Who's Your Daddy

Jessica Tan

Jessica Tan

Father’s Day has always been a little jaded “holiday” for me as I lost my dad when I was 6.

I don’t really think about it very much, in fact I’m no longer affected by it anymore because it has happened such a long time ago – furthermore, it’s not something I’ve ever felt handicapped by or that made me feel like I’m missing out on something. It was just something that I’ve never thought was any different for my family.

My mummy was the rock in the light of the whole situation. My father had a brain tumour that needed to be removed as it grew and during the operation, the surgeons discovered that the mass had entangled itself more intricately than expected. He didn’t wake up after the surgery.

She committed her heart and soul to her work and stepped up – she did her absolute best in providing us a wonderful childhood. We went on outings, we ate at restaurants, we went on vacations and we celebrated Father’s Day in addition to Mother’s Day. My Mummy was my de facto Daddy anyway, and it emphasised the fact that she played a dual role in her children’s lives. We had taken to wishing her “Happy Father’s Day” whenever June rolled around and were always joking about how it was nice that she would get double the gifts.

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I do had gripes occasionally. Why wouldn’t she come home on time, when she said she would pick me up from school, I’d be constantly paging her to ask where she was and how much longer I’d have to wait. When you say A, why is it I see B?

In my later years, I think about how a lot of this has contributed to how much of a stickler I am for punctuality and keeping promises.

As the years have passed, my brother and I are grown and we now have our own families. We are remembering the sacrifices and struggles that she went through in our youth to keep the family going.

And we try to display filial piety and show that we understand better now. Perhaps if we could provide for her needs and her care just like how she did for us. Sometimes that means leaving my mum to her own devices, and just giving her a berth of breathing room where she can do things for herself instead of pandering after her fully-grown children and the accompanying grandchildren.

As parents ourselves now, I more than fully understand the dedication and sacrifices that it has taken her to look after 2 really young children, head out to work and make sure that we had everything life could provide and ensure that we turned out like decent human beings, well, that’s no mean feat. And you really just need a bit of space from all the pressure, responsibility, and mental stress that having to manage all of it that it entails.

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While we were growing up, I suppose we were learning on the fly more too. Trying to be more autonomous and trying to get by without having to trouble our Mum too much for things as we tried to navigate our youth.

I remember our household helpers fondly too. In particularly the one that looked after my family in the period after my father passed. She would be the one waiting for us when we came back home from school while Mummy was at work. She would be there, downstairs at the porch of our building as the school bus picked and dropped us off.

There’d be food waiting for us at home for lunch, lovingly prepared. I remember that we used to put in VCR tapes with taped songs on them, and sing, Karaoke style, well into the afternoon, with abandon and with emotion, until our voices were hoarse. There’d be clean clothes, pressed and folded in our cupboards and no huge messes lying about, someone to watch over us as we played or did homework. While she was not related to us by blood, there was a fondness and love there, of sorts, that shaped our childhood.

I also remember that she was always on our phone, talking to someone and crying. Always crying. 

I had always assumed that the KC DAT truck driver who would drive past our condominium from time-to-time was the cause of her woes. I didn’t know why she would be so upset about it though. He seemed nice enough. He brought me sweets and would speak to me kindly when I accompanied my helper down to the guardhouse to wait for him to drive by and have a mid-afternoon chat. 

It wasn’t until much later when our helper had to return back to her home town that I found out she had a very sick daughter and that she had borrowed a passport to come to Singapore and which was why she wouldn’t ever be returning. 

It’s funny how you take things for granted when you don’t understand the context. 

There are plenty other foreign workers and domestic helpers on our soil that have given up so much to come to our country to make a living for themselves and family back home.

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I’m reminded of how much gratitude we ought to have towards these people who have poured in their heart and body into the building of our country. 

I’m also reminded that in comparison, how much we actually have. Not just in wealth or circumstances, but in the pure availability of opportunity and amenity. We have so much to be thankful for with our amazing network of communication, transport, and even our systems for power, water and refuse handling is unrivalled in many other countries. 

In particular, I think the education system in Singapore goes above and beyond academics.

I’m not just applauding the teachers who have shaped and changed my path in life, but the teachers that are now shaping and moulding my children in school.

When I was young, I don’t think I had a lot of respect for the amount of effort that teachers put in to teach us things. Things that we certainly took for granted. I mean who honestly uses their primary school Chinese Idioms or even their Secondary school physics and biology in their daily life?  

Then again, how many people have made these things that they’ve learnt into a career, into a passion, and into something that now plays a significant part in their adult life?

I used to receive multiple “SEE ME” messages marked out in bright red on my exercise books, on the covers of my tests and on my regular daily work. They used to cause dread in my heart. I dislike confrontation, and definitely not when you’re expecting the confrontation to turn into a scolding session for not being up to par.

When you get one of those dreaded comments, you just know that you’re in for a big shelling from your teacher when you finally muster up the courage to approach their table. 

I used to get minor panic attacks about having to do it, and they’d get worse if I realised that I didn’t finish my class work fast enough, that I didn’t have time to talk to the teachers during the allotted 30-minute class times. That meant that I would have to head to the staff room to speak with them instead. In front of all the other teachers who would immediately know that I must have done something terrible for me to have summoned to there.

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On hindsight now, I realise that those words hold a very different meaning from what I thought they meant. Perhaps I needed to “SEE YOU” not particularly because I was flunking classes, but perhaps there were actual things, concepts and a lack of understanding, that I really needed to hash out in order to gain a deeper connection with the subject. 

And now I can really see. I see the teachers rallying; the entire cohort of our educators are scrambling to ensure that the children do “SEE THEM” and get their facts straight, their understandings engrained, their learning on the move. 

As I struggle to manage just my 3-year old with his shapes and colours and my 5 yr-old with his spelling and simple mathematics, I realise how much dedication, patience, restraint and passion a person must have to want to do this with little people who are not their own flesh and blood. And not just 1 of them, but a whole class full.

With the struggles of everyday life, even technology and its distractions cast shadows in our own endeavours as parents to be more than physically THERE with our kids. It is not just about relaying information, but engaging and being present for each and every one of the members of your class, whether you have a class of 1 or a class of 40. Our teachers push on. And in their dedication and their duty to pass on information to our children, they become surrogate parents, mentors and role models to our kids in their school-going hours.

What is a ‘Father’ anyway? On this occasion where we recognize the important figure of growth, guidance and affection in our lives, I cannot help but to recount all the others that have contributed to my journey in life. 

I can only hope that in these moments of recollection that I have learnt my lessons from all the different ‘fathers’ that have graced my life and that in my remembrance that I’ve honoured them by doing the right thing, and growing up to be a person that they can be proud of.

For everyone who doesn’t have a literal Father on this day, wish all of these people who’ve crossed your path a Wonderful Father’s Day, wherever they are. It’s in these encounters and relationships with you that this “holiday” has a new meaning for me, and hopefully for you too.

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