My dad held out his hand. “Give me your hand,” he told me.
I clasped my hands behind my back and shook my head. “Give me your hand or it will be even more painful for you,” he repeated.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I reluctantly brought my hands forward. My dad took my left hand and turned my palm upwards. He held a cane in his other hand.
“No, Papa! No!” I cried and tried to retract my hand. He held on tight. “So why did you steal?” he reprimanded. The cane struck swiftly on my palm.
Nothing was quite the same after that.
We lived like familiar strangers under the same roof throughout my adolescence.
Growing up, my dad wasn’t very expressive.
He never told me he loved me, never asked how my school was. He rarely chided me for anything. How could he when he was so often missing in action? My dad simply immersed himself in work, and got lost in games whenever he was free.
But the punishment really came as a blow to me. I knew I was at fault: I had stolen money from my dad … And it wasn’t the first time. So someone had to mete out the punishment.
I didn’t know how to relate to him after that. My mistake felt like a wine stain on a white dress – a permanent blotch. Guilt hung over my head even long after the incident and I thought I was a failure in my father’s eyes. It didn’t help that my dad was a man of few words so we didn’t speak much thereafter.
I didn’t realise it back then, but I had begun believing that my dad stopped loving me from that fateful day.
Like an old TV screen, my memories of my dad remained a fuzzy vision for more than a decade. We lived like familiar strangers under the same roof throughout my adolescence.
But somehow, my heart softened towards my dad after I received Christ. It wasn’t like I prayed about the situation or that anyone counselled me specifically on this issue. I didn’t even think it was a big deal since I’d been so accustomed to the distance.
But as I began to know God as my Father, I caught a glimpse of a father’s heart. I started to understand that a father loves their child no matter the mistakes made.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18-19)
And as I read chapters like Hosea 2, or of how the Israelites disobeyed God time and time again, I saw that God’s forgiveness was always available as long as they repented. Because He loves them.
… To him, love wasn’t about tenderness. It was about putting food on the table.
Love means discipline – so that we grow and learn from our mistakes. But love also means forgiveness. The more time I spent with God, the more I began to understand that just because I failed once doesn’t mean I’m a failure in my father’s eyes.
It was only then that I started to notice how my dad loves me.
Everyone knows love is important. But not everyone knows how to show it. We learn to love from the generation before us. We often love the way we’ve received it.
My dad learnt it through his father. In the post-war years, everyone was in survival mode. There was no room for tender loving care.
My dad grew up under a hard man. So to him, love wasn’t about tenderness. It was about putting food on the table. But while my dad was a man of few words, he was a man of his word. He did everything he could to provide for the family. He did everything he could to provide for me.
A few years ago, my dad asked me if I wanted Hokkien mee for dinner.
I insisted on roasted meat rice from my usual, favourite stall. Unfortunately, the stall was closed for the day and my dad came back with roasted meat rice from another place.
I made a face and took my first bite anyway. I could already tell the difference. I looked over to my father’s dinner. Suddenly his Hokkien mee looked infinitely tastier. My chopsticks began to sneak over to his plate occasionally.
“I went rock-climbing today,” I told my dad. The noodles tasted sour. He hadn’t properly mixed the lime. “Mmm,” he replied gruffly. He started mixing the noodles.
“I got some baluku (bruises),” I raised my knees to show him my glorious battle wounds. “But it was very fun!”
While my dad was a man of few words, he was a man of his word.
In between mouthfuls of my own dinner, I continued to steal his noodles.
“Have you rock-climbed before?” I tried again. No, he answered. And then silence once more. By this time, I had already finished most of the roasted meat rice – only some rice was left.
Seeing that the conversation was going nowhere and I had finished the nice portions of my dinner, I decided to take my leave.
“You don’t want the rice?” My father asked. “Don’t want. Cause not nice,” I replied. Wordlessly, he took my packet and pushed his plate of noodles toward me.
“But Papa! No more meat. I finished it all.”
He waved me aside me with his free hand and began eating the rice. Then, he gestured me to finish his plate of noodles.
For most of my life, my relationship with my father was characterised by the question “Does he love me?”
But at that moment, his actions rang louder than all the words I ever wanted.
When I finally stopped expecting my dad to love me on my terms, I could finally see and appreciate that he had been loving me this whole time.
Thank you, Papa. I love you, too.