still Daddy’s girl?
This article was first published over at Chapalang Magazine on 20 November 2014. It is reproduced with permission.
About The Author
Ariel hopes life can be made up of happily-ever-after endings like in Disney stories. Her world revolves around her family and food. Check out her food adventures at rememberbyfood.wordpress.com
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