The Things Your Dad Does

Learning Contentment

Dear Xander,

A year ago, I wrote to you about chasing dreams and seeking happiness.

A lot has changed.

As you grow older, you must not take for granted the fact that you are constantly on a learning journey, with your graduation and convocation scheduled to happen only on the day you die – as it still is for me.

I was hospitalised two weeks ago. During my recovery, I was given a lot of time to think and reflect on the way I lived my life the past year. It began with hope, then quickly peaked with much anger, which spurred almost exactly one full year of intensive soul-searching (which some people may also accurately define as bumming and skiving), and ended with the minor health scare which I am still reeling from today.

But I met a student doctor during my hospital stay who had a profound conversation with me that began as a compulsory doctor-patient engagement exercise. As he cleared his first obligatory question with me (“How are you feeling?”), the discussion somehow branched off from how bits of my life flashed before my eyes when I first got wheeled into the A&E ward to a scene in The Gladiator in which the rather-insightful-for-his-age medical student managed to quote from – word for word – about how important it was to keep the people entertained in the gladtiator’s arena,as a reflection of managing the political arena.

More importantly, I shared with him what I learned about living a good life. Recounting what your mother said about needing me to be happy in order for the family to be happy, I said to the doctor-to-be that over the years I have had to modify that ideology. I learned that happiness is fleeting and temporary, and needs to be sought and given; you cherish the moments gifted to you, but you don’t know when it will next happen again.

Contentment, on the other hand, can be learned and nurtured. And contentment, once learned, is a lifelong skill in avoiding grief, accepting diversity, and ultimately finding peace.

Probably in the first 20-30 years of your life, you will wonder if you will ever be content with your lot in life. I cannot hope that this letter will automagically grant you the wisdom I have taken my 35 years to earn; indeed, I doubt I can consider this wisdom, as I am actively disagreeing with my own writing from a year ago. But I do hope you see something in my writing that will be of use to you in your years to come.



The day you first came to visit me in the hospital, my sisters told me that you said were aware I was in hospital, and that you were worried for me. when you first saw me, you only took one glance at my dazed expression marred by the many tubes in my arm and in my face, and you turned away, burying your face in your grandmother’s lap to cry.

It broke my heart to see you cry for me. But it also made me realise how important I was to you, and that moment, I only wanted to be your father even more.

I’ll take care of myself from now on. One day, when you become a father yourself, remember how you cried for me when I was down. Your children will need you, and you will need them too.




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