Mine was no exception, except now, on looking back, he pretty much taught me all the life skills that remain important to me to this day. I don’t know where he got the inspiration from, I don’t think my grandfather was anything like him, so really, he just became a father and did mostly all the right things.
As early as I remember, as a pre-schooler, he taught me how to read. I remember quaking in my knees trying my best to read a segment of some stuff he passed me before dinner, and if I could not pull that off, I’d be in deep trouble..his temper was pretty legendary. Very early on, he’d bundle us 3 kids off to the National Library, we got our 4 book cards and we’d borrow 4 books and read them all and then we’d go get new ones again. I was always a bit of a showoff, I’d choose the really tough books, like thick and dry and laboured through all of them. One such stand out super dry and super hard to finish book was “A Road to Agra” about 2 Indian kids making their way there on foot, the rest, I can’t remember. Of course much later, I realise Agra is where the Taj Mahal sits but that book was so dreary, so long, I remember to this day how hard it was to finish it. Before I went on to secondary school I have already devoured all his Pearl S Bucks and Han Suyins – those seemed to be the only books he owned, they were stored in the headboard cupboard of their bed and I used to sneak and leaf through them, looking at the books, their old photos and even a Valentine card he sent Mom..I remember his very lovely cursive hand writing on this card, declaring his love. The card was a pastel salmon pink with a die cut of a fan and appliqué of net over the fan..quite intricate.
Then he took us kids swimming. Even as a pre-schooler again, we’d go for picnics at Changi Beach with all the neighbourhood kids, bringing a big pot of curry, rotiie frenchie, fried bee hoon and, as usual, being a show off again, I’d swim right out to the deep sea with my Father, pausing and threading water and looking with disdain at the rest of the kids stuck close to the shores. Later on in primary school, it was off to the Chinese Swimming Club and to do multiple laps of 50m, there was no fooling around, he was dead serious about swimming with intention. The treat after the work out was a plate of mee rebus from the trolley cart hawker outside the club, to this day, the best ever!
As we grew older, we turned explorers. Money was always tight in those days and we’d search for far out places and take a bus ride out to the off the beaten track corners of Singapore, hiking and exploring. Or else, take long bus rides to points that we have no reason to go to ordinarily. One day, one of those bus rides took us unprepared across the Causeway into Malaysia, we kids were all giggling and laughing whist the Father was distraught, we had no passports! I remember Dad earnestly explaining to the Immigration Officers and later a call had to be placed to Mom (awaken from her weekend nap at home) to verify his story. And then we were put onto the next bus back to Singapore. Close shave.
In my early secondary school years, I scrapped and saved for a pair of roller skates, brought them home, and who else, my Father, put them on and taught me how to skate. I remember he took a fall, I can’t really tell now how old he was at that time, maybe about 40+? Quite brave. I became so good on my skates I traveled everywhere on them, crossing roads, down ramps…
Then, I saved again and with my sister, bought ourselves a $50 bike and again, I remember Dad holding on to the tail, running behind urging us on…for anyone who bikes, you know how it is…suddenly you find your balance and off you go. So that was how it was, we swayed around and then suddenly peddled and then we were cruising with him running slowly behind, unable to catch up anymore. We were cycling!
I still read, it is an important skill to stay still and read, I get transported, I feel all sorts of emotions when I read. I have stacks of books, I keep those that I really like and I remember a friend who came over to my house, looked at my book racks and asked, did you really read all these? I mean…what do you mean…
I kept to an active lifestyle all my life, I workout, cycle, swim, trek, blade, pretty much whatever to keep me interested in moving. I can pretty much do everything I like and want to. I don’t have backache, weak legs or whatever crap and I hope to put that off for as long as I can.
I still like nature, I like taking walks, taking time out, wandering around.
I know enough to keep myself busy, occupied if I need with all the skills above.
Looking back I’m really amazed that parents used to get everything right. Mom’s stuck with kids all through the week and the Father would take kids off her hands into all sorts of activities for the Sat and on Sunday, just hang out at home or go visit relatives.
I am amazed and it never fails to appal me to that parents these days call each other Mummy and Daddy (urghh..my Dad used to call my Mom Choon and she called him Guan). What’s with this Mummy and Daddy?? Shopping malls are mistaken as an exploration and outdoor activity..I can hear them telling their kids…this is a “Spork”, it is a spoon, fork and knife? Sigh, can you get more imaginative than that? The mall is really NOT an activity centre. Family bonding time or “quality” time is a meal at a restaurant every weekend. Is it really? It’s just an easy way out, it is easy to revel in sloth and greed. Food, really, cannot be a weekly entertainment.
I’m really glad I had the Father I have.