This Monday, 15th April, would have been my dad’s 100th birthday.
It’s been almost 20 years since I lost my dad. My mum has passed too; I loved them so very much and I still miss them a lot.
When I was little, as much as I loved my dad, I was also scared of him – he was tall, just over 6ft, and had quite a presence. I guess he came across as strict and no-nonsense because of his responsibilities. He not only looked after us – his wife and 4 daughters – he also looked after my mum’s family. Before I explain how that came about…This is one of the earliest photos I have of my dad, I think he’s about 21 years old.
My dad started his working life as a parcel clerk in the Malayan Railways. Malaya, part of the British Empire, was still under British rule. Before the outbreak of WW2, he joined the Railway Operating and Maintenance Company (ROMC) as a volunteer, alongside his best friend, who happened to be my mum’s older brother. At this point, my parents hadn’t met yet. The volunteers were trained by British Army sergeants; according to my dad, they were “tough”! In the photo, he’s wearing the uniform of the ROMC.
My maternal grandfather had passed away when my mum was still a little girl and my gran was only in her 30s, and she had 6 children to care for with the youngest still a baby. Sadly, in 1943, just 6 months after my mum and dad were married, her brother, my dad’s best friend, my uncle I never knew – my gran’s first-born – died after contracting malaria; he was only 22. And my dad promised my gran he would look after her and her children.
In the 1950s, my dad was sent to the UK as part of a training course arranged by the railways, Malaya still being under British rule.
He worked for the railways all his life, and by the time he retired, he’d worked his way up to Assistant Traffic Manager, the highest post a non-Malay could hold.
I can safely say I inherited my love of books and reading from my dad. My mum loved to read too, but her reading material of choice was the newspaper and magazines. His favourite genre was thrillers, but he also enjoyed fantasy and westerns. When he was into a book, we had to practically jump up and down in front of him to get his attention. We always joked that the house could fall down around my dad and he wouldn’t notice, he’d just continue reading!
He loved films and going to the cinema. When I was old enough and it became apparent I, too, enjoyed westerns and war films, my mum was so relieved – it meant I could go with my dad to the cinema and she wouldn’t have to suffer through those films anymore. She didn’t have to go, but she didn’t like the idea of him going on his own – her argument being, how could you enjoy a film properly if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it?
A keen golfer, he played, representing the railways and, with his teammates, won a few trophies. He also enjoyed swimming in the sea. We always had dogs as pets, and his favourite breed was the German Shepherd.
While we did have fun before, it was only after retirement, when he relaxed a lot more that we had even more laughs. Like most grandparents, he and my mum were quite indulgent with their grandkids.
My dad was a good man with strong morals who took his responsibilities seriously. He loved his family and set things up so that my mum wouldn’t have financial worries when he passed, and he made sure there was enough for his 4 daughters too. I couldn’t ask for a better role model for my sons.
Who’s your role model? A family member or a mentor? I know at least a couple of people who cite fictional characters as their role models, and I think that’s a great idea.