It was my dad’s birthday yesterday. His 64th, to be exact. I didn’t buy him anything. Neither did we go out to celebrate.
My father doesn’t believe in celebrating birthdays. I suspect birthdays weren’t grand affairs in his family of eight kids when he was young. Why else the wrinkled, disapproving mug when refusing my invitation to organise a rare family dinner? I don’t think it’s mere modesty.
All he said were, “I just don’t want” and “You organise for Mummy’s birthday lah.” That’s it.
In his room are birthday and Christmas presents from my sis/bro-in-law and I from years ago; some shirts still in their plastic wraps. He is not into fashion. While the culture of gifts has always been en vogue, he doesn’t buy into it; hardly any of it.
The birthday presents I remember receiving from him as a kid were watercolours, oil pastels and poster colours—practical things to help you advance in school (or at least in art class). No big presents for milestone years. No big fat angpaus for scoring A’s. No bribery. (He did, however, get me my third guitar which I, uh, unfortunately broke.) 😦
Sometime early this year, a few incidents helped me to be mindful of my parents’—and in particular my father’s—mortality. As my parents age, I am saddled with the responsibility of a grown-up daughter. For the most part, I don’t do much. I don’t pay rent. Or help with the bills. Instead, a small amount of cash out of my monthly salary has so far acted as ‘compensation’ for taking care of me all these years. Thinking about the ‘what if’s’ sobered me a little.
So what is one refused invitation for a family dinner together? My father does not want us to fuss over him. He doesn’t even relate very well to us. Yet despite his failings as a father—and all fathers are failed humans, as are mothers, children and grandparents—he has provided for the family the best he could. Not in the same way other fathers would. But in his own way, faithfully, yes.