My dad loved me in his own language, even when I couldn’t understand it
Debra Wong // June 10, 2018, 7:16 pm
On my study table is an old postcard that was sent from Holland. It was addressed to me 25 years ago, when I had barely learned to talk and was left in the care of some relatives.
My mum and dad were in Holland at that time. My dad was there for a year for studies and my mum was visiting him for a month. Mum said that my father survived on barely cooked rice and whatever he could find on sale at the local farmer’s market.
In the postcard he’d sent me it says: “Papa is in Holland now. Be a good girl and listen to your grandmother. Love, Papa.”
That postcard is precious to me. It’s one of the few pieces of written evidence where my dad has directly expressed his love for me because for the rest of my childhood, I don’t remember him saying it ever again.
They say I take after my dad in both strength and weakness alike. From him, I inherited a love for knowledge and a penchant for words, but also a trademark stubbornness, a short fuse and a penchant for refusing to admit wrongs.
Seeing all these familiar traits show up in me probably startled my dad – from as early as I can remember he was always harsher with me than my sister. I was caned more, punished more, yelled at more.
So ever since I started going to school, I thought that my dad was on a life-long mission to make me miserable.
In kindergarten, my father made me write down the names of 10 boys and 10 girls that I’d talked to each month, all because I wasn’t socialising enough. He enrolled me in a Chinese primary school against my will because he wanted his children to be able to communicate with our grandparents.
When I eventually excelled in my studies, he showed little enthusiasm: “Character growth is more important, and you lack character,” he would always say.
As a teenager, I fought all the time with him. He had something to say about every aspect of my life – my lack of friends, my selfishness and pride, my lack of love towards God.
He was the epitome of the typical “Asian dad”, one who provided for my needs but was rarely affectionate. He never told me I was beautiful or treated me as “daddy’s little girl”, even though I craved his affirmation so badly.
And so I grew up resenting my dad. I promised myself as a young girl that when I was of age, I would marry someone who was the exact opposite of my dad – someone who showered me with affection and encouragement, who listened patiently instead of criticising.
It wasn’t only until much later in my young adulthood that I realised that my dad wasn’t out to get me. He loved me, but just didn’t know how to express it in the ways I wanted him to express it.
My father grew up in a family where money was hard to come by. The idea of a loving mum and dad was alien to him – both his parents worked to support the family, leaving him and his siblings in the care of their strict grandfather.
As a result, my dad had no concept of affection, encouragement or love to model his parenting on.
But what he did know was this: He spent his working life saving up mutual funds and insurance savings, in addition to his regular savings, to fund my sister and me through school and college.
Looking back, I realised how much he’d always cared for me – I just couldn’t understand his love language then. And despite his lack of outward affection, my dad reflected God’s love to me in three big ways:
3 HINTS OF THE FATHER’S HEART
1. He always provides for me
When I was about to enter university, my dad took it upon himself to help me ease into college life.
First, he took me smartphone shopping, followed by laptop shopping. Then, he helped me apply for study loans and scholarships.
And after I graduated from university, he got me a second-hand car for me to get to my workplace, which was an hour away in traffic and not easily accessible by public transport. I’d actually been planning on saving up for one myself!
He even arranged an appointment with a trusted friend for me to buy my first life insurance policy.
If it weren’t for my father, I wouldn’t have any life insurance, no knowledge of investments, and would probably be broke because I didn’t know how to maintain a budget.
Similarly, the same God who provided manna from heaven to the starving Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16:4) and keeps lowly ravens from hunger (Luke 12:24) also knows exactly what my needs are and graciously provides them according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).
2. He is always protective of me
In primary school, I was bullied by two boys. They hit me with plastic bottles and called me names.
Without telling me, my father privately went to the school and highlighted the matter to the principal, who promptly took action.
I got upset at my dad after that incident because some other classmates gave me the stink eye for ‘embarrassing’ them – if only I knew then that he was trying to protect me!
Today, my dad still bugs me about retirement savings, investing my money wisely and travel expenditure. He also periodically sends me articles about coping in the workplace, reading the Bible and living a meaningful single life.
My dad, in his finite wisdom, offers advice to me in many practical aspects of life: Career planning, budgeting and investing, and coping with responsibilities at different life stages.
How much more my Father God who offers timeless advice and instruction on how I should live life, both through the illuminating wisdom in His Word (Psalm 119:105) and also through His Spirit living in us (1 Corinthians 3:16).
3. He always perseveres in fathering me
My dad’s knowledge of my character as his daughter led him to reach out to me in personal ways.
In secondary school, I was anxious and withdrawn, willing to do anything to get my peers’ approval.
Noticing my social difficulties, Dad printed out a letter called “God’s Love Letter” that had over 30 Bible verses about my identity in Christ, which he made me recite every morning before he dropped me off at school.
Likewise, God knows me intimately – He knows every hair on my head (Matthew 10:30) and is familiar with all my ways (Psalm 139:3). Based on His personal knowledge of me, He has reached out to me in ways more incredible than my earthly father.
Talking to my friends, I realise that many of them have unaffectionate “Asian dads” too – fathers who faithfully provided for the family, but were slow to proclaim their affection or affirmation.
If you can relate to my story, here’s what you can do to relate to your dad better:
3 WAYS TO LOVE DAD BACK
1. Understand that how your dad was raised shaped the way he treats his kids
Many “Asian dads” like mine didn’t have affectionate parents themselves. We can strive to be more encouraging to our future children, but it helps to be more understanding of where dad come from.
2. Appreciate him when he shows his love in his own way
When he gets you something you really need or offers advice and practical help, be slow to protest and quick to acknowledge his act of love. One of my dad’s love languages is quality time. Although it can be stressful, we make it a point to go on a family trip every year because it’s important to him.
3. Ask God for the grace to help you accept your father just as he is
Of course, also honestly pour out your needs to God. For example: “God, I really want to be encouraged/hugged.” You may just be surprised at how God works – during my birthday last year, my dad gave me an awkward 15-second hug, telling me that that was my “hug quota of the year”.
This caught me by surprise, as I was amazed that my dad was willing to forego his discomfort around hugging to bless me on my birthday!
All these years, I thought my dad hated me, and I resented him for it. But what I didn’t know then was that his imperfect love was really pointing to something bigger – God’s perfect love for me.
Due to the fallen state of human nature and the limitations of our upbringing, I’ve come to learn that people – including my parents – will never be able to meet all my relational needs.
So for all the affection and affirmation I still desire, I know perfect love comes only from my Father in heaven. And I’m that much more grateful for everything my earthly father has given me.
Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful fathers! ❤