Oh, My Papa . . .

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Father's Day card

By P Francis

Father's Day card

UNLIKE the universally celebrated Christmas Day on 25 December, Father’s Day is not on the same day globally. Singapore and Malaysia marked it in June, while Australia celebrated it this year on Sunday, 1 September.  Father’s Day, intentionally or not, is also not celebrated or marketed as lavishly as Mother’s Day with all the flowers, perfumes, chocolates and beauty treatment vouchers (it is okay when daughters give them) showered on the ‘better’ half.

In Singapore and Malaysia, dads are remembered on the third Sunday in June together with a host of other nations, including the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Vietnam.

The ‘first’ Father’s Day on the calendar goes to Russia on 23 Feb (defender of the fatherland). Next is 19 March, observed by Italy, Belgium and others; while South Korea is alone on 8 May (parents’ day). At the bottom of the calendar are the Bulgarians, who mark it on 26 Dec – believe it or not!

Father’s Day came into being to complement Mother’s Day – both started in the US last century. Since then they have gathered momentum in the marketplace, although dad’s gift list is much shorter with after shave and handyman’s tools filling it.

The word father has many synonyms, including papa, daddy or dad, pops, abba (in Aramaic, Jesus’ language or Hebrew), bapa/bapak/bapang/ayah or pa (Malay/Indonesia/Gujarati).

To Christians, when they address a priest as father they are actually showing respect to God the Father since the priest is God’s representative on earth. Thus, the Pope is referred to as the Holy Father. Then there is Father Christmas aka Santa Claus aka St Nicholas. Add to that the Our Father prayer common to most Christian denominations.

Some Singaporeans will even refer to Lee Kuan Yew as the ‘Father’ of modern Singapore and they may have reason to. Just like Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman other founding fathers tagged with the ‘Father’ status include Sun Yat-Sen of the Republic of China, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi of India, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta of Indonesia, David Ben-Gurion of Israel, Genghis Khan of Mongolia and Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, to name a few.

So does Father’s Day mean anything today? Filial piety and honouring parents aside, dads are human and have feelings, too. Those with daughters, I dare say, feel it more than those with sons because fathers tend to ‘protect’ their girls for as long as possible until they are married. Call it old fashioned if you will, but fathers are the head of the house especially when things go wrong.

A Singaporean friend of mine living in Australia had the unwanted experience of a daughter leaving home suddenly, claiming she was not with her boyfriend. The frantic parents did not know where she was, whom she was with or if she had been forced to go. When the wife went berserk, the husband had to stay calm because “a man just cannot sit down and cry”. He said: “I felt outraged, perhaps a little humiliated that my daughter had left my care. The police could not help since she was above 18. Eventually, she made contact after many long weeks and, over the years, links were re-established with our family. I would not wish this on anyone.”

He added: “Unlike other parents, who have their children visit them once a week or fortnight, I usually have to visit her at Christmas – just like the mountain going to Mohammad!”

This brings me to the radio – decades ago when it dominated the airwaves – blasting out the hit song Oh, My Papa sung by Eddie Fisher. The original song, according to Wikipedia, started in Germany; trumpeter Eddie Calvert took it to No.1 of the UK charts and the Top Ten in the US in 1954; the popular song has endured over the decades and been performed and/or recorded and used in TV shows ever since by a host of artistes including Connie Francis, The Everly Brothers, Billy Vaughn and even Björk. The lyrics hold their own even to this day and may trigger a few tears:

Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so wonderful
Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so good
No one could be, so gentle and so lovable
Oh, my pa-pa, he always understood.
Gone are the days when he could take me on his knee
And with a smile he’d change my tears to laughter
Oh, my pa-pa, so funny, so adorable
Always the clown so funny in his way
Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so wonderful
Deep in my heart I miss him so today.

Those words may have struck a chord with Singapore-born Catherine Joseph, who now lives and works in Melbourne. She said: “We did not do anything for Father’s Day in Petaling Jaya where I spent most of my school days. It was hardly heard of then. Unfortunately by the time we were ready for it my dad passed away, that was 30 years ago.

“As for my son, Jacob, Father’s Day was introduced in school. They made gifts for dad in school and could purchase small items at school for dad. During his primary school days, a handmade card would be presented to dad and come secondary school days it was cards purchased by mum each year. Whilst at home, we attend Mass on a Sunday and afterwards adjourn for a special meal in a restaurant. It was always a restaurant or menu Jacob preferred though! It’s 20 over years and we do the same and so it was earlier this month on Sunday, 1 September.”

In this day and age when it is all about ‘I want this or that’, it was like a breath of fresh air to receive a candid comment from a father, who was content to take a back seat and let his own ageing dad bask in the glory of Father’s Day.

Raymund Francis (no relation of mine) of Singapore told me: “My parents, who are getting on in their years, just love having the grandchildren over. So, on Father’s Day, rather than my family and I doing something for me, I rather we go to my parents’ place and just spending the day with them. My kids, being older now, are seldom at home, so to have them all together is a treat, even for me. And that’s the best gift I could ask for, having my kids with me and, yet, being with Dad.

“I have not yet had a Father’s Day celebration just for me in my 20 over years as a father. As long as my dad is around, he takes precedence over me. It is not, and never should be about me or us individually. Our parents deserve our respect and time, especially in their golden years. So, whatever celebration I could have, I/we should put it on hold. That’s how I celebrate Father’s Day….for now.”

His father, mother, wife and children must be very proud of Raymund and, knowing him, that would be enough reward for the younger dad.

From another perspective, the day would be the most painful if there is no father figure around as in the case of a single mother – whatever the reason. It is difficult to fathom, something like the first Christmas after losing a spouse.

So what did I do last Father’s Day?  My younger daughter and her boyfriend took my wife and I out to lunch – and she drove me there and paid the bill at the buffet. To me, it is not the cost or the gift, but the thought that counts. Do not get me wrong, I do believe that actions speak louder than words and today children do have to make the effort to be seen and heard – unlike 50 years ago!

P. Francis is an English tutor in Melbourne, who has more than 20 years’ journalism experience with newspapers, books and magazines in Singapore and Australia.