Friday, September 17, 2010

Never Give Up (Remembering My Father)

TITLE: Never Give Up (Remembering My Father)
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 17 Sep 2010

MAIN POINT: Honoring my father with memories.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

I buried my father last week. On an uneventful Wednesday morning, he breathed his last peaceful breath and went home to be with the Lord on September 1st. When I first received the news, my family and I were on a cruise to Alaska with my mum and mother in law. Thanks to a determined travel agent friend, the news was relayed to us on the ship when we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Frankly, I never realized what it really means to be ‘lost at sea’ until that day, literally and emotionally. With no way to rush home quickly, except through expensive helicopters over the seas of Alaska, I was humbled with utter helplessness.

Stunned, I struggled whether to tell my mum. Silly fears and imagination convinced me to keep the news from her for a few more days. Let her enjoy the rest of the cruise and the Alaskan landscape. She deserved it after being my dad’s primary caregiver for so many years.

Praying together with my wife and children kept us strong. Strangely, my children seemed to hold up better than I do. Maybe it was because they were not as close to their grandpa in his final years. Maybe they were already prepared in their hearts, having seen his condition a few months ago. While my family toggled between grief and relief (he is a stroke patient), we could not but feel deeply saddened about losing him. It is one thing to be prepared for his passing. It is yet another to actually go through it.

I told my mum on the second last day of the cruise. The best holiday of her life had been rudely interrupted.

A) The Funeral
I flew back to Malaysia immediately the day after the ship docked back in Vancouver. My mum spent an additional day with the grandchildren.

I arrived with sadness as the overarching background. My body systems practically shut down. I would get headaches, perhaps from the lack of sleep. I would wake up during strange hours due to the jet-lag effect after flying nearly 20 hours across the Pacific. I had little desire for food. Instead I fought back tears every morning prior to the actual burial. At the wake, one thing is clear: We want to honour our father with our presence. Taking turns throughout the day and night, my brothers and I kept a vigil to watch and pray.

The whole process was slow, painful and noisy. The funeral parlour where the wake was held is a public one shared by people of different religions. On the first night, our neighbour, a Buddhist family and some monks chanted with microphones and loudspeakers. It was hard to listen to our voices singing hymns. The speaker had to compete with the monks as he shared a word of comfort from the Bible. I told myself that we needed to be tolerant. We needed to appreciate the multi-religious makeup of this largely Muslim country. At the same time, I would be saying inside my head:
“Can't you just lower the volume on your speakers?”

One comfort I had is to share the grieving with loved ones. The other was to dance with nostalgia when I visit eating places my dad used to frequent. We hugged. We wept. We talked about our good and bad days with my father.

My father is a simple man, and not difficult to get along with (though my mum will dispute that). A one-dish meal is more than sufficient for him.  He is quiet and says very little about his inner thoughts. I delivered a eulogy on the final night of the wake during the Christian service conducted by elders and pastors from the local church my parents attend.

B) The Hard Years of Survival
My father was born in Malaysia in the midst of WWII. Times were hard. During the war years, struggling to survive and to stay alive is very much the normal way of life. The early years of hardship prepared him to be more resilient and independent from a young tender age. After all, there weren’t many people to turn to when nearly everyone is plodding away as well. The fears, doubts, and the lack of help at that time can be easily described as follows:
“If I help you, who will help me?”
In a every-man-for-himself world, life becomes an unhappy race for survival. Fortunately, my father made a conscious decision to do something about this.

After the War, my father ventured down South to neighbouring Singapore. Armed with only a Grade 3 education, a few belongings (he had little), but lots of courage and entrepreneurial drive, he got himself into the construction business. His determination to succeed enabled him to break through barriers like never before. He received big contracts. He made shrewd entrepreneurial decisions. He married my mum.

The pendulum swings from survival to success. The turnaround has just begun.

C) Fruits of Success & Agony of Failure
As a young boy, it feels good to be chauffeured to school by my dad’s personal driver. Almost every other year, my father changes the family car in order to keep up with the business image expected by his customers. Hard work and shrewd business decisions provide a comfortable life for my mum and the children. We have four square meals and a roof over our heads. I get to go to school. I wish things have remained that way. That is not to be.

