Those of you who read TODAY, might have noticed that Weekend TODAY has been trying to do things a little differently in the past few months, with stories that are not on the usual news radar. P.N. Balji has been running that operation, and he had asked that I contribute a piece, something that I normally wouldn't write on.
So I wrote this one. It's very personal to me. This is a piece that I've wanted to write for quite a while now, and the timing made sense.
After my dad died...
Weekend • November 24, 2007
Siew Kum Hong
I WAS five minutes away in a taxi when my father died.
I still remember that Friday night in November 2003. It was about 7pm when I got the call. It was short and stark.
"Come home quickly, your father fell and he can't make it," my mum sobbed. She hung up without waiting for my response.
I hopped into a cab immediately.
When I was five minutes away, my mum called again. "He's dead, he's dead." The line died.
I told the cabbie my dad had died. He was stunned and didn't say a word more. I felt a little apologetic, hoping that he wasn't superstitious.
When I got home, my mum was wailing beside my dad's lifeless body. He had fallen while walking up the steps to the house. The medics and policemen stood around uncomfortably. I broke down, inconsolable.
My dad was a traditional Chinese father — stern, unaffectionate and always working. I was angry at him over some things, which I never really forgave him for. But I learnt to put that aside and to love him despite that.
That moment came during my final examinations in year three of law school. He was hospitalised for treatment, but fell and was admitted to the ICU. I did not visit him then, but went after my penultimate paper.
When I finally stepped into the ward and saw him, I sobbed. It was just such a tremendous relief to see him.
In retrospect, I'm glad it happened. It was probably the first time he, and my mum, saw how much he meant to me. I also realised that at such times, what he had done before was irrelevant.
Perhaps my greatest regret in life to date was that I could not fulfil his last wish. One morning, as he drove me to the MRT station, he told me that his only unfulfilled wish in life was to see me get married.
He had seen everything else: his children graduating from university and getting good jobs, my brother and sister getting married, my brother giving him grandchildren.
I didn't know what to say. At the time, marriage looked improbable. So, I gave the only response that an uncomfortable child could — a non-committal grunt.
I'm still unmarried. But maybe if he had lived just a few more years, he would have been proud of me. I think he would have been immensely pleased by my appointment as a NMP.
Another major regret was not spending more time with him. In a way, that continues today, because I still don't spend enough time with my mum.
But I know I could certainly be a better son to her and from time to time I resolve to do better.
Some of that is attributable to the demands of today's working world. I was in private practice back then and I frequently treated home like a hotel, leaving for work in the morning and returning late at night. I could go days without seeing another family member.
I don't think that's uncommon for young people. But I wonder about my peers, who are getting to the age when parents are beginning to fall sick and die.
Are they aware that they have only so much time with their parents? Do they understand the compromises represented by long hours in the office?
And do they understand that by the time they do, it might be too late — as it was with me?
Too often, people are so caught up with their careers that they miss out on other things in life, such as family.
Many complain about long working hours — especially in recent times with the booming economy — but they seem to forget that they have a choice.
They should take a step back and take stock of where they are, what they are doing and if they want to continue down that path. If they do, then more power to them. But at least make it an informed choice.
I made that choice. I gave up a successful practice to become a corporate counsel. I make much less now, but I would never give up my time with loved ones, or my activities outside of work, to go back to that never-ending treadmill.
As the years passed, I've come to terms with my dad's death.
Yes, I do have regrets. Still, his children are his legacy and I am comforted by the belief that he would be proud of us if he were alive today.
The writer is a Nominated Member of Parliament and corporate counsel, writing in his personal capacity. His father passed away in November 2003.