Thursday, July 14, 2016

Happy 74th. If only.

Hey Dad

Tomorrow would have been your 74th birthday.

We'd probably have made arrangements for dinner, while the kids would have picked out your birthday cake and made you cards.

Unfortunately, we won't be doing any of these tomorrow. Or ever again.

Nobody would have thought that last year would be the last birthday we'd ever celebrate with you.

If only we knew.

Mum called earlier and she broke down. She was thinking of dinner with the kids tomorrow night but I've to attend an official school event and can't make it. She was disappointed. I think she wanted to be occupied so that she won't be missing your presence so very much.

But I intend to drop by Bright Hill Temple's Ancestral Hall after my morning lessons to visit you. Told Mum we could go for lunch instead before I head back to work. I'll call her later to confirm the arrangements.

Life for us goes on. We miss you, but we just have to march forward and put the pain aside. I have my kids and work to keep myself occupied, so it's much easier for me to solider on although I still do get emotional every once in a while.

I know it's unbearable for Mum but she is coping the best she can, and I'm proud of her efforts to keep positive. But I think you know her best, and how empty she actually feels.

Wherever you are, I hope you've settled in nicely. Do visit us whenever you can spare time from your busy schedule - of course I know you're tied up with many projects and engagements with old friends. You're not one to be twiddling your thumbs and watching clouds drift by. You were never the idler in life, so there's no way you'll be one in the afterlife.

Here's one for the memories, Dad.

Dad's 73rd (and final) Birthday celebration

Your loving daughter always
YC


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Luther Vandross - Dance With My Father

Yesterday was Dad's 100 Day Death Anniversary.

We had a simple ceremony where prayers were chanted and there were offerings of vegetarian food and fruits. Dad would have preferred his spicy Indian dishes for sure, but we weren't allowed to bring our own food to the Ancestral Hall.

I'd dreamt of Dad again that very morning. This time, he actually asked, "Am I dead?"

Dad may be physically gone from our world but I believe he's very much alive and kicking in the spiritual realm.

Here's another song for you Dad. Very apt.




Dance with my Father

Back when I was a child
Before life removed all the innocence
My father would lift me high
And dance with my mother and me
And then
Spin me around 'till I fell asleep
Then up the stairs he would carry me
And I knew for sure
I was loved

If I could get another chance
Another walk
Another dance with him
I'd play a song that would never ever end
How I'd love love love
To dance with my father again

When I and my mother
Would disagree
To get my way I would run
From her to him
He'd make me laugh just to comfort me
yeah yeah
Then finally make me do
Just what my mama said
Later that night when I was asleep
He left a dollar under my sheet
Never dreamed that he
Would be gone from me

If I could steal one final glance
One final step
One final dance with him
I'd play a song that would never ever end
Cause I'd love love love to
Dance with my father again

Sometimes I'd listen outside her door
And I'd hear how mama would cry for him
I'd pray for her even more than me
I'd pray for her even more than me

I know I'm praying for much to much
But could you send her
The only man she loved
I know you don't do it usually
But Dear Lord
She's dying to dance with my father again

Every night I fall asleep
And this is all I ever dream

Sunday, June 19, 2016

42 Years. Minus Dad.

Today is Fathers' Day and coincidentally it falls on my birthday this year.

And it will be my first birthday in 42 years without Dad.

Sure, there were years Dad was away on business trips or on holidays with Mum, or I wasn't home during my birthdays. Back in 1991 when I was a Junior College student, I participated in the Pre University Seminar Singapore: The Next Lap and my birthday fell in the middle of that week long camp. I was residing at Sheares Hall, National University of Singapore, and I remember receiving a handwritten note during meal time to head over to the general office. Mum had called and asked them to relay a Happy Birthday message since they weren't able to spend my birthday with me.

Mobile phones and social media hadn't exploded on the scene in the 1990s and we relied heavily on old-school communication methods like snail mail and land-line telephones.

But this year, Dad won't even be physically present because we're no longer residing on the same realm.

Many countries around the world, including Singapore, set aside the third Sunday of June to honour Fathers. I did my own little research and discovered that the first ever Fathers' Day was celebrated on 19 June 1910. Since then, Fathers' Day has taken place on 19 June 16 times and if Dad was around, we'd have enjoyed a double celebration for the seventh time.

