“Who are you?” my dad asked me

Today, I saw my dad for the second time since not speaking to each other a year and a half ago.

He seems to have aged a little – slimmer than I remember he once was and his movements slower than before. He seemed more aware of his diet, watching his sugar and cholesterol intake. I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness to see him again.

I didn’t contact him for so long because of the hurt I felt after he decided not to attend my wedding. I was also afraid to get hurt again after the one time I gathered up confidence to call him to wish him Happy New Year. That News Years Day, he picked up the phone asking, “Who are you?”
“Its your daughter of course!”, I said in a cheery voice, hiding my anxiety.
“I don’t have any daughters”, he quickly replied coldly. It was as if he had rehearsed that line many times before.
I paused for a moment, my heart crushed. Holding in my tears, I replied with the strongest voice I could muster up, “If…you don’t have daughters, then…who are you speaking with right now?” I laughed a fake laugh, “I must be a ghost!”
“Haha….must…be…haha”, he said in the same disapproving tone.

That was half a year ago. Dad didn’t attend my sister’s wedding five years ago either, and they haven’t spoken to or seen each other for all this time.

My parents have been separated for over 12 years and this has been the most difficult event I have ever had to face, even though it happened when I was old enough to know what was happening.

So for 12 years, I have been my family’s peacemaker, the glue that ties the broken pieces together. I am the one that passes on news about my dad to my mum and sister and vice versa. It has never been an easy task but since my falling out with my father, I have not been the same person.

It does not matter anymore why we had a falling out. I have forgiven him a long time ago – no grudges or hard feelings. What’s left in me is the pain I feel when I see him – perhaps it’s the guilt I feel for leaving him all alone in the world without my mum or sister. I know he still has his siblings who looks after him, but it is not the same as having a daughter around. He is a lonely man with few close friends but many acquaintances. I know he hungers for love, he wants family warmth but he would never admit it.

I see sadness in his eyes. Although we are sitting side by side, there is an unspoken distance between us. I feel further from him than ever before. I know he still loves me but I know he doesn’t know how to show it. I remember clearly the one and only time he has ever told me he loves me was at the Shinjuku train station when I was sending him on the Narita Express to the international airport in Tokyo. I was in Japan on exchange and dad had come to visit me.

Dad was seated inside the train while I was waving at him from the platform. We had a few minutes until the train departed and I stood there smiling at my dad. It was awkward silence because he is never one that is good with words. When the conductor blew his whistle to signal the train’s departure, the train doors closed. Unexpectedly, at that moment, dad raised his index finger and pointed to himself, then drew a heart shape on the window panel and pointed at me. Streams of tears instantly ran down my face as the train left the station. I waved until I could no longer see the end of the train on the tracks.

When I was a child, I remember that dad would always cook for me. That’s how he would show his love – by acts of kindness. Words of affection was never his forte. Now those memories seem so far away from reality. If only I can wind back time to feel that fatherly warmth once again.

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