My mom’s birthday was 2 days ago on the 13th of February. It must have been nice for her to have a birthday just before Valentine’s Day for I am sure those days before the creeping Islamization of Malaysia, my parent must have celebrated it. So she should be getting one present for her birthday and another one for Valentine’s Day, how lovely. I don’t know, I never asked. And on the next day it is my Dad’s birthday. What a coincidence. Those were the days, the happy days.
So on my Dad’s birthday that is today, I gave him a customary call. You know just to find out how he’s doing. You see, my parent is divorced ever since I was 9 and he moved on to have a new family with a new wife. I got a step sister from that marriage, who I rarely meet, naturally. My Dad is quite old now, well in his 60s now. By right he should be resting and enjoying life after retirement right about now. Unfortunately he’s not relaxing at home occasionally looking after his grandchildren like he should be at the moment. Instead he’s working for this islamic charity organisation who seeks donation for wakafs (the dedication of a property by a person through a will or otherwise for religous purposes or for charitable purposes). You know how you sometimes see some old man setting up stalls in public places to collect alms or entice people to give to that purpose? Yeah my old man is doing that right now for a living.
Not that I am ashamed of him or anything. I am sad more than anything. I consider my Dad as something of a role model. A role model of what not to be or to do in life. My family’s history is long and complicated but let make it brief here. You see my Dad had a steady job as a plantation manager in a government-linked company right after he finishes college. He met Mom at the same college but ironically she didn’t finish her studies for some reason. After a while he asked her hand in marriage and then after 5 years there’s 4 of us siblings. We had everything that a well-to-do middle class family could ask for then. A steady job and income. We had a nice home in Cheras and I was about to go to school at S.K Jalan Peel nearby had things not changed (the school’s registration was still stamped on my birth certificate until now).
For some reason, my Dad felt adventurous and decided to leave his comfy and steady job and start a business. A laundry business some more. Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing you know, starting a business, people do it all the time. Some might even do well and achieve many great things in their life. But my Dad, unfortunately is not cut out for the business world. After resigning from his job, investing all his savings and borrowing a substantial amount of money from the bank, his laundry business went bust. I recall Mom telling me we had to pay our single employee at that time in one ringgit denominations and coins towards the end. Eventually my Dad was declared bankrupt and we had to sell a lot of things to pay to the bank. Our decent car and most of all our nice home in Bandar Tun Razak, Cheras. To make things worse, my Mom’s brother was one of the guarantor for the bank loans so you can imagine the humiliation she felt when things went south.
As the months past, our financially situation didn’t really turn for the better. My Mom for once was fed up of living in hardship and the stigma of bankruptcy, decided to leave my Dad and return to her hometown in Pasir Mas to live with her mother. It’s almost like a classic malay drama story. I remember vividly like it was only yesterday how we walked from the Pasir Mas train station that fateful morning together with my siblings towards my grandma’s house with nothing much in tow. Lucky for us, it was only like 2 miles away. Little that I know, I would spend the rest of my childhood there until I finish high school. My Dad, he didn’t come along to join us though. I suspect my Mom would have liked him to stay away and fix the mess he created. As the years goes by, my Dad somewhat recovered from that dark episode in his life and managed to secure a steady job. In agriculture of course, what else. It’s what he does best. It’s not for lack of trying and he did tried a few times to get our little family back together again. I remember he came to visit us once or twice a year and tried to reconcile with Mom. Somehow Mom can’t seem to find a space to welcome that man into her life again. Much to our despair, she and my Dad formally divorced in some time in 1989 (I think). I remembered that year very well because I got third place in school for the final exam.
As I mentioned, Dad moved on a got himself a new little family of his own after that. Even my Mom secretly married another man, a senior teacher who already had a family of his own. You heard that right, my Mom actually became somebody’s second wife. The first wife was naturally not so thrilled with that arrangement. I don’t know what she did but my Mom’s second marriage didn’t last for more than I year a think. She became a single divorcee again from then on until I went to college.
As fate would have it, I went to the same college that my parent went to in Serdang, Selangor. In fact my two other siblings also went to the same college later on. Despite the absence of a father figure and not much financial support from Dad, my Mom did a remarkable job of raising all 4 of us siblings until we all graduated. Sure I graduated 10 years too late but the point is, Mom did it all on her own, with the meagre earning she earns as a teacher. I don’t know maybe she finally felt lonely without a man in his life but one day she came up with this surprising if not crazy plan of reuniting with my Dad again. My Dad by that time in the early 2000s managed to climb out of the financial ruin almost 2 decades earlier, went on to get a steady job and a respectable position (as a plantation manager, what else) and were living happily with his new family. When my Mom brought up the idea I was naturally excited and keen to see our family reunited again after all these years. Finally we can have a normal family and parent like everyone else. But life of course, had other plans for us.
