Two days before I was due to take my first paper for the O level examinations, my father asked if he could talk to me about something.
I asked: “Is it urgent or relevant to the examinations?”
“No,” he replied.
“Then, it can…
…wait,” I told him. “I want to relax now.”
Immediately after my last paper, he asked again. Sensing that it might be important for him to get it off his chest, I agreed to listen.
He said: “I met an old friend recently. He told me that he sacrificed everything to make sure that his son had a good education overseas.
“His son returned with a foreign wife last year and bought a house. As my friend was living in a rented flat and was financially quite tight, he moved in to stay with him.
“His son made him sleep in the storeroom and introduced him to visitors as his servant. My friend was devastated and I am sorry for him.
“What do you think of it?”
I said: “It is terrible. How could his son have the heart to do that? He should be proud of what his father had done for him.”
“You think that is bad,” my father continued. “Another friend of mine said his buddy had been telling him about the joy of taking care of two pet dogs and how much effort he had put into it.
“My friend was disturbed because his buddy had placed his father in a home for the aged. When his buddy persisted in his raving, my friend went ballistic and bellowed: ‘Stop it! I have no respect for you because you value your dogs more than your father.
“‘Have your ever combed your father’s hair the way you do your dogs? Have you once cleaned up after your father passed motion the way you did for your dogs?'”
My father paused, then asked me: “What do you think?”
I said: “It is hard to comment as I do not know the whole story. His father may require special care that is beyond his son’s ability to provide.
“Perhaps his father neglected the family when he was young or was causing too much trouble for him to handle – for example, nagging him and driving him crazy.”
My father gave me an inscrutable grin and said: “It is logical. But, maybe you would like to rethink what you have said.
“I have seen adults cry their hearts out when their parents passed on. They spend exorbitant amounts of money on offerings and elaborate funerals. But when their parents were alive, they treated them like dirt.
“I am sure their parents – some aged, some sick, some disabled – would love their children to give them their personal attention when they were alive.”
I was wondering what was on my father’s mind. Why was he so anxious to get my thoughts on the episodes?
Then it struck me that I had told him, in jest, not too long ago that I would send him to a home when he is old. I may have to do that if I do not have a plan that includes caring for my parents.
How can I care for them if I cannot take care of myself fully? It is frightening to think of it.
Nevertheless, my desire is to be there for my parents when they ride into the sunset. It is my wish that I can reciprocate their love for me in the time they need me most.
If I have to crawl to feed them when they cannot do it themselves, I will. I know that when they have to move on to another life, a part of me will die.
I hope that those who can show love to their aged parents will do so. Don’t “abandon” them if you can help it. They gave you the care, guidance and attention when you needed them most.
The easiest thing to do is to leave them in a home, but it is also the cruellest. Ask yourself: What are the chances your children won’t leave you in one either, when you grow old?
(This journal was published on 28 November 2006 of TODAY)