For the nasty pendulum swings again, this time for the worse.

The property and construction industry entered into a terrible depression in the 70s. Many people suffered. Companies went belly up. My father became a bankrupt. For an entrepreneur, taking risks is a norm. Great gains and great losses are strange bedfellows. In good times, we would be riding on BMWs and Mercedes’. In bad times, we even have to borrow money to sustain a humble Japanese sedan.

Blame the economic climate. Blame the unscrupulous business partners. Blame the pendulum of life that does not stay still, especially on the good end.

Wealth matters were soon overshadowed by health concerns. Not long after, doctors discovered a tumor growing inside my father’s brain. The prognosis is not good: 3 years they said. He exceeded these projections by more than 30 years.

D) Honoring My Father’s Fighting Spirit
I do not know how my father did it, but he proved to us one thing: A fighting spirit. An attitude that says: “Never give up. Always get back up.
  • He was bankrupted not once, but twice; but he got up.
  • When the business doors of Singapore closed on him, he got up by opening the doors of neighboring Malaysia in JB.
  • When everyone else says the property market is doomed, my father got up to prove his critics wrong.
  • Twice he suffered strokes; still he got up to survive, even able to flip the TV remote control on his own.
  • Many times he endured humiliation from living in a bungalow to living in a single room. (I still remember when we moved to JB from Singapore, how difficult life was. The whole family would be staying in one room. I have no place to study except on the narrow balcony of the room overlooking a noisy highway.) He got up from this humble room, and went on own a house, title deed and all.

My father will be very angry to see any of his children complaining about life instead of doing something about it. I can imagine him repeating a rebuke like Jesus to the lame man in John 5:

“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!”

My father didn’t do a lot of miracles like Jesus did. He just picked himself up, his own mat and he walked. He is not one who easily gives up. Instead, each time he falls, he would get up and try again.

This reminds me of the spiritual masters. The secret to spiritual growth is like this:

“I fall down. I get up. I fall down. I get up. I fall down again. I get up again.”

My dad did exactly that. My father got up again and again.

E) A Final Farewell
Since his early years of hardship, my father has pledged he would never allow the next generation to suffer the same manner he suffered. He would make sure his children gets the security, the education and the needed roof over their heads under any circumstances. I pledge to continue this legacy.

Most importantly, his fighting spirit tells me not to succumb to the erratic swings performed by the pendulum of life. Why should we let our moods be dictated by mysterious pendulums to define happiness in terms of survival or success? No. We have Christ. My father may not have been a religious man to fervently proclaim Christ in his lifetime. Yet, he does what a good father would have done: Love his family. That in itself is doing the will of God.

I recall the words of the former Anglican Archbishop in Western Australia, George Appleton.

“Death is part of the future for everyone. It is the last post of his life and the reveille of the next. Everywhere men fear death – it is the end of our present life, it is parting from loved ones, it is setting out into the unknown. We overcome death by accepting it as the will of a loving God; by finding Him in it. Death, like birth, is only a transformation, another birth. When I die I shall change my state, that is all. And in faith in God, it is as easy and natural as going to sleep here and waking up there.”
(George Appleton, Journey For a Soul, Glasgow: Fount, 1979, p53)

Finally, I take comfort in the words of Paul writing to the Church in Rome.

“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:8-9)

In true fashion, if my father can say anything right now, he would be saying to his family, and all his loved ones:

“After burying me, grieve if you need to. Cry if you have to. Mourn if you want to. But after that, get up. Pick up your mat and walk. “

My youngest brother wrote in his Facebook these words the day my father passed away. “If I can, I will gladly be your son again.

Together with him, I echo this exact sentiment. My brothers, my mum, my aunties and all family members, if there is one lesson my father wants us to learn: “Never give up. Always get back up.”

I will remember you. May I honor you to continue this fighting spirit you have shown to never give up. You do not have to get up again. Christ will do that for you.

Your son.


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