Since pretty much everybody in my immediate family had no objection to Mom marrying Dad again, they were remarried some time in 2002. As Dad is still based in Johore at that time, he had to regularly commute from JB to Serdang every other week. And you know what? His other wife had no idea that his husband is now married again to his first wife. At least not at first. And when she finally found out, all hell break loose.
My stepmother is one of a kind. Once she found out Dad is married again to Mom, she did everything she could to ruin my Dad’s life, ruin our life there in Serdang and indirectly ruin her life as well as her daughter’s life. To say that she’s a stepmother from hell would be an understatement. Somehow she got hold of my Mom’s phone number, my siblings’ and I phone numbers, even my grandma’s back home number and started hurling abuses and profanities at us with every single call. She even shamelessly send poisonous letters with obscene drawings just to spite us. That went on for a few months. To be honest, as much as we hate her for doing that to us, you’ve got to see it from her perspective too. There she was living happily with my Dad and her daughter and suddenly one day she’s sharing his love (and wealth) with another woman and her children. That’s enough to drive some people crazy, no?
Not content with hurling abuse and profanities at us, my stepmother did something even crazier that ultimately led to my Dad’s downfall. Somehow she managed to convince his boss to fire my Dad. I don’t know whether she personally went berserk at the office or something to make him fire Dad but unemployed my Dad she did got. After that incident, Dad was understandably mad at her insane actions and decided to leave her altogether and come live with us in Serdang. That should be the beginning of something wonderful right? The family back together again and all. Alas it was not to be.
In spite of his wealth of experience, Dad struggled to get another job fitting his qualifications. Maybe it’s his age or other factors, possibly the economy but Dad failed to get another respectable or steady job within the plantation industry until this very day. It even come to the point that he had to sell nasi lemaks in the mornings in front of Central Market to make ends meet. That was possibly the lowest point in his life. Mom then had no choice but to became the sole breadwinner in the house, at least until Dad gets a decent job. And believe me he tried. As months goes by, we come to see history repeating itself. My parent’s second honeymoon period was well and truly over and with the pressure of being the single provider for the family, it didn’t take long for Mom and Dad to fight and argue again. Things gradually turn for the worse until one day Dad packed a few of his most prized possessions and go running back to his other family. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him.
We rarely get to see him again after that except for once or twice a year, during Hari Raya especially. All that while Mom and Dad was still married but in reality they’re just as divorced and separated as they were a few decades earlier. I wish Dad would do the honorable thing and let my Mom go in a dignified and respectful manner but no, he didn’t lift a finger or show up once during the fasakh divorce proceeding. Yes Mom had to literally fight her way to divorce herself from Dad, again. It was a rather painful memory for all of us to see our family broken to pieces again. But one thing time does well is heal. Mom recovered from this second painful episode in her marriage with Dad and went on to achieve great things in her career. Right now she is retired and enjoying the fruits of her labour by jetsetting and holidaying around the world with her savings and pensions money. It could have been the two of them holidaying abroad together but it was not meant to be.
As I said, I look up to Dad as a role model of what not to be in life. I learned some very valuable lessons from him like not to quit your day job to pursue pipe dreams or learn how to control your crazy spouse better and not let her ruin your career and your life. Dad made some terrible, life-changing decisions in his life that let him to the state he’s in today and I’ll be damned to repeat those same mistakes as he did. Am I being harsh too him? Maybe. Should I’ve done more to help him now that he has no one else to turn to? Probably. But every time I thought of giving or helping him in one way or another, my evil stepmother came into the picture. Why should I help the person who single-handedly ruined our family and our lives. Every cent I give to Dad half will go to that woman. Yes I’m mature enough to be on speaking terms with her whenever we meet but deep down inside, I don’t think I could ever forgive her for everything that she’s done to us.
It was not my intention to bore you with the story of my life here nor do I think I did justice for everyone involved with my storytelling. Sometimes letting it all out gives me that liberating feeling for something that I have kept pretty much to myself all these years. Hopefully the day will come when I could put this all behind me and do the right thing.