My father turns 79 today.
If we follow the Chinese way of calculating, he turns 80 today.
Turning 80 is a very big deal among the Chinese.
In the past, due to the dire straits they always found themselves to be in – with high infant mortality rate, etc – the moment a child is born, the Chinese would consider him one-year old.
And in ancient China – with wars and pestilences and abject poverty and natural disasters – if you managed to live to 80, you’ve lived a very very long life indeed.
Earlier I asked my father if he wanted to celebrate this milestone birthday in a less modest way – invite some intimate friends and his siblings, etc to a meal but he declined.
“Keep it low profile,” he said.
Typical of him.
My father is a highly principled man who is also very humble.
However I suspect he has other reasons for wanting to keep it this way.
A very pretentious watch ad says “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” Well, my father has never bought me a Patek Philippe but the lessons he has taught me are worth more than a truck load of Patek Philippes.
My father taught me everything.
When I was 5, I believe that my father could bite bullets and walk on water.
When I was 10, after I threw a can of canned longans into his crotch while engaging in rough play with him, I learned that even Gods can bellow in pain.
When I was 15, I learned nothing from my father, I was completely unteachable.
At 15, like all teenagers, I thought I knew all there was to know. I had little use for my father at that time. Still he taught me patience and the virtue of slowly waiting things out.
When I was 20, I learned that you could actually have an adult-to-adult, civil, conversation with one’s father. At about that time, I saw tears in my father’s eyes for the first time – when the farmhouse he grew up in (near Tuas) was flattened to the ground to make way for urban development.
When I was 25, busy finding myself and chasing my own dreams, my father was a background figure looming large.
When I was 30, and have just become a father myself a year ago, I learned that my father actually knew a lot about how to make a marriage thrive and how to have a great family life.
When I was 35, I seemed to get to know my father all over again when I realized what he has achieved in his youth and the amazing amount of respect he was enjoying from his peers and extended family.
When I was about 40, I realized how astounded I was at the extent of love and care my father was capable of as he so aptly demonstrated through his behavior during my mum’s illness.
When I was 45, as my job-related travel started to increase, I felt a deep regret that I couldn’t visit my father more. I actually missed the old man!
When I was 50, from my father I learned that even giants can succumb. I’m thankful that the heart attack he suffered was a minor one and his cardiologist had to put in only one stent.
Today my father is still hale and hearty, with an enviable appetite and a penchant for all dishes containing lethal fat pork, plus an emotional intensity that can best be used to describe him as a highly opinionated, angry and – regrettably – somewhat bitter old man.
I think at 79, he still has lots of unresolved anger. His temper would probably make some relatives think that he’s a bastard. But I believe his vehemence and vituperation is due to the goodness of his heart, not because he’s an asshole. Being old school, he’s no wimpy new age guy, he’s no modern dad, and he doesn’t really know how to show that he cares so he bitches and moans about the state of some relatives’ lives and the behavior of yet others – obviously behavior he disapproves of for one reason or another – and he gets upset and he becomes livid.
I suspect that’s why he wants to keep this milestone birthday of his under the radar.
I can’t imagine him sitting down and having a meal with some of these people.
Happy birthday, father, anyway.