Fathers' Day usually takes a backseat in our household because Dad doesn't like to be fussed over. A card, simple meal and a token of appreciation would suffice. When the grandkids came along, the atmosphere livened up considerably. My super strict disciplinarian Dad transformed into a super doting Granddad and I couldn't believe he's the same man who'd insist I consume every edible morsel on my plate but waved his hands nonchalantly when my girls had leftovers on theirs - "Don't finish, never mind." 

Our last Fathers' Day meal was at The Mouth Restaurant, NEX. I'd brought along home-cooked porridge for Qi and I recall how Dad was amused by her antics at the dinner table because she was curious about our food. He had commented, "Very soon she'll be running around and joining her sisters." 

Little did we know that it would be our final Father's Day dinner with Dad.

Anyway, I'm in no mood to celebrate anything. Not when one of the duo responsible for my existence no longer exists. While I've never been close enough to Dad to openly pour out my woes and chat about frivolous matters, I think we do share an unspoken bond that's hard to describe. To me, he's a man of few words (because he speaks to me only when the need arises), and I'd get all nervous whenever we sit down for a heart-to-heart conversation. He'd always appeared cold, unfeeling, disapproving and stern, and I was accustomed to being chided for every little thing that angered him.

It's akin to being hauled up by the School Discipline Master and waiting to be admonished for something you've obviously done wrong but clueless about what that is. 

Despite our apparent lack of communication, Dad was always there when I needed advice for life-changing situations. And he always knew the right things to say that would make the most sense. Those were the times when his words would matter most.

While I've accepted his passing, the sense of loss can be overwhelming and I'm still prone to the occasional sob 'n' sniffle. Unlike my mum, aunts, daughters and even the hub, I hadn't dreamt of him since he left us in March. Initially I was rather upset. Why wasn't I able to see him in my dreams at all? Because he's still upset and disappointed in me after all these years?

I'd slowly begun to accept that maybe - just maybe - Dad really didn't think much of his only child, and that I was more an obligation, a responsibility to him. I don't think he'd ever told me or made me feel that he loved me.

Until early Friday morning when he appeared in my dreams.

I was walking towards an elevator and there he stood, with his back facing me. He was dressed in a collared short-sleeved shirt (dark blue?) and beige/cream pants. I called out "Hey Dad!".

He turned, spotted me, his eyes lit up and gave me a huge warm smile.

"Hel-lo!" Dad called out in his usual manner. I hugged him.

"How have you been, Dad?"

"Good, good!" he replied in his usual fashion.

"We miss you!"

And then I jolted out of bed. It was in the wee hours of Friday morning. I sat up for a while, unable to believe that Dad had (finally) appeared in my dreams. I took that as a positive sign, that he's happy where he is and he's acknowledged me. And for the rest of the day, I was glowing.

Dad and I exactly two decades ago as we celebrated my 22nd birthday
Yes, I may be in my 40s but I still feel like a child yearning for a parent's approval. In my mind, Dad's extremely difficult to please and we were at loggerheads (mostly during my teens) because I constantly believed he was disappointed with everything I did.

His brief appearance in my dreams couldn't have come at a better time. And it lessened the heartache a little.

He gave me an early surprise birthday present and that's definitely worth more than physical gifts.

Thanks Dad for remembering my birthday.

And thank you for being My Dad. Happy Fathers' Day.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Dad's demise: 12 weeks on

Two Friday evenings ago, I accompanied Mum to the NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House for the Chemistry Alumni Appreciation Dinner. I agreed as it's been two decades since my graduation and I haven't stepped foot on campus for ages.

Mum was invited to attend the dinner because she had made a donation in memory of Dad to help with the fund raising for Study Awards. (Prior to this, I never knew Dad studied Chemistry! Well, I knew he was a Science student at the Uni but that was about it.) Dad's former Chemistry tutor-turned good friend Dr Lawrence Chia often called Dad to help gather attendees for social/alumni functions. Dr Chia shared that Dad was able to effortlessly and single-handedly round up 100+ guests - such was his influence and network.

Chemistry Alumni Appreciation Dinner at NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House
We were seated at one of the VIP tables reserved for the donors and distinguished guests such as former department Heads and professors. I felt a little out-of-sorts as the room was filed with Chemistry undergraduates, alumni and faculty members. If Mum felt awkward, she didn't show any signs of it. I suppose years of accompanying Dad for his numerous business and social functions trained her well. As for me, I never liked crowds and very much prefer to mind my own business.

