Monday, October 08, 2007

Remembering A Father Figure

There has been a loss in the family. Wify's dad passed away yesterday, the unexpected news received via her brother on the other seaboard of US. Even though he had just undergone an operation to address the hernia problem recently, he seemed fine and was well on the road to recovery. The night before, he had complained about stomach pain but the next morning when he was preparing to be driven to the Hospital, he lapsed into unconsciousness and never woke up.

My father-in-law would have celebrated his 80th birthday next year. In fact, our plan was to return to Malaysia next year for the occasion, both for him and his wife. But it was not to be. Wify spoke to him over the phone a few days earlier, and never suspected the end could be so near.

Impermanence. That's what's life is all about. We can plan all we want, but life seems to steer its own course. It punishes the procrastinators among us, whose ubiquitous refrain is there's always tomorrow. Little do we know that tomorrow will arrive in ways that bear little semblance to what we have hoped for.

I have known my father-in-law as long as I have known my wife, but his personality only came forth after we had gone steady, when I started spending more time at his home than at home. Early on two of his traits struck me as his defining qualities.

The first is a strong sense of right and wrong, embodied in his disciplinarian self. This is perhaps not surprising because of his position as the headmaster of a primary Chinese school. Wify and her siblings were well-coached since young, any untoward behavior being severely dealt with.

The second is filial piety. He personified the eternally grateful son, especially to his mother, who was instrumental in getting him an education that put him in good stead for his vocation later on.

Upon retirement, he continued to move around on his own, scrambling with young passengers half his age to gain a foothold in the then popular mode of public transport, the Mini-bus, which was often filled to capacity and beyond. He often went downtown to attend talks, to run his errands of submitting his articles to Chinese newspapers. Oh yes, for a time, he was a textbooks vendor too, visiting schools to notch up a sale.

As he aged, he gave up his book vending business, much to the relief of his children. Then he gravitated toward newspaper cutting, and solving Chinese word puzzles, sometimes enlisting our help in the venture.

He made periodic trips back to his hometown where he had taught for a couple of decades, a journey requiring several hours by train, when he was still the Chairman of the local chapter of the Clan association. He was instrumental in organizing the annual Respecting the Seniors dinners, busy with calling potential donors for prizes to be given away.

He was a well-respected community leader, often leading in charity drives, and donating whatever amount he had managed to save through leading a frugal life to worthy causes, especially those related to education. He has made known his wish to set up an education trust fund under his parents' name.

Now he has departed to another world, leaving us with plenty of fond memories to cherish for a lifetime. But his legacy of frugality, of filial piety, of uprightness, shall remain in our consciousness, forever illuminating our own path to the same ideals. May he rest in peace.

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