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33 Years with Dad and Sometime After

About the male version of me ...

By Ruby AstariPublished 2 years ago 4 min read

Why 33 years and some time after? You’re probably wondering as you read the title. My answer is: “I didn’t know I’d only had that long with him.”

Before this, I’ve had writing pieces about him scattered online. Even as I try summing them all up, I know it’ll never be enough. A piece of this to tell you about him won’t be enough, but let me try anyway.

Early, Faded Memories

I think it’s true that the older we get, the more we begin to forget things. If you ask me about my earlier memories with my father, I can come up with only bits and pieces.

My mother told me that when I was three, I often woke up at three in the morning and found him outside in the living room – watching TV. Other times he’d be asleep in front of it. I would just chatter nonsensically with my toddler-talk, before either he or Ma would put me back to sleep in my room.

Other faded memories include him carrying me after learning that I was afraid of Grand Uncle’s yelping dog. It had taken me years after that to not be afraid of dogs, eventhough I still don’t interact that well with some of them. I’m still more of a cat-person.

Dad hated weaknesses shown. I remember him forcing me to stop closing my ears whenever I heard thunder rumbled outside. He didn’t want his kids to be scared easily. We ought to have been brave through almost anything. It didn’t matter that you were a boy or a girl. According to him, it never should have.

Grumpy, Angry, and Misunderstood

Growing up, I’d seen him as a grumpy, angry old man who couldn’t soften his voice or show any signs of affection towards his kids. Even my sister used to hate his guts a lot, while my brother was mostly confused and afraid.

He may have tried to bond with us, although he was not good with jokes. The only time he and I did get along was when we were surrounded by books.

I knew he didn’t mean it when he’d hit my kitten as he was backing the car into the garage. It was just an accident; he hadn’t seen the cat. He didn’t even need to apologise. I could see sadness through his anger, because he loved cats too.

Ma said that I was always his mirror image, which had scared him a great deal. Growing up feeling mostly insecure despite his skills and intelligence, Dad had been toughest on me. I thought that was the case, but Ma said that I was also the one challenging him back.

Have I ever wished I could turn back the time? I sometimes do, because I didn’t know that I’d only had 33 years of my life knowing him. You may say that those two digits should’ve been enough for me, but not when you had wasted them on mostly arguing with him or avoiding him altogether.

The Strained Relationship and The Wake-up Call

I guess you could say that we’re quite the typical Asian, Indonesian family who often choose to keep quiet and sweep the dust of discomfort and other issues under the rug. We talk, but do not communicate. We speak of mundane stuff politely instead of really discussing what really needs to be addressed.

Yes, we’re alright. I guess we’re still so much better than other families who fight all the time, who throw things around, or who basically neglect each other. We operate mostly in silence, a quick trade, and hush-hush.

Until the day I woke up to learn that Ma and my brother were taking Dad to the hospital after that fall ...

The Five Years of A Rollercoaster Ride and A Duck Syndrome

How did it feel to know that the man who used to yell a lot was now wheelchair-bound and could no longer utter a single word? How did you deal seeing him feeling completely defeated by stroke, struggling to accept what he’d hated all his life the most – a sense of weakness?

All I knew back then was that I’d slowly turned myself numb. I wasn’t dealing with my own emotions well. I’d broken one of the greatest friendships I’ve ever had. I still got lucky, because the friend had chosen to forgive me. (We’re still friends today.) I used to wish Dad had stopped getting angry and acting defensively most of the time until the day I wished I could hear his voice again, no matter in what tone.

Well, I had thought to myself, the joke’s on me now.

I also started recounting the times he’d actually saved my life, including the time he went home from his Jummah prayer to hand me the flyer he’d gotten from the mosque. It was about the danger of ‘nikkah syirri’ (getting married without being officially documented and having it informed to the public, usually due to financial reasons back in The Old Age). Ironically to this day, there are still many Indonesian men who manipulate our religion that way, just to justify their sick lust.

A man of a very few words, I’d understood what he was trying to say. He didn’t want me to fall into the trap of these awful men, who may promise you forever but then leave you after the first – and last – screw.

After He’s Gone

I remember calling my friends about his passing and his funeral. I told one of them: “I’m not ready.” I remember sounding like a scared, helpless little girl.

I was 33.

I remember moving out of my family’s home to live on my own – about a couple of months after the funeral. Some people thought I was heartless, but that was not true. It’s not like I’ve completely cut all ties with my own family. I still talk to them.

I remember taking one of his green polo shirt to my new place – and then lost it in the public laundry. I’d cried for like minutes, before finally snapping myself out of it and telling myself: “Stop it. It’s just a polo shirt. He’s not coming back again.”

And he wants me to stay strong and move on. I know it’s true. I always have.


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