This article was first published at The Malaysian Insider on 19 December 2010
“I notice that you have a weakness. Do you want to know what it is?”
“Yes, sure,” I said with a voice that quivered slightly due to uncertainty and nerve. It was the same kind of uncertainty and nerve when the doctor asks whether I would like to know the result of my pap smear.
It was the first time in my life when my father expressed the need to reveal to me what he really thought of me. It was momentous and yet nerve-wrecking at the same time. I never thought I could do anything wrong in his eyes and I was convinced that I had his full confidence.
Evidently, I was wrong.
I was told that I was too intolerant and that I could never allow other people to assert their authority over me. These words were said with a heavy heart. I could tell it wasn’t easy for my father to say them to me. Nevertheless, I still believe those were the harshest words he has ever uttered to me and I have a good feeling that they would continue to haunt me for a long time.
Now, my father has his own reasons for telling me that. I know what those reasons are and as he has rightly pointed out, I am unwilling to accept the authority of his words. What hurt the most was knowing how much he has misunderstood my character and how unjust his judgment of me was. Having a strong viewpoint is perceived as rudeness and having courage or guts to go against convention is regarded as rebellion, or sometimes as an easy means of escaping responsibilities.
For as long as my father can remember, I had been an obedient child who subsequently turned “difficult” as soon as I became a teenager and then just simply “unhappy” as an adult. He could not understand why I felt the need to be “rude” to my tyrannical teacher or quit my job when my employer could not care less about my welfare. He simply could not understand why I could not be one of those individuals who settle for a well-paying job and stop being unhappy about every injustice that confronts me.
“What do you really want to do in life? What do you want to achieve?” I could see he wanted to know and he wanted to understand.
Such straightforward questions and yet the answers are never as such. I told him that I want to help change things in the country and help to change the mindsets of the people here. I told him that people need to be empowered to choose what’s best for them and that includes the government.
Tears started pouring down my face as I told him about all the wrong-doings that are plaguing the country and how things desperately need to change. I then realised that I had never cried that way before in front of my father. I was surprised and embarrassed by my vulnerability and the inability to control my emotion.
He in turn, looked bewildered and old.
I told him that things are changing and there are many young Malaysians who want to do something to bring about change to the country. I want to be a part of them.
He said I am too naïve and idealistic. He said I would be disappointed when I realise that this is not just a romantic idea of an heroic act. He said he is a lot older than I am and I should trust him that from his own experience, many young people start off with the purest of all intentions but as soon as the going gets tough, they will learn that reality creates stains in life. He said that sooner or later, everyone turns cynical and they will eventually give up.
I am uncertain whether he was being cynical, realistic or simply attempting to protect me from getting disappointed.
I told him that I am fully aware that this world is not a bed of roses and I think I have seen enough of suffering to accept that. What I could not accept is when people stop knowing how to differentiate between right and wrong and choose to be indifferent instead.
He said he couldn’t understand why young people have such silly notions these days. When he was young, all he could think of was to secure a decent living.
“And I thank you for that. It’s because of you that I am able to have all this silly notions,” I said to him.
“You wonder why young people are abandoning lucrative careers for human rights and politics? Could it be because of the opportunity and privilege they now have to focus on something else other than bread and butter issues, as results of improved economic condition provided by their parents? Isn’t that a good thing?” I added.
“And that’s where the Chinese is wise. There is a saying that a family’s wealth does not go beyond the third generation,” my father retorted.
“In order for a country and its people to prosper, I think we need two types of people. Those like you who build the country’s economy and those like us who want to see a more accountable and transparent government that protects human rights. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Besides, can one family’s wealth ever match a positive change brought upon millions of people?” I asked in exasperation.
When I arrived home that night, I was resentful of my father. I resented him for not understanding who I am as a person. I resented him for feeling disappointed with me when I thought he would be proud instead. Above all, I resented the fact that he wished for me to be someone I am not. I also wish that as a father, he had taught me to be strong and to never allow others to assert their authority or power over me simply because I deserve better.
My husband told me that I should try to understand that my father lives in a different generation; a generation where his father did not have the means to give him what he gave us. A generation where their biggest enemies were poverty and ignorance, but it is always easier for human beings to survive ignorance and not poverty. Now, most of us just live in ignorance and we forget how it feels like to be poor.
Perhaps my husband is right but how do you then explain another young person who told me I am too idealistic for my own good? Do we still have hope?