My Papa

By Lara Chin

For all the fathers around the world, this is my way of saying THANK YOU.

"When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry."
William Shakespeare

Age 4

"Papa?" I whispered softly as I shook the huge snoring figure. "Wake up. You promised to read me a story before going to bed."

Papa opened an eye. "I don't remember promising you that, sweetheart," he muttered sleepily.

"But Papa!" I started to whine. "You said you'll tell me the story about the Little Mermaid."

"I did? All right then, princess. Get me my glasses."

I grinned widely. I have won again.

Age 9

"Papa!" I exclaimed excitedly. "Look what I got from Grandpa and Grandma for my birthday!"

"Wow! A new bicycle! You deserve it, darling!" Papa smiled from behind his newspaper.

I stood in awe staring at my brand new shiny, green bicycle. My hands ran all over it. I couldn't believe that this thing actually belonged to me. I have to send Grandpa a thank you note later.

"Papa," I began quietly. "I know you couldn't afford to get me a present."

Papa put his papers down.

"It's okay, you know," I told him reassuringly. "You just have to promise me one thing. That we can go cycling everyday after school. Just you and me, Papa."

He smiled and put his hand over his heart. "I promise."

Age 14

"Papa!" I called out loudly as I got into the house one late Saturday afternoon. "Come on! Let's go to that new Italian restaurant across the street."

I heard footsteps and saw Papa appeared in the sitting room.

"But sweetheart...."

"Don't worry, Papa," I said to him grinning. "It's my treat. Mrs. Johnson insisted on paying me for cleaning her windows. So come on, let's go!"

Papa smiled. "Okay." He took his coat and together we made our way out into the cold November air.

Age 17

"Papa?" I said over dinner. "Why does everyone hate me?"

"They don't," he told me firmly.

"But nobody wants to go out with me." I began to stab my potatoes sharply. "The stupid school dance is tomorrow and I don't have a date!" I cried furiously.

"It's all right, love," Papa held my hand. "They are being silly. They don't know how beautiful my daughter is."

I stopped torturing my fourth potato and looked into that old gentle face. "I am?" I breathed slowly.

"You are!" Papa laughed. "Take away the glasses and braces and you'll get yourself a fine young lady!"

I smiled a little but still I was not convinced. Papa noticed.

"You know, sweetheart," Papa said. "It's not what's on the outside. It's all about what's on the inside. You may have a pretty face but if you don't have brains and a good heart, what's the use of living?"

I nodded silently. Papa was right.

"Forget about the dance. I'll take you out tomorrow. It'll be a father daughter night out, okay?"

"Okay," I managed a huge grin. I had my date after all.

Age 20

"Papa!" I squealed with delight as I put down the phone. "I got the scholarship! I'm going to university!"

Papa came rushing from the kitchen. "Well done, sweetheart! I'm so proud of you!" Daddy beamed. He gave me a bear hug.

"Papa, I promised to do well, didn't I?" I asked him.

"Yes, love. You did and I am glad," he answered.

Age 27

"Papa," I said one Sunday afternoon while we were sitting outside the veranda. "I'm engaged to Henry."

Papa got up from his rocking chair. "You mean the famous Dr. Henry Darcy?" he gasped. "The one you've been working with all these years?"

"Yes, Papa. We have been together for 2 years," I replied. Papa took a seat on the steps next to me. We were silent for a few minutes.

Then Papa said, "I knew."

I nodded and he smiled.

"So do you approve, Papa?" I asked timidly.

He roared with laughter. "Of course, darling! As long as you are happy, I am."

Age 30

"Papa," I said as I came out from the Maternity Ward with Henry. "Look... your first grandchild."

Papa looked down upon my baby. He took her gingerly from my arms. For the first time in my life, I saw Papa cry. He never did before, not even when Grandpa and Grandma died. Well, maybe he did. I just didn't see.

"She's beautiful," he cried. "She has your eyes, Henry. And your nose and lips, Diane." All of us looked down upon our angel.

"Have you thought of a name yet?" he asked while gently stroking my baby's hands.

"Henry wanted her first name to be Clara. And Papa?" I whispered.

"Hmm... "

"I wanted to call her May, after Mama," I told him.

Then Papa said, "So it's Clara May Darcy?"

Henry and I nodded. Papa smiled. We both cried. That was the happiest moment between us, my family.

Age 35

"Papa?" I walked into our garden one Saturday evening and found Papa on his old rocking chair as usual. Henry and I managed to persuade him to move out from our old house. But we couldn't get Papa to give up the rocking chair.

