A Smile is All I Need
November 05, 2021
I tried to stop him. But he always seemed bigger than me. Even though I’m no longer a small boy––I’m 22 this year––I’ve always feared Dad. He was the reason I ran away from home four years ago. But running away did not solve my problems. I had slept in void decks, stayed with friends, skipped school and worked as a cleaner in a restaurant. Three months later, I came home. But the violence would not stop. It’s just that I’d come to live with it.
I hardly saw Dad in my growing up years. Mom died while I was barely 4 years old. I have a younger brother who was 2 years younger. Being the eldest, I had to look after him. When we lost Mom, Dad’s sister, Aunt Maggie, took care of us. Mom’s death must have caused Dad’s world to crumble. He left his job as an office clerk and worked on a ship. He would be gone for months out in the sea. But when he returned home, all hell would break loose.
Dad had a terrible temper. A single irritation would make him turn into a monster. There was once where Jon, my brother, refused to eat a meal that he bought. I wouldn’t blame Jon, who was 12 that year. The fried noodle tasted terrible, almost spoilt. But Dad took offence and screamed at him. “You, ungrateful bastard! Do you know how hard I worked for this?” he shouted while throwing the noodle at him. Jon had developed a rebellion streak in him too. He would argue back. That was when Dad grabbed him by the neck and pinned him against the wall. I sprung up and pleaded with Dad to let go of his burly hands that were choking Jon. Slowly, he released his grip. As Jon’s body slumped to the floor, I hugged my little brother. By then, he was crying uncontrollably.
Dad softened for a brief moment and mumbled sorry under his breathe. He went into the room, took his duffel bag, and left the house in a hurry. That was the last I saw of him for many months to come. That night, when Aunt Maggie returned home from work, she asked for Dad. I told Jon not to tell her what happened. Aunt Maggie had enough problems of her own and we were just grateful that she provided shelter for us all these years. I was afraid that she would see us as troublesome and would send us to live with Grandma. I don’t know why but I was not keen to live with Grandma. I had a feeling that Grandma hated Mom when Mom was alive. Grandma would often talk bad about her even though Mom is no longer with us. I remember crying quietly every time she said how Mom’s death was the cause of Dad’s suffering.
Two years ago, while serving my National Service, I was diagnosed with mental illness. There were moments where I felt like ending my life. I had confided with a friend and he referred me to the camp counsellor. Eventually, I was downgraded to serve as a clerk in the army. I was prescribed some pills. It reduced my panic attacks. But it made me dull and my body felt terrible. But I had to carry on. Jon was entering a local polytechnic. I had to stay strong for him. Meanwhile, I managed to complete my ‘O’ level as a private candidate while doing NS. Last year, I found a job as an administrative assistant in a small company. I could see my future opening up. But it was not easy.
One thing I was grateful for is the support I received from Gary. We met during National Service. He had introduced me to a support group for men who underwent trauma in life. I never knew there was such a group before this. I thought that we men are supposed to be strong and fend for ourselves. But I realised that the first step to recovery is to acknowledge our vulnerability. I have to tell myself that it is okay to cry sometimes. I still have that anger in me. I would be envious of those who have a loving family and seemed to have their whole life planned out for them. But Gary would tell me that we must embrace life as it is and stay strong. There are lessons that we can learn from and there will be others who will walk with me, support me and keep a look out for me. That is what I try to do for Jon too, and Aunt Maggie who had been a pillar of strength to us.
But deep down inside, I still struggle to forgive Dad. But I must, eventually. That is the only way I can move on in life. Things are better now at home. I hardly talk to Dad and he is no longer violent. Perhaps, age is catching up with him. Maybe he was hurt too inside. I yearn for the day I can have a heart to heart talk with him. Till then, a small smile from him is all that I need whenever he returns home.