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The Father I Will Never Be

We recently went on a holiday to Fraser's Hill, one of the less-visited places in Malaysia. For Sue and I, this is a place that is filled with memories. It was, for her, a childhood oasis, a place where her family would visit year after year, and build many precious memories together. It was, for me, a special place where I visited with a band of dear brothers during our university days, and where we set a stake in the ground, to declare that we wanted to surrender all of our days to the glory of God. It was, for Sue and I, the location of our honeymoon, the place where we enjoyed our first few days of marital bliss; the place where we chiselled our marriage covenant and planned for our future as one. 
This is how I remember Fraser's Hill. Shrouded in mist and somewhat mysterious; a grand legacy of days gone by.
I remember my first visit there as a single young man, not yet a quarter of a century old, but yet imbued with the desire to be the best father I could be should I get married one day. I was with a good friend at the only waterfall in Fraser's Hill, and he was skipping stones across the body of water. I tried to follow him, but failed miserably. My friend then disclosed that he had learnt how to skip stones from his father when he was young, and that he always cherished those precious memories. I told him I wished my father had also taught me how to skip stones. But in actuality, it was not skipping stones I desired, it was the presence of a father, someone to teach me to do all the things that normal boys do. I never learnt how to play soccer, I never learnt how to fix a light bulb, I never learnt how to care for a car.

The pain of an absent father haunted me all my life; from the moment my parents separated at the age of 3, all the way through my childhood and adolescence, and also during my early adulthood years. It is still haunting me now. 

I am on the verge of completing my postgraduate studies in counselling, and one of my last assignments is to write a paper on a traumatic issue and how it has affected me throughout my life. I chose to write on my parents' separation and divorce. This is an extract from my paper, on a self-defeating pattern that has emerged as a result of the divorce:

"There is much societal expectation that husbands and fathers need to be able to perform physical tasks. For instance, husbands are expected to help their wives in the house such as by fixing light bulbs and repairing spoilt appliances. As for fathers, they are expected to be the ones who are involved in the teaching of children in physical activities such as sports. I feel inadequate in both these aspects, and often feel incapacitated when expected to perform such tasks. This has led me to believe that my inability to perform such physical tasks has affected my ability to be a good husband and father."

I tried skipping stones many times since I first attempted to do so in Fraser's Hill so many years ago. But each time I tried to skip the stone, instead of gliding gracefully across the waters, the stone would fall unceremoniously with a "plop" in the water; and my heart would sink, along with my hopes of ever teaching my sons how to skip stones.

My two sons are so different from me. Unlike their father, they love sports and everything to do with the outdoors. My older son sprints like lightning each time he races in the fields; and my younger son could almost pass off as a champion gymnast, even at a tender age of 5/1/2. In contrast, I was the boy who struggled year after year to pass his 2.4 kilometre run; the child who fell from the monkey bars at the age of 14, and ended up with his left hand in a bandaged cast.
E is a natural climber. He has been practising back home snaking his way up lamp posts,
car roofs and other urban jungle elements.
In counselling, we are taught to ask four questions that would help us understand and help our client. The questions are: 1) What is troubling the client? 2) What is causing the problem? 3) What is missing? and 4) What is needed? 

If I was to answer Question 4 with myself as the client, part of my answer would be as what I have written in my paper:

If I want to re-write my trauma script of being abandoned by my father without a healthy role model to follow, I have to change my mindset and alter the self-defeating patterns that have been wrecking havoc inside me. I have to choose to change my perspective that I cannot do any physical tasks because of my father’s absence. While this may not be easy for me, but I do believe that I have already been trying to do more physically challenging tasks; even if these may cause me to feel frustrated. I also need to change the notion that I become a good husband and father only when I embark on physical tasks. I do know that I try to be a good husband and father in other areas, and this should be sufficient; in other words I need to tell myself not to conform to societal expectations of what a good husband and father should be. 

We will always be plagued with the traumatic events of our past unless we choose to re-write our trauma script, and to replace it with a new mental and emotional framework. 

I know I will never be the father who takes his son to the soccer pitch each week to practice how to kick and score a goal. I will never be the father who takes apart a household appliance or gadget, and shows his son how to put it back together again. I will never be the father who sits next to his son and talks to him about all the different types of cars and identifies which is the fastest or the coolest.

But I know I will be the father who spends time each evening to play a board game or two with his son. I will be the father who takes time to massage his son, and to help him soothe his aching muscles. I will be the father who spends time with his son to cook up a picnic breakfast together, and then to take him out for a long walk in the park. 
Being a father is about moments; about memories; about cherishing each and every moment with our children.
And I know I will be the father who teaches his son about bullies and helps him learn to resolve his own battles. I will be the father who corrects the mistakes made by his son, and encourages him to choose the right thing even when everyone says otherwise. I will be the father who is there with his son in good times and in bad; to celebrate and to affirm, but also to comfort and to hug.

I will never be the father who is deemed perfect in terms of societal achievements and social expectations.

But I will be the father who walks with his son day by day; the father who picks his son up when he falls, and most importantly, the father who directs his son to God.
What all has been said and done, it is our relationships that are the most important; and as a father, my one desire is for my
children to know God and make His name known.


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