Ode to a father

I have loved him for 31 years. Perhaps longer; if you believe in that sort of thing.

He has been with me at every step, at every turn, allowing for failure and celebrating my success.

And as I walked with him all these years, I inherited many lessons. Some came easy, others were painful and hard-earned.

From him, I learnt compassion. At five, I saw it in his geniality to all manner of strangers. It did not matter if you were a CEO or a cleaner — my father would speak to you in exactly the same warm way. At 31, I understand it isn’t only in the manner you relate to others. Instead, compassion is a deep understanding of human condition; a knowledge that we are all flawed, and no status or amount of gold makes us any better than the other. And from compassion stems a great many other things: forgiveness, love, bravery, and so forth.

From him, I learnt how to forgive. At five, I knew this only as a big hug after punishment. Growing up, I realized the ease at which he forgave came from unconditional love (of a parent), which transcended all the ways I had hurt him. And I knew, even then when I knew nothing else as a child, that it would go on for the rest of our lives. At 31, I know he is only capable of unconditional love and forgiveness because he has the source of it — God — in his heart. For he is loved, so too he loves.

From him, I learnt generosity. At five, I knew it as time spent together — and he never, ever, ran out of it, especially when I was concerned. Growing up, I saw him share the knowledge he had accumulated over the years with everyone who was willing to listen and learn — never, ever fearful that he would become obsolete or irrelevant. I admired this trait, because I’ve met very few individuals who are as secure in themselves. At 31, I understand that generosity doesn’t only come in the form of time or knowledge. I see it in the selfless way my father gives to the less fortunate. He is never too tired, too old, too poor or too busy to love anyone else.

From him, I learnt to love the ocean. At five, I knew it as playtime, where only endless joy existed. The world spun in technicolor, and nothing seemed impossible. At 31, I know it is really a need for wide open spaces. It is the need to feel granular in a much larger world, because sometimes, what feels impossible is oppressive.

From him, I learnt to love sunshine. At five, it usually accompanied playtime. It was the feel of warmth of the sun on the skin; a soft reminder that you lived and breathed. At 31, it has become about relishing the beauty life hands you even it if is only for a fleeting moment. It is the lack of resentment even when it passes, and doesn’t emerge again for some time.

From him, I learnt the value of hard work. At five, I only knew it meant he worked different hours: shift work, they called it. On weekends, his hands were always busy — sawing, sanding and lacquering, over and over — and appreciated his dedication to home building. He never, not for a moment, not once, stood still. At 31, I know it isn’t just about the act of labor — it is the practice of patience and perseverance through difficulty. It is the resulting pride from a job well done — a gift no one was able to take away.

From him, I learnt a sense of justice. At five, I knew it as his raised voice or a disapproving look. I saw the difference between what was considered “right” and “wrong”. I memorized these, as if from a textbook, until they worked their way into my gut, and over the years, cemented there. At 31, I understand it is not only about just action, but also bravery — to be able to admit my own faults, and to speak up in the face of wrongdoing.

From him, I learnt my worth. At five, I knew I was precious to him. How could I not? As I grew older, I continued to believe my value to family was a birthright. At 31, I realize that we are never owed our value; it is something we have to earn. Not through money or power — for these fade — but by being a light onto others.

I’ve inherited so much from my father. But beyond these values, he has taught me the greatest thing my heart will ever know, more than I can express with mere words — love. More than that, how to love.

This I will keep within the depths of my heart, to store for always.

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