Credit: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas
By: Cheryl Chiew

The best memories I have of my dad are of weekends when I was age 5 to 10. Back then, my sister and I shared a room. Saturday’s alarm was the muffled sounds of the news on TV and the smell of prata and curry. My father would sit on the living room floor and read the newspapers. In the evenings, he would take my sister and me cycling or rollerblading. He was fun, caring, and sporty. I was a kid who took delight that my father was an always-ready playmate. 

But as I grew older, I realized my father wasn’t as good at love and affection as I thought he was; I realized he was rather stoic and silent. Maybe it was easier for him to interact with us when we were young and clamoring around. But as a teenager, I felt I could not emotionally open up to him. Gradually, we grew apart. But I know he still cared for me and my sister because he still ate with us at mealtimes and drove us around for doctor’s appointments.

“I decided to live with my father because I thought it would be a good way for us to rebuild our relationship.”

At 17, my parents divorced. I decided to live with my father because I thought it would be a good way for us to rebuild our relationship. So, I moved into my grandparents’ house with him. However, it soon became painfully clear that my mum was the main person who raised us. Aside from giving me my monthly allowance, my father never did much and he was hardly home.

Resentment towards my father started building. Suddenly, I had to deal with chores and fix all my meals. It felt unfair I had to raise myself whereas my friends had the parents they lived with to take care of them. A lot of my pain stemmed from asking, “Why was my father being a terrible parent when I knew, from my childhood experience, he was capable of being nurturing and caring?”

Eventually, I decided to go to therapy. Slowly, I realized my father was a human that was just trying his best. He learned how to be a father from my grandfather, who is equally stoic and distant. Instead of comparing and projecting my expectations of what a good father is onto him, I chose to accept and appreciate who he is, rather than focus on what he is not.

My father is not emotionally expressive but he is always game to give awkward hugs and whiskery cheek kisses. He does not know how to talk to his adult children but tries anyway with small talk over pasta dinners. To him, love meant providing his children with material things and that his children were able to provide for themselves. I never went hungry and always had a roof over my head. My sister and I graduated from university debt-free and have jobs that pay the bills.

My dad didn’t have a great role model growing up, but he actively tries to be a more emotionally available and involved dad to me, than his father was to him.  At 26, I am now the same age my father was when he realized my mother was pregnant with me. My father loves me in the way he knows how and I see how he is just trying his best to love his children. And for everything he has done, I am grateful and thankful to him.

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