Saturday, November 10, 2007

Happiness is...

When I was a little girl, I had a T-shirt with a picture of Smurfette and Papa Smurf on it. A line of text read, in cartoony script, "Happiness is walking with my Papa."

I remember how when I was three or younger (because I wasn't even in kindergarten yet) my dad would on some evenings take my brother and me to the playground behind our house. It was a short walk, yet at that time, happiness was walking with my papa.

As the years went by our communication lines got thinner and thinner, frayed and weakened by my dad's increasingly hectic work life, my growing sense of self, and what I can only explain as naturally tense dynamics between the two of us.

When I was 16, Pops had a heart attack that by any medical analysis "should have been" fatal. But after a month of bed rest, a quintuple bypass and more bed rest, he was back on his feet. In fact, within a day or two of surgery, he was back on his feet because his surgeon (my uncle) had ordered him to be mobile as soon as possible. My brother and I did laps with him down the hospital corridor at the rate of about one patient room per five minutes. Hey, it's not as if we were trying to win any races. It only occurs to me now that that was probably the first time in more than 10 years that the three of us had walked anywhere together that way.

I haven't taken a walk with my dad since those weeks following his heart surgery. We do other things, like have meals together. We've never talked much about things of the heart, but anything else is fair game: electronic circuits and stray puppies for him, comical moments of the day for me. I'm glad we talk at all.

Why this sudden burst of nostalgia? I was working on my PC on this cool, drizzly Saturday night when he knocked on my door and opened it with the widest grin on his face and a plastic container of sliced mango on his hand. A few nights ago, a relative had given us a few imported mangoes and on the way home, my dad said he'd cut them for me. For most of my life, I've been angry with him for not knowing me well enough. But one thing he has learned about his only daughter: I could probably live by mango alone if given the chance.

As I took the container from him and he stayed to talk, I had a glimpse of uglier times from our past, times when all I wanted to do was run away. (And once I did, only I did it in such a well-concealed way that even I didn't realise I was running away.) Things between us still aren't perfect, but they have improved and that gives me faith that they will continue to.

The mango was sweet and fragrant, deserving of its probably exorbitant price. But it wasn't as sweet as the thanks that flowed from my heart, thanks that this rebellious child has made her peace with fathers divine and earthly.

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