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10 Things About Life that My Father Taught Me

My dad is not the easiest person to like or love.

If you don’t know him well and are seeing him for the first time, he can seem pretty annoying, especially when he starts his PR practice of chatting up restaurant staff, putting on fake accents, or just acting comical and attention-seeking. Due to his foolishness in younger days, he also brought about a lot of pain and anguish to our family.

In spite of all these, he still has many friends (and probably many enemies too lol). His phone’s always buzzing. My dad is more popular than I care to admit!

Yet, the role of the father in our life cannot be undervalued. On this Father’s Day, here’s my first, proper tribute to him →

Life Lessons Learned from My Dad

1. Learning goes on even after school.

My dad picked up computing & Microsoft Word skills, only when he became a senior citizen. Before that, he somehow managed to pick up English (self-taught). Since young, he was already proficient in Chinese, Malay, and a few other dialects.

Now, because he can speak, read and write English (though not perfect English but it doesn’t matter), he can go shopping and speak with salespeople from foreign countries, call and communicate with customer service officers, pick up new things easily. As a result of his commitment towards learning, learning to use the Internet was the obvious outcome. Right now, he uses an advanced smartphone, a Samsung S8+ –– even more advanced than my iPhone 7! Because of all that he’s learned, he can thus catch up with friends locally and internationally, via WhatsApp or WeChat.

My father also learned to use Youtube, read news on the web, call for Uber or Grab cars. His friends depend on him when they need help with apps or are looking to carpool to the airport with their luggage.

The things that my father learned helped him to break down all kinds of barriers in life.

Everything he learned helped him evolve and keep up with the times, even when he’s past 70 years old now. He taught me that all it takes is the dedication and interest to keep learning and growing, for new doors and opportunities to open up to you.

2. Be adaptable. Never limit your options.

Your survival is dependent on how adaptable you are.

My dad was a businessman. Before that, he worked under others, earning peanuts and putting up with shitty treatment. He learned the ropes of different industries before striking out on his own. He also learned ways of the law and systems so as to avoid breaking rules.

When I was a kid, once, we lost our way driving along somewhere. The roads were dark (I can’t remember if it was Singapore or Malaysia) and my Dad was trying to find the way back to the main road. Being a timid small kid, I asked if he’s afraid. He said, “条条通大路” (meaning, every small lane leads to the main road), there’s no cause for alarm. True enough, we found the way out. I remembered this phrase for a long time, applying it when I feel lost while travelling or stuck in life.

If you can depend on yourself, you can go anywhere.

If my father ever needs to live on his own, he knows how to cook, do laundry and iron clothes. He’s a very adaptable person and can survive, regardless of circumstances.

3. Don’t doubt your abilities.

For a period of time a long time ago, my Dad took to driving a taxi to supplement his income. He took lessons, familiarized himself with routes and maps, passed the exams, got the license and did the shifts. However, he decided that the job doesn’t suit him, and thus stopped driving, switching to an entirely different job, something that paid him better and is less gruelling than driving a taxi.

Has he ever questioned himself that he cannot do it? His self-confidence is unquestionable.

4. Choose your battles wisely.

Be brave & stand tall if you had done right, even in the face of someone more fierce than you.

When I met into some legal issues at work, I was really worried, yet feeling very indignant about the whole affair as professional ethics are something I’ve always abided to. My father told me that I didn’t have to be worried if I didn’t do anything wrong. The other party will not have a case even if they have a big legal team behind.

Even though I knew I was in the right, I had a lot more at stake simply because the other party’s financial backing is limitless. In the end, I decided that the particular portfolio was not worth the trouble, and cut off all working relations with that client.

From this episode, I learned to choose my battles wisely. It became a blessing in disguise because I won the respect of those who worked with me and agreed with my work ethics.

5. Accept what you can’t control. Stay positive over what you can’t.

Last year, when the doctor first diagnosed my father with prostate cancer, I was the one whose voice was breaking while asking the doctor about treatment options at the hospital, not him. I actually already knew the diagnosis before my Dad, before we met the doctor, yet the mental preparation was not enough for me to appear stronger than my father, who was hearing the news for the first time.

While waiting for a cab home, I asked my father how is he. He answered that he’s already old, what is there that he has to fear. Regardless, he remained positive all the while. We went for a second opinion, my father chose his preferred treatment option, went for his radiotherapy sessions, kept up with his other treatments for his other health problems, and resumed his lifestyle!

Right after finishing two months of daily RT, he booked two long trips overseas. Talk about enjoying life to the fullest!

6. You don’t need to be a thoroughly lousy person in life. You can still try to do good in other roles.

In life, we have many different roles to fulfil.

My father wasn’t a very good husband to my mum, but for as long as I can remember, he tries his best to be a good father. When we were small kids, for recess breaks, he would pack food and bring it to the school canteen for us to eat, because the food he buys will always taste better and are bigger portions than the school hawkers’. My siblings and I always get to choose new bags and stationery for a new school year. My father will send us to school every morning, so that we could sleep in a bit later, and pick us up (including my cousins) after school to send us home.

On weekends, we get to go places like Haw Par Villa or Singapore Zoo or Bird Parks etc. During school holidays, he will try to bring all of us on vacations. I might have gotten wanderlust that way, even though it was to nearby destinations like Thailand or Malaysia.

Even now, with my unstable career, my father still finds it within him to show me support in subtle ways. Just like my Mum, their love and patience for their children are unconditional.

7. Embrace adventure. Give new experiences a chance.

On our school holiday vacations to Thailand or Malaysia, there will be watersports to try, such as parasailing, or island-hopping via speedboat. So I’d tried all these fun activities as kids, not as adults. I remember sitting on the speedboat and feeling amazed at how fast we were going, how much the boat was bobbing along the choppy waters, and how hot the sun was shining down on us. Those family vacations wwere so much fun, and gave me plenty of lovely memories with my siblings and cousins.

Even now, at his age, my father will always be spontaneous to try new things like Japanese food, or eat mala steamboat dinner at 9+pm in Taiwan. He concluded that he doesn’t like Japanese food, haha. At least he tried!

8. No matter where you are, you can still start all over again.

My dad made terrible mistakes and for years, our family lived in anguish and constant, terrible quarrels. It took a lot for him to admit his mistakes, and then work towards seeking forgiveness from everyone. Eventually, my parents reconciled. Although my Mum still gives him the cold shoulder randomly, he never took it to heart for a long time, always ready to resume their normal communication style.

Pick yourself up where you fell. As long as you try, you can start all over again.

9. Don’t hold it against yourself for being forgetful or a blur sotong.

Blur sotong is lingo for being a careless or confused person.

My dad never remembers my birthday, or any of my siblings’ birthdays, lol. I doubt he even knows my age. He also doesn’t care when we don’t celebrate his birthdays (but he’s appreciative when we wish him).

For making peace with his life and expectations this way, he led a more carefree life.

Once, a few minutes after my BFF left the house, my Dad asked me who that was, because “he’d never seen her before”. My BFF of 20 years who has been here more than a few times and he still can’t remember how she looks like. Lololl.

For the sake of your own peace, don’t impose your expectations on others.

10. Forgiveness has to come from within.

My father had his fair share of unfair treatment from many people in his life, when he was a young person himself. Sometimes, people are not very kind to him too. Even for myself, I don’t always speak to him politely, often losing patience too easily. He never held grudges, merely carrying on with life. From him, I learned that instead of waiting for external factors to come into place, forgiveness can be something that comes from within.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa. Thank you for your constant patience, your never-ending support and all the life lessons I learned from you.


Image credits: Header photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash
This post originally appeared in my Medium account.

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