04 August 2013

Good Dad Poor Dad

Just returned from the cremation ceremony of my second uncle; my father is the youngest of four brothers. Let's just call this second uncle "Lao Er" (meaning number two). I heard many stories about uncle Lao Er from my parents, he was both a heavy smoker and gambler, and his gamble was on 4D and TOTO. I also heard that he can spend hundreds of dollars in a week on gambling.

When uncle Lao Er was still around, he was earning about 500 Singapore dollars a month, I'm not sure if his wife is working. My uncles and aunties would sometimes chip in some money for him, but I heard he would spend it on gambling almost immediately. He and his wife were living in a 2-room flat rented from the government, I heard they paid 100+ a month. He has a son and a daughter, his daughter is married and seems to be doing fine, his son is not doing so well. Let's call his son Ah Boy.

Among the 4 brothers, uncle Lao Er was the most worst off, he used to own a 3 or 4-room HDB flat, I remember when I was young, I visited him with my parents every year during Chinese New Year (CNY). I also remember there was once when I was at my grandma's house during CNY, and that was like 18 or 20 years ago, I saw Ah Boy and he was carrying a helmet, smiling to me, he was putting on his socks and was leaving with a girl, I think it was his girlfriend, that was the first and last time I saw him, until recently after his father passed away. I can never forget that image of him smiling at me.

In between this long period of time, I heard many stories about Ah Boy from my parents. The first one was Ah Boy's 3 years of imprisonment. He was arrested and prosecuted for loan sharking and assault. Uncle Lao Er sold his HDB flat and hired a lawyer for Ah Boy, they ended up losing everything.

Then my parents heard from my grandma that Ah Boy was beaten up by cops, and broke his spine. After a few years, I heard that Ah Boy was released from prison, I sort of felt glad. I'm not sure how long it was but next news I heard he was back in prison for loan sharking again. This cycle went on for a long time, it was only in recent 2 or 3 years that Ah Boy finally got back on track. I heard from my father that he is now learning how to cook, trying to pick up a skill.

I also heard from my parents that when Ah Boy was a small boy, grandma and uncle Lao Er doted on him a lot, maybe too much, and there were many times when Ah Boy refused to eat, uncle Lao Er would buy fizzy drinks for Ah Boy. In those Kampong (village) days, having a fizzy drink on the dinner table was a big deal, that's according to my mother. My parents would never do that, if I refused to eat, they would probably slap me to death. I grew up not understanding why my parents were so harsh on me, but as I heard more about Ah Boy, I started to get it.

Ah Boy is now living in a rented place, I heard from my parents that he is doing odd jobs, not earning much and he doesn't have any money for the funeral, and it was so sudden, uncle Lao Er passed away in the middle of the night. Many friends and relatives attended the funeral and gave Pek Kim (white gold, a token sum to help family of the deceased) and good thing is at the end of the whole thing, it was enough to cover all the costs. I tried my best and gave 50 dollars, but felt that I should have given more, he is my elder cousin after all.

Uncle Lao Er left peacefully, but he died a very poor man, his life could have been so much better, if only Ah Boy would realize earlier how fortunate he was, maybe everything would have been so different, but then again, it's never too late to repent, I was once like him, always getting into trouble with the law, only difference was my father decided not to shield me from the rain and shine, he left me to fend for myself, and I learned everything the hard way and managed to get back on track early.

Looking at Ah Boy felt like looking at an alternate me, sometimes I wonder where I would be right now if my father was always protecting me. I can only say being a dad is not easy.

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