Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fathers and Discipline

During our 'weekend away', the speaker also dwelt on discipline as we continued our study of the Book of Hebrews:

HEB 12:7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.

The speaker shared of her knowledge of Chinese families where parents give no encouragement at all to their children. If they came back with 95% on a test, they are asked what happened to the five per cent they did not attain instead of commending their children for doing well.

I understood what she said. Mother was the encourager. She was the one who checked my homework and made sure I had all my sums right. She expected me to go to university. I worried about not being able to pay tuition fees. She said, 'You just continue to work as you do. If you are really good, you'd get a scholarship.'

Father was 'somewhere else'. His normal day started at 3am. Mum always made him a hot drink and he would go to the abbatoir to pick his pig(s). Then he was at the market where he tried to sell as much as he could. At 12 noon precisely he would be knocking at the door.

He was at home most of the day, sorting out his accounts with his fingers flying over the abacus, sending mum to the bank to deposit his takings and prepare the 'float' for the next day, reading the Chinese newspapers, having his lunch, shower, sleep, as if by clockwork. But he was not actually 'there' for us children.

Till school report time. Top of the class (42 pupils), top of the form (84 pupils), 'not good enough'. 100% in this subject, 100% in that subject. 'Not good enough'. Why did you not get 100% in those other subjects? You cannot imagine the wrath I had to bear when one day, in secondary three in the formidable Raffles Girls School, I came in nearly bottom of the class. The fact that I averaged above most of the other girls in the form (400 girls) did not matter.

I used to play in the school band and sometimes brought home my instrument to practise. 'What was that? That grates on my ears.'

Sometimes I experimented with cooking. 'This is awful! It does not taste like anything.'

I write this for my nephew who said his own father (my brother) does not tell him much about his grandparents. That's perhaps because my brother did not really know my father except the 'not good enough'.

For twenty-odd years I lived with this feeling that whatever I did was 'not good enough' for my father.

Then one day while Mum was in hospital (again), and I was a research scholar at university, I bought some fish on my way home. There used to be a couple of shops along Pasir Panjang Road selling fish which have just been landed that same afternoon. I walked there from my nearby office at the university, bought a couple of fish and took them home.

Father took the fish and cooked the meal. By then he had stopped working and was happy to do the cooking especially when Mum was ill. We sat down to dinner, in silence as usual. Out of the blue he said, 'This is good fish. You chose well.'

Let's just say I quickly bent over and continued to shovel rice into my mouth with my chopsticks, tears welling up in my eyes. 'Good fish'! My father said 'Good fish', I had 'chosen well'!!!!

That must have been the first compliment he paid me for as long as I could remember.

Our relationship changed after this. One afternoon I found him in tears telling me about how he always felt he had this big, big chip on his shoulder.

In so many ways Mum had married 'down'. Grandma came from a well-to-do family and always had servants. Father was her only son-in-law who could not speak English, or had a comfortable government/office job. He always felt the other relatives looked down on him, which explains why he never joined us in visiting Grandma at Chinese New Year, until that year my brother was graduating university.

All the 'not good enough' was to spur us on to better things in life.

Would I prefer him to have been different? Sure, but as much as I remember the pain of being 'not good enough' for Father, I cannot imagine what pain he felt for all those years thinking that he was 'not good enough' for the family his wife was born into.

Still, uneducated as he was (he taught himself much of the Chinese he knew) he raised a family of six children on the strength of his own tenacity, struggled to give us a good education, and in the end made us people and professionals that any parent would be proud of.

All the best to Victor as he sits his A levels!! Aren't we blessed to have a Father in Heaven who does not think that we are 'not good enough'? And it is because we are true sons (and daughters) and not illegitimate ones that our Father chooses to discipline us.

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