Monday, August 13, 2007

If only ...

In the Star Online Sunday Metro, there’s a lovely article titled The cartoonist’s ‘mini zoo’, which carries a special meaning for me.

It’s in the subtext that strikes a chord in my heart.

While the feature tells about a boy’s keenness in his hobby of keeping many pets, even exotic ones, the real story (for me anyway) shows a supportive father, one who shares his son’s interest and obviously to some extent, pampers the young lad.

I didn’t have such a supportive father. In fact mine was against pets or anything he reckoned a young boy shouldn’t be wasting his precious time on.

For my father, idleness is next to evilness.

Leaving meals, ablution, bodily constitutional and sleep aside (and those must only be at approved or reasonable times), I was expected to be always doing something productive, in accordance with his assessment of course.

Even before I reached 5 to 6 years old, I wouldn’t be tolerated sitting around doing nothing, or worse, engaged unproductively in activities like making idle chitchat or looking at comics (neighbour's), and no, there was no such thing as a TV in my house.

To be more precise, there were only 2 choices available to me – school homework or be employed on some form of chores detailed by him.

Of course he set a good example – he was a very hardworking and diligent person both in the office and at home. But to be honest, somehow that didn’t quite inspire me, if you know what I mean – bearing in mind I was a very very young laddie then.

Many were the times, without any warning, he came suddenly on to me, demanding to know what I was doing. Unlike today’s children I didn’t have the nerve to pretend that I was about to embark on some homework, and so invariably ended up weeding the garden, sweeping, cleaning, watering his fruit trees, disposing of the garbage or performing a zillion other tasks that 6 year old kids like me hated.

Hmmm, I wonder what he would have made of stuff like Playstation 2 if he were still alive.

My father didn’t understand or know of positive motivation like praises or encouragements, but he knew plenty about negative reinforcements –no, let’s not discuss that ;-)

But stuff like keeping pets was a no-no. On top of his stern Spartan-like approach to and in life, he was a staunch Buddhist who believed that animals (he couldn’t differentiate between traditionally domesticated pets like goldfish and wildlife like birds) must not be restrained by man, especially young boys – he felt that was cruel.

One day he found out I kept a goldfish behind the outdoor toilet (we were living in a kampong where we used the typical dunny (toilet some distance from house). He didn’t say a single word to me but summoned my mum whence he then issued an instruction for me to release my pet into the nearby village stream.

I tried desperately, with tears in my eyes, to explain to mum that the goldfish wouldn’t survive the predators in the stream like eels, turtles and the larger fish.

But HE had spoken and HE should be obeyed.

Thus I read the article with a certain feeling – that if only things were different. But ;-) we move on, though with always an eye cast towards the past ... as if hoping ... alas (sigh).


  1. Hi KT,
    You sure had a tough childhood, even if it sounded OK in material terms.

    There is a strong school of thought among psychologists that many dysfunctional psychological problems in adults have their roots in unresolved childhood fears and conflicts....

    The prosecution rests its case.....just kidding...

  2. oh KT, this is the first time you seems to be so open, so personal (right?). thanks for sharing.

    reminds me of my late dad too. a stern and fierce dad but one whom i always went to watch the movies with, and telling us lots of chinese legend stories! perhaps one day i will write about him too.