Dad my hero

I gave my father $100 and said, “Buy yourself something that will make your life easier.” So, he went out and bought a present for my mother.  

—  Rita Rudner, American comedian

I was searching the internet for some inspirational sayings about Father’s Day when I came across comedian Rita Rudner’s quote (see above) which I thought was amusing. Her funny quote set me thinking back to my own experience — not exactly the same though — 53 years ago.

It was the year 1968 and I was in Primary 4, a pupil of St. Mary’s Primary School in Sibu. The headmistress then was Sister Ignatia Teresa Soon, whom pupils consider a ‘tyrant’. She was my English Language (my all-time favourite subject, along with English Literature — yes, we were taught English Lit even at that young age) teacher.

It was a day after Father’s Day, I think. The class of 45 pupils, which included 20 plus females, was asked to say something about our fathers.

My turn came and Sister Ignatia asked:

Q. Who is your hero? 

A. My dad.

Q. Why do you say he is a hero?

A. Because he is not afraid of anything.

Q. Isn’t there anything your hero is afraid of?

A. My mother.

Believe me. The whole class burst into laughter and it took a while for Sister Ignatia to calm the pupils.

But our headmistress was not amused; she thought I was being funny and had to face her rotan session. It was quite painful.

(I understand from a former classmate that Sister Ignatia moved to Kuching some years ago and is still active in charities. I hope she gets to read my column.)

So much for my class experience describing my dad. Father’s Day, which fell yesterday, brought recollections about the unpleasant situations — some amusing, even comical — that I was caught in by my late dad.  

Let’s turn our attention to some of these.

One afternoon when I was eight, I was busy catching ikan sepat and puyu with a net in a filthy drain in waist-deep water near our government quarters. If it was anything that dad resented most, it was his children catching fish in a drain, which sometimes had snakes in or near them.

We were reminded from time to time to avoid the drains. That unfortunate day, however, I was so engrossed in my fishing that I didn’t realise dad passing by. The next thing I knew, I was dragged out of the drain and in the presence of the neighbourhood kids I was given a few tight slaps. I saw stars.

I remember running home crying and had to be consoled by mum.

There was one funny incident, also during my primary school days. I broke into a neighbour’s chicken barn and ‘borrowed’ one of his prized fighting cockerels.

The furious neighbour confronted dad and insisted that I be taught a lesson.

Dad, being a disciplinarian, assured him he would handle me. So back in our quarters, I was given a hiding. 

Another case of mischief was more serious. My friends and I made several bedil buluh (bamboo canons) and decided to test them. Usually, the fuel used was kerosene. One fine evening, a friend from Kampung Hilir nearby somehow switched the fuel with a small amount of petrol.

Initially nothing happened, but then without warning one of the canons exploded. It was loud and sent the neighbours rushing out of their homes. Many thought the communist terrorists — who were active in the sixties then — were attacking the neighbourhood.

Miraculously, no one was injured although bamboo shrapnel flew in all directions. I’d rather not describe what dad did to me after that.

Another tight situation I got myself into was in 1972. I was in Form 2.

We were raiding a towkay’s fruit garden. As luck would have it, dad happened to be cycling by and he caught sight of my friends and I up on a tree. My companions jumped down from the branches and escaped, but I didn’t have the guts to emulate them. Instead, I climbed down slowly and at the foot of the tree dad delivered his trademark slaps which left me seeing stars, and when I reached home, I saw many more.

However, there was one particular situation where I thought dad let me off scot-free.

You see, I was in Form 5 then and it was after school. I was still in school uniform and was dating a friend from a nearby girls’ school who also happened to be still in school uniform. We were walking hand in hand outside the Cathay cinema when we were spotted by my Geography teacher.

He reported me to the school principal who summoned my parents the next day. Dad came and Brother Albinus, the principal, briefed him about the ‘date’ and also my performance in school.

Somehow, when I reached home, dad didn’t say a thing about it. To this day, I still don’t understand why he didn’t take action.

That’s my hero. Perhaps, he thought I was no longer a kid.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!