Grandpa walks tall
by Antonia Chiam firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted on June 17, 2012, Sunday
He is every inch a father figure to his children and grandchildren – that’s what counts on this special day that honours all the great and humble dads and grandpas out there. Happy Father’s Day!
TRUE life stories are always fascinating but when it comes to something close to us, we do not always find them as interesting. Perhaps we take it for granted or we have heard it too many times.
Tasked with a write-up for Father’s Day, I decided there is a story of one particular man I would love to write about. He is certainly nobody famous and has not done anything notable that deserves the space in this paper.
This is a Father’s Day story of none other than my own grandfather, an ordinary man of ordinary status but with extraordinary contributions as a father.
Grandfather comes from a very poor family, headed by his divorcee mother – so poor that great-grandmother had to sell off her only daughter to a rich family in Singapore. However, she managed to single-handedly raise her three sons who all turned out well.
Despite coming from a broken family, grandfather never followed in his errant father’s footsteps but strove hard to be a good father when he started his own family in Sibu in the early 1950’s.
“He often related to me how as a toddler, I would lie down on his chest and how he tried to teach me to speak. That was the moment of first love of a father,” said Mother, the eldest daughter.
Mother remembers when she was six years old, grandfather brought her to Sibu for the first time.
“We used a ship – I think it was called the Rejang Mas – to sail up the Rejang River. It took us two days and one night before reaching Sibu to visit his father who had left him as a young boy. He brought me along to see a different world even when I was at such a tender age,” she recalled.
Grandfather maintained a unique stance on education in those pre-Independence days. He sent all of his daughters to Anglican missionary schools so that they would be well-educated and could find good jobs. He believed English is a very important language and therefore, it is vital to master it.
That was his vision more than 50 years ago and it is something that still holds true today.
“He is also very disciplined. As there were no forms of entertainment that we could afford, he bought many books, mostly Wuxia novels for himself. At the same time, he encouraged us to read English books as much as we could,” Mother said.
Grandfather knew the pains of being poor so he worked hard to ensure his family did not fall into the pit of poverty that he had experienced himself as a child.
“All his savings went to the family. He earned as much as he could and worked very hard to acquire a piece of land and eventually built homes for us.
“He was often known to be tight-fisted and seldom go to coffeeshops to hang out with friends. Instead, he would buy back foodstuff for us. That was how much he cared for the family.
“It was only when we were older and working that he allowed himself some luxuries, including buying lottery regularly,” Second Aunt recalled.
Grandfather is a friend, an advisor and a supporter to all his daughters when they were growing up – and even today.
“His behaviour, lifestyle and thinking moulded us to be what we are today. His teaching – although not that much – was sufficient for us to catch on over time.
“He taught us never to cheat. I remember his words: if you want to be rich, do not cheat or participate in scams. Go buy lottery instead – it’s legal just like insurance where all pool in their cash and the lucky one takes the cash. You win some, you lose some,” Fourth Aunt recalled fondly.
She pointed out that grandfather has always held onto the belief that if one dares to spend, one will have to work even harder to make enough to spend.
“He also taught us never to spend ahead and never to spend all we have in our pockets.”
Good hand skills
Besides being prudent with money, grandfather is also known to be skilled with his hands. He was a carpenter, a farmer and by profession, a photographer.
His masterpiece was a wooden bungalow somewhere along what is now Batu Kawa Road before it was replaced with a concrete bungalow in the 1980’s. He had also seen to the construction of two semi-detached houses where Second Aunt and family stay now.
The wooden bungalow was built together with grandmother when they were young. They had literally built the family home from chopping the forested land to burning the wood.
“Save for the piling of the foundation, they erected the beams, the wooden pillars and others. I remember the hard work where we helped with the small tasks like carrying the soil in buckets. There were blisters on our hands and I still have the marks today. I was maybe around 10 at that time,” Fourth Aunt recalled.
Meanwhile, Youngest Aunt remembers how her birth was said to be a disappointment to grandfather.
“I was expected to be a boy – so my birth came as somewhat a disappointment. Father never begrudged his fate though. He groomed me to be independent and helpful around the house even though I am the youngest.
“He taught us self-defence and how to be careful outside so we would not get cheated. I admire him for his strength and good leadership as the head of the family.”
She also admires his tenacity in the face of adversity.
“At 76, he went through a major heart bypass operation. He was in ICU for two weeks. It took him six years to recover fully.
“During this time of poor health, he never complained of his suffering which included losing his voice,” she observed.
Grandfather often sacrificed his health to make ends meet for the family.
World War II experiences
I remember Grandpa’s stories about his experiences as a youth during the Second World War which he often relates to us.
One memorable story was of him working as a co-captain on a boat bound for a Japanese control station in one of the small towns, carrying rations as well as passengers.
It was on a day during the monsoon season with very bad weather. The boat almost went under because of the rough seas. To save the people on board, grandfather decided to throw the rations overboard.
Upon reaching their destination, grandfather was detained by the Japanese military for questioning. He thought it was the end of his days but he was released after his explanation was accepted.
After that incident, he decided to quit the job and went to Samarahan area to plant padi and other secondary crops to help his mother support the family. Because he stayed in the jungles too long, he contracted malaria which almost cost him his life.
Yet grandfather managed to bounce back after each adversity.
His resilience is even clear now at 86 when he is still able to travel to Singapore to visit one of my aunts on a regular basis without any of us accompanying him on his trips.
“His sense of independence is really amazing. I hope all the grandchildren will see him as a role model to be good fathers themselves one day,” Youngest Aunt said.
As the oldest member of the family, grandfather is the link to our past, present and future and an utmost joy to have around. He may not be anyone prominent in society but there is no rule that says ordinary folks do not deserve a little recognition once awhile.
He is every inch a father figure to his daughters and even his grandchildren – that is all that matters on this special day that pays tribute to all the great and humble dads and grandads out there.
Happy Father’s Day!
FAMILY HOME: The wooden bungalow built by Antonia’s grandparents.