I can never claim to really know my father. I mean, I know what his name is and what he looks like and all, but I don't know what kind of a person he really is. What is he, inside, actually.
Mostly, people learn about their parents from their parents' parents. But, I don't have that privilege. I never get a chance to know to my grandfathers. Both died when my parents were still small. I grew up not knowing them nor ever saying a word to them. My grandmothers, Makwe (tua) and Nyai were the only parents of my parents that I know.
So, Dad was kind of a real mystery to me. His presence and absence have profound effect on me. His words were all that I have growing up. Though, over time, I began to be suspicious of certain factual things that he conveyed. Growing up, there was no other older sages that would enhance or countermand whatever Dad said to me. His words were gospels.
That was until I grew bigger and maybe wiser. I put the pieces together. Things I heard over at weddings, funerals, family visits and of course from his usually long winded and one sided in-house lectures given to me and my siblings whenever he felt like giving one. I learned that he went to schools for two years. I knew he once climbed a coconut tree under orders from a Japanese soldier, he once carried crates of coca-colas for Malay movie productions, he was a policeman once and his platoon shot the most notorious communist leader in Kluang, he was a truck driver in the Territorial Army until his eyes betrayed him. These I get from the pieces. He has never tell me directly who he is in one sitting. I have to do a lot of figuring out. But, a lot of issues about him remain murky and cloudy to me. For example, I used to think his birthday was in April, until a few years back when I registered him at the hospital, I found out he was born in June. That's a two month off. But, I swore that I have seen with my own eyes his old birth date in the old Kad Pengenalan.
I know now too that despite their sometimes boisterous bickering, Mom was important to him. When mom died nearly 10 years ago, Dad was quite devastated. He didn't show to me how he missed mom, but I can see the changes in his behavior. Mom was the only one who could stand Dad's long lecture. Occasionally, interrupting him with funny comments at the right moments that would normally made him pause and lost his train of thoughts. Mom was his life. His sparring partner.
I am a father now, myself. Though, I would like to think that I have more exposure on the real and modern world, more educated that my Dad (thanks to his constant emphasis on study and education), I still find myself spouting words to my children that were once from him. Repeating his very words and cautions.
He is old now. Bent and walk with great difficulty. His voice maybe be weaker when he goes on his tirade but the talk would remain as long. But, Bak remains a proud man. he would never give in to me or his other children. His words remain to be obeyed or he will be isolating himself and give you a cold shoulder if he is displeased with somethings or some acts by anyone of us. He is not the kind of father who would readily accept greetings or good wishes. He would grumble or pretend that he couldn't hear us. I used to call and wish him on Hari Raya when I can't make it home on those important occasions. He would pretend he couldn't hear me and blame that the phone was not working and passed it to my brother or sister. I understand his pride and stop calling. So, when possible, distance wise, I make it a point to be home on those days even if I am late by a day or two. I get it.
And, Bak would never respond if you wish him with Father's Day greeting. He would not understand all the excitement about it. It has no special meaning to him. It would be the same day to him, riding his bikes to the mosque and sending his favorite grandson to school. Regardless, I do remember my father and I wish him in my prayers, anyway. I want to remember taking a day off every month for about two years to wait with him at the eye clinic to treat his catarac. Just so he would be able to see his grandchildren clearly and ride his bike with better eyesight. I cherished those moments though he might not realize it. I felt proud to be able to do something for him. Hopefully, one day he will know how much I really appreciate him and his raising me.