Hobnobbing isn't my specialty.

I'm "Ms Teo d/o Richard Teo" because Mum didn't give them my name in time for print
Midway through the dinner, Associate Professor Chin Wee Shong, one of the key fundraisers who also attended Dad's wake, asked us to receive a token of appreciation.  Mum declined to go on stage, so I took her place. Then A/P Chin announced "I would like to invite Ms Teo to receive the token of appreciation - in memory of her father - for the Teo Cher Aik, Richard Study Award."

Surreal to see Dad's name as a "Study Award"
Glassblown gift, hand-made by the Chemistry Department
As I got up to accept the gift from Professor Richard Wong, Head of the Chemistry Department, I was overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions. It was surreal. And it reminded me of Dad's absence. 

When I returned to my seat and the lady next to me, an active Chemistry alumnus who'd been chatting with us, said, "I'm sorry. I didn't know. So sorry for your loss."

Mum, who'd been stoic throughout the evening, crumbled and let out a muffled sob. The lump on my throat formed but I reminded myself that I'd to remain calm for Mum's sake. Mum excused herself to the washroom and I was left to answer questions about Dad's illness and situation. Turns out the lady also lost her first husband to Cancer and she was left to raise her three girls alone, with her youngest only ten years old at the time of his death.

At least Dad was around to get me through the key milestones in my life.

Mum realised that the lady shared mutual friends and in an effort to cheer herself up, Mum started chatting about these acquaintances. On our way home she started talking about the classmates she'd lost touch with.

I know it's not an easy period for her at all. Dad and Mum have been married 43 years and they're always together at work, on holidays, exercising etc. The house is filled with memories, and Dad's photographs are still there to remind her of their lifetime together.

If I'm finding it tough to cope with my grief, I can't begin to imagine how Mum's taking it.

As far as I can tell, Mum is putting up a brave front. But I know that's just a facade. It's a fate that we will have to experience one day. Certainly not looking forward to that.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dad's demise: eight weeks on

It's been eight weeks.

Every time I think I've got my emotions in check, I'm proven wrong.

It's the simplest things that trigger off a tsunami of tears: photos, TV shows, sports, food, books and, of course songs.

Two weeks ago, I was at my second brother-in-law's home celebrating Mothers' Day with the hub's side of the family. BIL was channel surfing during a commercial break (the whole family was glued to the TV set, watching the overly dramatic Taiwanese saga about the intertwined fates of a biscuit-making family and their cronies) till the remote control settled on the Manchester United vs Leicester City match. I immediately turned my attention to the game and threw in several comments on the missed opportunities and lame foul attempts by some players. BIL looked visibility surprised and remarked, "Eh, I didn't know you watch football also?!" to which I replied, "Ya, I used to stay up late on Saturdays to catch the games with my Dad."

And that was it. Images of Dad and I watching football matches flashed before me. Dad's favourite team? Manchester United. (Although I'm not quite sure if Dad would have approved of the current players' horrendous display of sloppiness and terrible mismanagement of the team.)

I had to hold back tears as I didn't want to openly weep in front of the family.

Those weekend TV matches were our dad-daughter bonding moments. Although I don't play football, I appreciate the game and in truth I think I forced myself to understand it because I know Dad loved it. And I really just wanted to have something in common with him to talk about.

The other sport that we both love is tennis, and unlike football, I can actually wield a racquet decently and produce a pretty lethal forehand. Credit to Dad who introduced me to the game and paid for my tennis lessons.

The only sport Dad wanted me to take up but I flatly refused (and genuinely dislike) is golf. He forced me to accompany him to the driving range a few times and I reluctantly tagged along. He was disappointed, needless to say, that I wasn't enthusiastic about golf and after a while, he totally gave up. But he would still remind me - even when I was in my 20s and 30s - that I was silly never to embrace golf like him.

Dad's a natural at sports. He was a swimmer, athlete and golfer (lots of medals and trophies to prove it). He could play most racquet games and ball games too. I've seen him bowling and even playing darts and snooker/pool. And in his later years, he became a firm believer and practitioner of Qigong and Tai Chi.

