My Father, The Letter Writer

Father is a man of few words, especially to his four children. But Pa is a good letter writer. We lived in those days when there were no mobile phones, emails, or Skype. So he wrote to all of us. And we to him. He would always begin with “My Dear… ” and end with “Yours lovingly…”

First it was my sister, the eldest of the brood. The correspondence started when she went to England to take up nursing in 1960 after her Cambridge Certificate or Form Five. Pa would let us read sis’ letters. He wrote back but we seldom knew what he wrote her as it was not discussed. Mother would often ask him to write a few lines on her behalf, usually enquiring whether the weather over there was too cold, or advising her to study hard and stuff like that.

He would usually use an air-letter if he had nothing to enclose like a photo or a money order. In those days, an air-letter would cost only 30 sen to any destination in the world by air. The limitation being that one can only write within the space provided which was big enough to take in about one or two hundred words depending on how big one’s handwriting was. Father was skillful enough to squeeze in a good 300 hundred words, including the obligatory “Thank you for letter dated… and how are you?”

Then it was my elder brother’s turn when he went to Melbourne for further studies. My brother would keep him duly informed of his studies and his pocket money. Then came my younger brother’s turn as he had remained in Kuala Lumpur when dad was transferred to Ipoh to be the state auditor for Perak.

When I went to the local university in Kuala Lumpur in 1969, there was no express highway then and I went home to Ipoh only during term breaks. Phone calls then were expensive. So Father wrote to me, and all of us. Over time we became sort of pen pals with Pa.

As a civil servant, Father had to be a good letter writer. Often he would bring back letters to be typed at home and put into manila brown envelopes (and never any other colour) imprinted with the letters OHMS (On His Majesty’s Service). As he was with the Auditor General’s Office, many a times we would see him sealing confidential letters with hot red wax with such skill that it was almost an art form.

The last letter my wife and I wrote to him and mum was in 1992. He got our letter, which was several pages long, and died. No, our letter didn’t kill him. He died of a massive heart attack when my in-laws who had just returned after visiting us in Australia called on them to deliver our letter. He had left our letter on the table to read it after my in-laws left. He never got to read it.

I can’t remember what it was that took us several pages to type it out on the word processor. I can only recall that it was Kim who did most of the writing to tell them how she enjoyed their visit to our home in Perth and to tell Pa not to worry about us, among other things.

Kim was also filling him on my progress as a student at the Perth Bible College where I had enrolled just before both of them returned to Malaysia.

I still can recall vividly the day I took them to the college. While I was going about the enrollment, I left them at the library and Father browsed through the shelves. After he passed away, friends would tell me how Pa was so enthralled by all the books he saw in the library, the concordances, Bible dictionaries, journals, commentaries, the Gospel, the Epistles, the Minor Prophets, the Major Prophets.

I celebrate Father’s Day with the blessed assurance knowing Father is having a time of his life meeting all the writers of the Old Testament and New Testament in the eternal library of life. His most precious moment undoubtedly is discovering his own name in the Book of Life. Amen.

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