I call my father “Bapak”. I found it confusing to call him that because my friends from Kindergarten to Junior High called their fathers “Papa” or “Papi”. I tried to call him that way, but then he would glare at me and insist that I’d call him “Bapak”. Looking at Bapak is like having myself looking in a mirror. I find many aspects of him in me, in the good ways and not-so-good ways. We’re both straightforward people. We don’t beat around the bush. We’re also very persistent with our goals; our motto is to be all out or to give nothing at all. We’re often misunderstood by people closest to us. Our being care is seen as our being nosy. Our attention to details is seen as being control-freak (well, it’s partly true, ha-ha).
Today is his 66th birthday.
Yesterday was the 36th anniversary of my parents. He always told me that being married to my mother was the best birthday present he ever received in his lifetime. I guess we have another thing in common; we’re both hopeless romantics, ha-ha. Bapak instilled my habit of reading and writing since I was very young. When I was seven, I got a diary as a present for my good grades from my mother’s boss. He told me to start writing in English in that diary. I was seven and the only words I knew were thank you, thanks, and welcome (as written on our door mat). He encouraged me to watch Sesame Streets and to keep writing regardless the mistakes I made. He himself loves English. He would always try to tune in to news announced in English, be it on the radio or television. When I was enrolled in an English course by the time I was in High School, I dedicated all my outstanding student certificates to him, who had introduced me to the language from the first place.
He was opposed to my idea of becoming a lawyer, but he would let me leaf through the pages of Tempo magazine since I was twelve years old. From Tempo I learned difficult vocabularies in Bahasa Indonesia, and I learned how to write. He is an independent learner. I take that after him. The furniture in my parents’ home were mostly handmade by him. He can sew, and at one time he would sew bedsheet and pillow covers. He grows plants, he cooks delicious meals, he draws and builds closets. When my father puts his heart into something, there’s nothing he can’t do. I’m grateful to be possessing the same trait. He bought an organ and copied the learning book of primary level when I was around ten. I knew back then money was tight to send me to music course, so I just peeked into the book every now and then. When my sister took organ lesson when we were in High School, I would demand her to teach me how to play. That’s how I got to play that musical instrument for about three years. I knew I wasn’t talented in music; I could (and still can) never play without looking at a partiture. Nevertheless, it felt good to muster up the courage to learn and progress in something completely new.
Bapak got to decide the right man for me. All boyfriends I had were not right until the day my husband showed up at our home and called him “Tulang”. I was afraid that he would disagree because my husband is not Bataknese, but Bapak has supported me and been very patient to teach me about marriage since the start of our relationship. Bapak loves to play and to be surrounded by his grandchildren. That’s the quality that he shares with my sister, not with me, unfortunately. Bapak is very loyal and passionate with life. He likes to wander around and to talk to strangers. That’s another quality I don’t take after him. I’m more introverted and cautious around people. Bapak is overall a friendly person with strict principles.
In my mind, I’m always in my 10’s and Bapak is in his 40’s. I never remember how he grows old. I can clearly remember my childhood when we had our weekly picnic in the greeneries around Bandung (sometimes in Lembang, many times in Dago), when we drove to Yogyakarta (how he loves the city), how he always cooked chicken soup whenever my siblings and I were about to have important exams. Unlike most Bataknese men, Bapak never hesitates to handle household chores. I’m always grateful for Bapak. And regardless of our heated arguments, anger directed towards each other, critics on each other’s personalities, he is my father, and I can’t ask for more.
Here’s a prayer for ever-fruitful years ahead of him. I know his body is getting old; he has wrinkles; his hair is receding; but his spirit is always young. Just like when I was a baby.
I love you, Bapak. Thank you for my life.