Once I was young, and now I am old.
Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned
or their children begging for bread.
The godly always give generous loans to others,
and their children are a blessing.
Psalm 37:25-26 (NLT)
While crossing the road from the tram stop back to the office after lunch, I suddenly remembered my late Dad again.
At my age, Dad had already completed his set of children – eight altogether, five daughters and three sons. My eldest sister at this age was around 22 years of age, whereas my youngest brother was only seven years old. I really can’t imagine myself having eight children to raise and look after. Not only that, as mentioned in my blog before, Dad insisted that all of the children should at least finish high school.
Now, at this age, Dad had to deal with my eldest sister, who didn’t enjoy going to college and threatened to quit constantly. Dad also had several of my sisters in colleges and universities already, with my fifth sister finishing highschool, my elder brother in Junior High, and with me and my younger brother in Primary School. I can’t imagine how they managed every time each of the children asked to pay school fee. Mum and Dad also insisted that the children should go to the best school around (depending on our own ability and interests also). I remember having an argument with Dad when I finished Primary School as I wanted to follow my friends to a State Junior High School, and Dad insisted that I went to the best Catholic Junior High School in my hometown. I was really upset at his insistence but it’s a decision that I respect and appreciate now.
One may argue that it must have been Dad’s and Mum’s extraordinary management skills that got us through, although some may say that the cost of living (including the cost of education) was relatively low, so my parents could have achieved this with less effort compared to contemporary parents. However, I would beg to differ – if it had not God’s blessings, they wouldn’t have been able to manage! Although by today’s standards the costs related to raising eight children were low, at that time, managing them would have been very challenging indeed.
Mum and Dad had to make sacrifices. I remember growing up with a black-and-white television whilst my relatives already had colour TV. There used to be a piece of plastic that we attach in front of the TV – with the upper half tinted blue, the middle in amber and the lower half tinted green. Come to think about it, who are they trying to fool with tinted plastic? Ha! We didn’t grow up with stylish clothes or sneakers – we managed with what we had. We also didn’t have our own car until when I was a teenager. I vaguely recall Dad bringing a tin of biscuits that the children had to share – having tinned biscuits was a luxury for us! I remember playing a game with my younger brother on who would outlast each other by still having leftover meat or egg on the plate. We liked to save the best for last – as we had to make do with what we had.
Don’t get me wrong – this is not some kind of poverty porn story. Yes, there were things that I wish I could enjoy when I was young, but the children were never in need. All of us had enough food and clothing, and although fitting eight children in fewer bedrooms was like playing three-dimensional Tetris, all in all, we all had a great childhood.
So yes, at 44, Dad already had eight children. Somehow he and Mum managed their expenses well so all of us had never stopped schooling. We never begged for school fee payment extensions – and fast forward to the whole family now, it is thanks to our parents’ hard work and investment that the children and the grandchildren are leading a comparatively good life.
So can one judge that I were a better man for having a PhD and living overseas, compared to Dad who by then, had never set foot outside of Indonesia and did not even have a university degree? Certainly not. This is why success is truly not measured by a piece of certificate or how much money one has in a bank, but through lives impacted. All of us children continuously express our admiration and gratitude to our parents for being such extraordinary role models. When Dad passed away in 2011, he left us in great positions to continue his legacy.
Dad was also the first generation of his family born in Indonesia. His father was reportedly rich when he sailed down to Indonesia, but he passed away when Dad was still a young boy and by then, he had lost all of his money. So, Dad really didn’t have much inheritance or capital to rely on when he started to raise his family. Yet, when Dad passed away, all of the children had our allocation. He thought about this, way before he left – and communicated his decisions clearly with all of the children so there were no quarrels or disputes. This was done without any consultants or financial planners. How wise and far-sighted was that?
When one receives inheritance from one’s parents – the main theme is often gratitude and happiness. Certainly, those are the emotions that I feel as well. However, the overwhelming emotion for me is humility – in every cent of that inheritance that I received from my parents, is their dreams, aspirations, tears and sweat – of them worrying how they should shift things around to ensure that everybody would be fed, educated and well-looked after.
It’s not the total amount that overwhelms me, it’s what in each single cent.