On father

"I love you, Pa".

Who-aa! If you're an Indonesian man, imagine what will happen the minute after you said that to your father. The most benign response will be something along this line: "Anything wrong with you ?". The cynical version will possibly : "What ? Did you forget to take your pills again ?". While the realistic father will simply say, "alright. How much money do you need this time ?".

It's uncommon for Indonesian to express the love to their father in words, at least in my generation. Our sisters might have more success in this regards (especially to our mothers), but believe me, things will actually get worse (or at least, awkward) if you start blurting those three magic words to him. It seems that deep in our grey cells which regulate our linguistic skills, the word "father" is more appropriately related to the feeling "respect" than "love".

Does it mean that we don't love our father ? It's hard to say, but the Indonesian version of father-son's innermost relationship is more likely based on gestures and action than on spoken words. Not that words don't play significant role, but mostly it's on the form of advice, command, banter, anger or debate. Soft, gentle words are never seen as it is but must be understood within the context of "speak softly, but carry a big stick". And when you're being too naughty, the stick more often than not are there faster than the words.

I have only once seen my father express his deepest feeling for me. It's not conveyed in words, but tears. I had a concussion due to a motorcycle accident. I was taken to the hospital, and while laying down in the ER unit, slowly drifting to unconscious state, I remembered seeing him and my mother standing beside me. Naturally, I felt terrified, especially because less than 3 months before I had crashed the car in another accident. "That's it. I'm doomed. I'll be lucky if he just throw me the harsh words". My mother was crying hysterically and blurbing questions to the doctor about my condition. She would ruefully told my father that he should not bought the motorcycle in the first place. But all those time, my father was just silently standing beside my bed. I didn't know whether he was angry, or just worried about my condition, or something else. All I could see was the tears trailing down his cheeks. THat was the moment I knew I will remember for the rest of my life every time I think about fatherly love.

Similar experiences also happened to most of my friends. We don't recall of ever saying "I love you"s to our fathers - or having our fathers saying it to their sons. It is just don't get done that way. The love is expressed by making him proud of our achievements, and by us being proud of HIS achievements. It is done by being silently grateful for all the things he have done to us. It is conveyed in the action of trying to be more successful than him. It is the main idea that drive our struggle to be better than our fathers. Those of you who read Freud for a living will say that it's the reflection of that Oedipian thing. But the fact is simple: that drive is mutually accepted as the way things should be. You will never ever meet a father who does not express his pride when he boast about his kids achievement.

Which brings us to the non-existence of "Father's Day" event in Indonesia. We do have a "Mother's Day" celebration every 22 Dec, but so far I have never heard any suggestion to have the equivalent event for the fathers. Do we need to institute the Father's Day in our calendar ? I honestly have no idea. For Mother's Day, we are supposed to do something special like letting her free from daily chores like cooking. The same thing can't be applied to our father. He never cooked for the family (even if he's a chef). He doesn't even do men's chores like washing the car anymore, cause it's already "delegated" to the kids. So, what special treatment do we give them for the Day ?


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