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Words Unspoken

Words Unspoken

grandpa and me

Sometimes, the simplest words are the hardest to say.

My grandfather was a distinguished gentleman and a master wordsmith. His prose made the toughest men weep and the finest ladies cackle. Yet in all his eloquence, I had never heard him utter the simple words “I love you” or “sorry” to any of his children. His language of love to them was expressed through the only way he knew how – Discipline.

My mum and her siblings were proud recipients of bruised and bloodied knuckles from the assaults of wooden rulers because their handwriting was less than perfect. The strikes from the rattan canes were a welcomed relief compared to the bottle caps they were made to kneel on when they misbehaved. Durian husks were the alternative when the fruit was in season.

Needless to say, his sons learnt the language of love in a similar fashion. I can still vividly recall my eldest uncle’s swift smack to my left cheek when I defied his repeated instructions to tuck my shirt in. My gums bled. I was only 5.

My father, the other key figure in my life, was a tad better. He would compensate me with money after taking disciplinary actions. That was his way of saying sorry.

Don’t get me wrong. These men in my family are the finest I know and the ones I respect the most.

The anecdotes about my grandfather’s tough love were told to me with tears of deep gratitude and reverence by my mum and her siblings. They knew he loved them fiercely and only wanted what was best for them. We miss him dearly.

My eldest uncle protected his family with his life. He would take a bullet for us anytime. Though he lost his battle to cancer and was taken away from us prematurely, he was a fighter and will always be our hero.

When I was on the brink of death in the hospital, the look of helplessness and despair on my father’s face spoke volumes. He said nothing but I knew he would rather be the one lying incapacitated on the bed and not me.

These men in my life and their unspoken words made me wonder what’s so hard about saying “I love you and sorry”. I thought I could do better but I was wrong.

In recent days, I have come to realize that my way of saying “I love you” to some I care deeply for was through harsh critique and correction. When feelings of remorse crept in, my “sorry” took the form of lavish peace offerings. This apple did not fall far from the trees. I am my grandfather, my eldest uncle, and my father put together.

I have since resolved to not let the words that choke the men in my family do the same to me. So to those I may have hurt in my life, I would like to say, “I love you. I am sorry. I truly am”. I know I cannot undo the pain I have caused but please allow me to dedicate this song as my ode to you.

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