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The Asian Dad: Father’s Day reflections

Sumisha Naidu

Mon Jun 18 2012

Father’s Day

“WHY not get first place in class instead of settling for second?” Unlike the rest of the world, Australians only celebrate Father’s Day in September. Nonetheless, Sumisha Naidu used the weekend to reflect on the daughter-father relationship.

For the past four years, my dad has been missing out on a proper Father’s Day greeting from me. Mother’s Day is easy enough to remember, with shops and media here in Australia constantly flagging the day is approaching. But Father’s Day? That’s a bit trickier to remember when Australia celebrates it in September – while my dad lives in a country that celebrates it in June.

So why does Australia celebrate Father’s Day so much later in the year,when most of the world – including the UK, the US, Asia and even Afghanistan – celebrate it in the third week of June? No one really seems to know for sure, although some suggest it may have to do the with the warmer, BBQ-appropriate weather September brings.

Thanks to these conflicting dates, I tend to forget to wish my dad, until I see a flurry of Facebook statuses from Malaysia reminding me. A poor excuse, I know. And when September comes along and all my Aussie friends are celebrating with their dads, I’m often conflicted as to whether I should be wishing my father too.

But this year, I’ve been prepared. And to make up for all the forgetfulness being in different time zones brings, here’s some long overdue recognition of a father who more than deserves it:

People often assume international students who come to Melbourne have wealthy parents, who can easily support their children overseas. I didn’t. We lived comfortably, yes. But, like many others, I can’t imagine forking out  $60,000 (RM 180,000) to give me an education here was “easy” for my parents. And yet they did it, for me to do a degree in Media and Communications, no less – something my father wasn’t very sure of  at all at first. And who could blame him really? You’d be hard pressed to find many Malaysian parents who would dip into their savings just so their kid could be a journalist – a profession with grim prospects back home.

But my parents did eventually come around – and in a big way.

One day, after weeks of debate over what I was going to do at university, my dad suddenly told me he could “see” it – he could see me being a journalist, and that I should do it if it would make me happy. Five years later, I’m now working in the industry, and I’m happy.

But that’s just one instance of the ongoing support my father has given me and my three siblings. It often amazes us how someone who lost his father at the age of 13, in a family of 10 kids, could know how to be so loving and present in our lives; how someone who comes from a culture and generation where it’s rare to be vocal about emotions, could so openly, and so often, tell his kids how much he loved them.

Of course, the relationship has not been without its hurdles. Fierce tempers have led to arguments and many of his “lectures” have been ignored, much to his chagrin. And his expectations of us have been great, sometimes even seemingly impossible. Why not get first place in class, he asked, when I got second place in primary school. Why not work in Australia and  support my cost of living throughout university? After all, he did it, working at a shoe shop in London to pay his way through law school.

But while I complained then, I am so grateful now. I don’t believe I’d have half the drive I have today if I didn’t have his faith that I could do so much more.

In this last month, I’ve had two friends lose a parent before their time. Both were not in the country as their parents when it happened. And this, I admit, is something I worry about – not being there when it matters, not saying things when you can, as cliche as it sounds. But it’s a fear many of my friends who’ve left home share too.

So with that in mind, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that Australia celebrates Father’s Day on a different day than the rest of the world. That way, I get to remember to be grateful for my dad (and my mum, for that matter) more than once a year.