A true sportsman in every sense. His favourite athletes were the ones who embodied the true spirit of sportsmanship, and he had great respect for those who accepted defeat graciously. And these were the same principles he applied to his business and personal life.

Sometimes I still can't believe that he's no longer with us. He's been such an inspiration and major influence in my life, and I wish I told him that much earlier. I did, however, reveal this to Dad hours before he passed on. Although he appeared to be in comatose stage and couldn't respond directly to me, his erratic heartbeat slowed down and stablised considerably after I made my peace with him. I believed he heard my heartfelt confession and pardoned me for all the times I angered/disappointed him.

I couldn't sleep a few nights ago, tossing and turning till I woke up at 4.00 am. Something was troubling me and I felt the sudden urge to rummage through old photo albums. After sorting out over 20 albums in my possession I realised, most regrettably, that I have no more than 20 photos taken together with Dad.

For two reasons.

Number one: 80% of the photos feature Mum as the star model and if I'm in it, I play the role of her visibly reluctant sidekick.

Number two: Mum's way better in front of the camera than she is behind it.

Proof that Mum's photo composition skills aren't impressive. It looks presentable here because I edited it!
Honestly, I'm no camerawhore and don't quite like being photographed (which explains why I hardly take selfies). Dad's quite camera shy too but he will pose with Mum when she insists.

I gathered a few photos from the albums and promised myself that I'll spend some time salvaging the old, discoloured, scratched ones over the next few months or so. Managed to touch one up today but my Photoshop skills are truly rusty, and I took way too long. Wasn't quite pleased with the results, but will have to set this personal project aside and get back to my kids now.

Dad, I'm going to undertake this photo restoration project - not just photos of us, but that of our whole family. Doing this as a gift to my girls as well, so that they'll have a glimpse to my growing years with you and Mum, and through these photos and stories, they'll learn how you inspired me to be who I am today.

Still missing you very much.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Josh Groban - To where you are

Hey Dad

I'm not *really* a huge Josh Groban fan, but every time I hear this song, my heart shatters, the tears fall freely and I'm reminded of our loss.

Dad, this is exactly how I feel. Yes, I do miss you immensely. Who wouldn't?

Your daughter always
YC



To Where You Are

Who can say for certain?
Maybe you're still here
I feel you all around me
Your memories so clear

Deep in the stillness
I can hear you speak
You're still an inspiration
Can it be

That you are my forever love
And you are watching over me from up above?

Fly me up to where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile

If only for awhile
To know you're there
A breath away's not far
To where you are

Are you gently sleeping
Here inside my dream?
And isn't faith believing?
All power can't be seen

As my heart holds you
Just one beat away
I cherish all you gave me
Everyday

'Cause you are my forever love
Watching me from up above
And I believe that angels breathe
And that love will live on and never leave

Fly me up to where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile

If only for awhile
To know you're there
A breath away's not far
To where you are

I know you're there
A breath away's not far
To where you are

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dad's demise: four weeks on

Dad left exactly a month ago. There are moments I feel like it was just yesterday, and then other times I feel like it's been way longer.

But I can still see his face so vividly. I can hear his stern voice reprimanding me, his usual gruff "understand or not?" to mark the end of each scolding session.

How can I forget his signature scowl and trademark phrases "What a moron!", "That bugger!" etc. And the furrowed eyebrows. Classic.

Ironic that I would actually miss all of Dad's quick-tempered, hot-tempered explosions. Really, that's how I remember him best.

We didn't shared very many "dad and daughter" moments. But because these were so rare, I treasure the memories - even if 70% of the time it was me trying to avert his glare and choking back tears. Because he was such a difficult person to please, whatever I did, it didn't seem to quite match up to his expectations.

Outwardly, Dad was a strict disciplinarian who set high standards and tough rules. Naturally, I was terrified of him when I was growing up. But over the years, he's mellowed and my girls can't imagine him being such a tough parent because he's such a sweet doting granddad to them.

After almost 42 years, I finally understand his intentions and ways. That's how he expressed his care and concern. And I wished I possessed the wisdom earlier to interpret his "overbearing" behaviour. I guess Dad was just being protective and he wanted me to be "tough" so that I wouldn't be taken advantage of. He was probably worried that if I grew up soft and spoilt, I would not able to take care of myself if he's not around to watch out for me.

Dad, I'm sorry I took so long to appreciate what you've done for me. And now it's too late to tell you that.