Sunday 21 June 2009

Happy Father's Day? Um... I think I killed mine

I think I killed my father. Since today is Father's Day, I figure this is a good time to mention this.

About 16 years ago, my father was rushed to hospital after suffering a possible stroke. I thought - and hoped - he was going to die. But he seemed to recover and regained consciousness.

He said something to me in his usual obnoxious way, but because his speech was impaired by the stroke, he was barely comprehensible, which made him sound even more obnoxious.

I don't remember what I said, but in my own obnoxious way, I made it very clear I was tired of putting up with his obnoxiousness.

That was the last time I spoke to him because he subsequently relapsed into a coma and died a day or so later. He was 58.

Part of me still feels a little guilty that I might have killed him with my last words to him - he lost his will to live after realising his oldest child and only son would rather he didn't.

As you may have surmised, my father and I weren't very close. The only conversation we had late every night when he came home was he would ask if I had brushed my teeth and I would say yes. That was it.

He often came home late because he taught art classes in the evenings after his office job in the day - all to afford a decent life for my mother, my two sisters and myself. (He also authored a few books on art under the pen name Ong Yih.)

An unfortunate consequence was he was a more beloved father figure to his students than his own children.

When he was home, he lost his temper easily and yes, he was quite obnoxious. I don't recall my sisters and me ever celebrating Father's Day.

Even though I knew he loved me as a father should, I had this vague feeling he was disappointed with me.

Alas, that's also where my relationship with my own 12-year-old son appears to be heading. Despite my intentions to the contrary, I have become my father.

Except instead of dental concerns, every night I tell my son to stop watching reruns of The Nanny on cable and do his homework.

I've come to accept that he'll probably wish me dead too one day - if he hasn't already (damn you, Fran Drescher!) - and I don't blame him.

For now, my consolation is he still wishes me happy Father's Day every year. Plus I have healthy teeth.

My one regret is my dad didn't live long enough to meet his grandson - so that he could rub it in my face in his usual obnoxious way: "Not so easy being a father, is it?"

- Published in The New Paper, 21 June 2009