For he is a jolly good fellow

Bapak’s Birthday

My father turns a year older today. I take after him with regards to dates. We are terrible at it. I am sure, like every other year, he won’t remember that it is his birthday. We have since stopped taking offence that he forgets our birthdays because he cannot even remember his own, or how old he will be, without reminding himself of the year he was born in. It will always be Mak, who would religiously remind him that it is our birthdays on the morning itself. She will always begin it with a nag “Anak dua orang aje pun tak boleh ingat!” ( You only have 2 children and yet you cannot remember!). We have to remind him of Mak’s birthday every year so that he would remember to do something special, otherwise we would all bear the brunt of her ‘merajuk’.

Bapak and I have a complex relationship. My sister and I have an age gap of 7 years and so I was the only child for a good 7 years. A long time for Bapak to experiment his different theories of parenting. I am on ‘Camp Bapak’ because between him and Mak, I was and still is, ‘anak bapak’. He would be the first I go to for everything. Well, almost everything except when I got my first period. That one, I went to Mak.

Bapak is Javanese. Jawa tok-tok. His role model for fatherhood had always been his late father, arwah Yayi. Yayi was a spiritual man of very few words. He and my nyai were both Quran teachers and he led the surau in the kampung for all their religious affairs. He was strong-willed, highly principled, disciplined, strict, brave, gentle, kind and stern. The qualities one would attribute to a good leader, which he was. He passed away when I was 19 years old at the age of 82. As I look back, although Bapak thinks the world of Yayi as a father and the head of our clan, he is ironically, very different from Yayi. I grew up watching Bapak trying very hard to reach Yayi’s standard but I think personality wise, they are just different. Hence the shoes Yayi left for bapak were very hard to fill in. He became the unique father he is to us not comparable to any person, dead or alive. 😀

My relationship with Bapak is very complex because although he is the closest to me emotionally etc, he is also the one whom I can agree least with. I got the lack of aptitude of Mathematics or anything numerical from him. He gave me the head start to reading and writing since I was really young and he would never say no to my reading habits, even if it means riding his Vespa scooter at 9pm at night to Marine Parade bookshop from Bedok Reservoir because I simply needed to complete my collection of the Nancy Drew series I was so into, when I was 9 years old.

He wanted to emulate Yayi, so he was really strict with my religious upbringing in a way that actually put me off it. I am an April child and I do not know how true is this but April babies have always been associated with having temperamental personalities and also very stubborn. Bapak’s method of pushing religion down my throat, although well-meaning–the manner was repulsive. Hence it simply enhanced my temperamental personality and stubborn-ness even more. I did all I could to rebel in my younger days, which caused massive loggerheads between the two of us for years on ends. Now, a bit older and ehem, wiser, I look back and realised that it was not the message that was repulsive to me, it was the manner bapak did it. In his defense I concluded that since I was the firstborn, he may not know how to do it right.

During those days, I was actively involved in youth theater and being in the performing arts, my peers and I were experimenting with alternative themes and ermm.. lifestyle choices, which were of course, most of it were against the teachings of our faith. I still remember the night bapak came into my room, probably already in exasperation and on the verge of giving up on me. He said ” I know you have a mind of your own, I know you are stubborn, I know all you think is that whatever you are doing is right. I know you don’t care about what people think of you, or what me or mak think of you. But I ask you for only one thing. In this house and in this family I am the leader. Please care about what Allah thinks of me.”

If I were a cartoon, in my cloud bubble at that moment, was a text which said ” Haiyah.. emotional blackmail laggiii”

Whether it was his reverse psychology or not back then, I don’t know, but he left me to my own devices from then on, which ironically made me panic. His over caring was killing me, but his sudden uncaring drove me crazy. He was my best friend and my worst enemy back then and when he pulled back, I felt lost. So I came to my own senses and decided to meet him halfway. I went on my own self-imposed ‘spiritual’ phase looking for the true meaning of my faith, since it was so important to him. That was my turning point, I guess, where I see it as it is and not something which is for him.

Along the way, through my life, I hurt him once badly by making a choice which to me then, was my right to do so and my ‘pasal, my sukalah’ attitude. But I was wrong. It hurts him deeply and it was the deepest hurt I have seen him in all my life. That was more than a decade ago and I still carry this guilt and regret somewhere in my subconscious heart/mind to this day. I don’t regret making the choice, but I regretted not including him in it, not consulting him, discussing it with him or even just involving him it in. Probably, although he would still be against it, he could have seen where I was coming from.

So today, on the birthday of this great man– the first man of my life, I reflected upon all my years of existence under his care. He had done so much for me and no way, even if I live this life double or triple, can I ever repay him back for all his love, kindness, guidance, patience, his money spent to raise me etc etc. Those were priceless. Jasa seorang ayah, tiada yang boleh membalasnya. He had steered our family in the right direction and had rightfully taken over the leadership of the clan being Yayi’s eldest son. He is very much respected and loved in the clan and we could tell, when looking through the FB albums of my aunties and uncles. Every other picture of Bapak would come with a caption, “The best brother in the world”.

Although I cannot erase the hurt I have once caused him and I can’t repay whatever he had done for me, there is one thing I know only I (and my sister) can do for him which no one else can.

A hadith of the prophet states that:

If a son of Adam dies, his good works come to an end except for three: charity that keeps providing benefit, knowledge that people still benefit from and a pious child who supplicates for him”

Insya-Allah, as long as I am alive, he can be sure that at least 5 times a day I make supplications for him and if he goes off before I do, he can be sure, insya-Allah that to my very last breath I would keep on making supplications for him, for his goodness in the hereafter. Happy Birthday Bapak. Thank you for everything.


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