"Hello sweetheart," he greeted me. I didn't answer him. There was something wrong with Papa.

"Papa, are you all right?" I asked concerned. "You look so pale. Is Clara bothering you?"

"No, no. I'm fine. Clara and I were debating about who was better, Scooby Doo or The Powerpuff Girls," Papa winked at Clara who was playing with her doll house.

"The Powerpuff Girls!" Clara told him crossly. Papa laughed.

"Okay," I said calming down. Everything seemed normal. "I'll just go in and get you a glass of water, Papa. I'll be back in a minute."

I went in and heard Papa calling after me.

"Don't trouble yourself, love! I'm fine, perfectly fine!"

Then I heard-

"Mummy! Hurry! Grandpa won't wake up!"

Age 40

"Diane?" Papa called me weakly.

"Yes, Papa?" I quickly ran to his wheel chair. He eyed me lovingly. I knelt down beside him.

"I want to tell you something," he told me. His gaze then fell on the window which showed our backyard. If you looked outside, you will be amazed by the beautiful scenery. The sky was clear and blue. There was a little pond, home to many tadpoles in our garden. And lush green fields laid beyond that.

"You know," he began. "When your mother died, I stopped living. I couldn't believe that such a thing could happen to me. I was left all alone. I started to drink a lot. I lost my job as a banker because of that." He paused for awhile.

I listened to every word he said. Papa never talked about Mama. We went to visit her grave every September but he never answered my questions about her.

"You were only two, love. You didn't know what was happening back then. You didn't know you had a lousy man as your father." Papa's face was suddenly filled with hatred. Bad memories from the past came back to haunt him.

"You are not a lousy father!" I cried angrily. "Don't say that, Papa!"

"Believe it or not, I was back then," he told me quietly. "I used to drink till late at night. I sent you to your grandparents' and then I would go and get myself drunk. They hated me for it. They had to take care of you while I wasted my time drinking at the pubs. I just couldn't stop, love. But one day, everything changed."

"How?" Was all I said.

"I went to your grandparents' house on your third birthday," he continued. "I remembered everything clearly. It was on a Saturday. I didn't go in. I stayed outside and watched you jumped up and down happily at the sight of your birthday cake. I watched my little girl make a wish. And I knew what that wish was. You wanted your Papa to come home and love you."

I didn't feel the tears coming down. I didn't hear the wind howling. I only knew that I was with my father. He was telling me a story, just like when I was small.

"It was as if there was magic in the air that night. When you blew those candles, I felt my feet dragging me towards the door. I didn't want to go in. I couldn't face you yet. But that strong magic made me stay there. You opened the door and then you stared at me. It was as if you were expecting me to appear there at the exact moment. You ran into me and you looked up at me and said, 'Do you love me, Papa?' I bent down and hug you. Yes, I love you, Diane. I always did, since the day you were born. But I never told you that. I was too stupid thinking about my own life. I never thought about the little girl who came into this world as a gift for me. You made me realise how selfish I am. I decided to become a good father from that moment."

Papa smiled at me. "You have brought me great happiness, sweetheart. You made me a man. And for that, I thank you."

I hugged Papa for a long time. It seemed like an eternity. Papa told me a lot about the past. He told me about Mama. That she died after giving birth to me. Mama was an orphan. She never had a family of her own. Papa met her while walking home from work one evening. Mama was selling blueberry tarts. He bought one from her and they continued to meet every day after work. Eventually they fell in love and decided to get married. He told me about Grandpa and Grandma. He was very grateful to them for supporting him. Papa worked as a bus driver all these years but he didn't get paid very well. But that didn't matter because we survived anyway. Papa had a brother, my uncle Sam. I never met him because he died before I was born. He went away to war and never came back.

Papa told me everything that I needed to know. When he finished, he seemed much more relaxed. I stayed with Papa in his room till late at night. I didn't want to leave him because I knew that I wouldn't get to be with him for long.

Age 43

Papa passed away three weeks ago. He died at the age of 85. I wasn't scared of letting go because I knew that he would be much better off somewhere else. I cried but not for long. Henry and Clara were by my side all the time. They made it easier for me.

Papa's face was so peaceful when I saw him lay in his coffin. He was in a deep sleep. But this time he will never wake up again.

Papa has gone to another world to join Mama. I see them sometimes when I can't sleep at night. I look outside our bedroom window and see them waltzing under the moonlight.

I know that they are happy, to be together once more. One day, I might see them face to face again. Papa has done so much for me and I am very lucky to have a father like him. I love you, Papa. I always will.