Being apart from your loved ones 10,000km away can be very challenging.
A colleague from Pakistan, here at the United Nation University of Portugal, once told me: “Hey, we are in a digital world. I can meet my family digitally any time I want”, though I could sense he was holding back.
He had not seen his daughters for almost five months. Once, I did not see my kids — my three Manja Abah — for almost two weeks and I missed them like crazy.
When I was a kid, my late father, Bapak, used to tease me when my friends visited our house by telling them that I was his Manja and that I still slept bawah ketiak Bapak (under his armpit).
I found it amusing then, but as I grew up into a teenager, I hated the teasing.
And, once, I told him rudely that I was embarrassed and demanded that he stop the teasing. He stopped since then.
Being a teenager, my priorities changed. Spending time with friends was more important and I wanted privacy.
Coincidently, during those years, Bapak was occupied with work, as his political career was at the peak. We began to drift apart.
As I looked back on those years, I realised that I had done and said many things that might have hurt my father.
When Bapak retired, I got closer to him. I called him from the office and shared things that happened at work.
It was a bit awkward in the beginning, but it soon became effortless. I could sense that he appreciated the bonding and we became the best of friends.
I would ask him to accompany me on my outstation assignments and, at times, I became his companion and drove him to meet his friends and colleagues.
During those long car journeys, we would exchange stories. He would share with me his political and business aspirations.
He never failed to share his difficult childhood experiences and I would share the challenges I faced at work.
He would give his generous advice that taught me perseverance.
When Mak died, I tried my best not to miss our weekend breakfast. I could tell that he was lonely and missed Mak’s company.
My presence could not change that. Bapak died four years ago, 11 months after Mak.
When he was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, he did not show any remorse, at least not in front of me. He would never miss the chemotherapy sessions and continued seeking alternative treatment.
He kept telling us that he felt better and that he was recovering.
I could still remember once, as I was about to take leave after one of my visits to the hospital, Bapak told me that he was so proud of me.
I did not know how to react as it was not something that Bapak would say directly to me. I replied with a smile. Deep down, I felt like he was saying good bye. I sobbed on my ride home.
Bapak left us a month after that. I was not around when he took his last breath. I did not cry when my brother broke the news. Probably, I was prepared for it.
I lost my best friend that day. Life has never been the same since then.
I miss him so much. I always include him in my prayers and wish that I could become a perfect father like him to my three children. They will remain my Manja no matter what, just as I was my father’s.
You are my inspiration, Bapak, and will always be.
(Dec 10, 2017 was Megat Tajuddin Megat Ahmad’s 75th birthday. He died on April 17, 2014. He was the state assemblyman of Bukit Chandan, Perak (1986 to 1995).
MEGAT ZUHAIRY MEGAT TAJUDDIN