Dad left us a year ago today to go home to his Dad. It’s taken me this long to put my thoughts into words because the emotions have remained quite raw. I try not to live with regrets, but one I do have…that dad slipped away without us being by his side. I’d looked in on him first thing in the morning and he was being prepped for his bath. So Soo-Inn and I proceeded to have our breakfast. Midway through, our ashen-faced domestic helper rushed out of dad’s room to say that dad “had gone limp”. He looked peaceful, and we knew that while we hadn’t been there to hold him close as he made his transition, his heavenly Father had already enfolded him in His loving embrace.
Dad was a teacher through and through. And so every moment was an opportunity to share something that could be taught or caught. My parents had no sons, just my younger sister and myself. So I learned many things that I suppose dad would have liked to have shared with a son — like how to bait a hook with the right-sized worm in order to land the fish you wanted to catch, and how to make a dovetail joint in woodworking. Growing up, there were a few things that were staples in our home (never mind that we didn’t enjoy many luxuries); we always had books, music and fruits…for the mind, soul and body. Dad came to faith much later in life, but he never stood in my way when I chose to be a Christ-follower.
Dad loved us unconditionally. I was quite the tomboy, growing up. Once, dad’s friend must have commented on the fact that I was climbing up the fence in a most ungainly fashion. Dad calmly said, “If she only sat still in a corner and stared into space, then I would be worried.” With his accepting and affirming love, it was the easiest thing for me to segue into a relationship with a heavenly Father who also loved unconditionally. Many things gave him joy (bringing home a basketful of fish he’d caught, propagating new orchid hybrids, making his own percussion instruments), and he was at peace with himself. Dad was very patient when teaching us new skills and showed much kindness, whether to his widowed sister or to the beggar who needed a meal. He was a good man, and his former students who came to his funeral wake attested to that.
In my young days I would often try to share my faith with him…with considerable fear and trepidation, you understand, after all he was my father and a teacher to boot. And I recall him saying that he had faith in God, but not in any of the institutionalised forms of religion. I guess, even in putting me in my place he was gentle.
Mum and dad didn’t always have a very harmonious life together because mum had some personality quirks that were sometimes rather irksome to put up with. And I don’t say this meanly, it’s just how she was. There were many moments when I knew dad was at the end of his tether, but he never lost his cool. Well, ok, two occasions do come to mind, but for much of my life he’s shown exceptional self-control. Don’t get me wrong, he was no saint; he enjoyed his occasional game of poker and would indulge in a wee dram or two of his favourite whiskey or brandy. But if there’s someone I’ve learnt about the fruit of the Spirit from, it’s me dad.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. (Gal. 5:22–23a HCSB)
The one character trait of my father’s that stood out for me was his stoicism. He wasn’t just self-controlled, he was stoic. And that really was such a help in his later years when Parkinson’s and dementia claimed his body and his mind. Dad never complained. Period. BIG lesson for me. One of the joys for Soo-Inn and me was our daily moments with dad when he would give us his trademark smile. Towards the end, he could hardly verbalise very much that made sense, but his smile would light up the room, and our hearts.
Although dad came to faith late in life, he had a real understanding of God’s character and I recall when mum was on her deathbed in the intensive care unit, dad quietly said, “I’m sure God will forgive her”. He knew the God in whom he believed.
How then do I honour his memory, even as I thank God for his life? By being more like him. Dad was salt and light in our lives without even meaning to be so. That’s because he just was. He was indeed created in the image of God and he reflected it effortlessly, almost intuitively. If I can be a fraction of the person he was, I know I will leave the world a better place for those who come after. I can pay it forward. I can be more like him.
As good as dad was in reflecting God’s love, in this advent season, we remember the real source of all that is good and light in the world, the Saviour of whom Isaiah said:
He will not cry out or shout
or make His voice heard in the streets.
He will not break a bruised reed,
and He will not put out a smoldering wick;
He will faithfully bring justice.
He will not grow weak or be discouraged
until He has established justice on earth.
(Isa. 42:2–4 HCSB)
Christ came to show us the way to a better world, one where there will no longer be tears and pain and injustice. He came to show us how to make the world a better place. By being more like Him.
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