updated 2 Jul 2014, 21:04
Login password or
Tue, Jun 17, 2014
The Straits Times
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
How to tell papa the family loves him
by Pearl Lee

My father had a heart attack last month. It came as a sharp pain in his back, so intense that it woke him up at 3am.

He was warded for more than a week at Singapore General Hospital, where he went for an angioplasty twice.

The first one failed as doctors could not drill through the calcium build-up clogging his artery. The second time, they pushed it to the side and inserted two stents there.

My dad has a history of heart problems, made worse by a smoking habit picked up when he was just 11.

Seeing him looking subdued on the hospital bed with a giant bruise on his right inner thigh from the procedure, my family decided it was time to get him to quit smoking.

One night, while my dad was still in hospital, my older brother threw all the lighters, ashtrays and cigarette packs, including unopened ones, down the rubbish chute.

We have to be very firm with papa, we can't let him smoke anymore, said my brother, a smoker himself, who has not smoked at home since then.

When my dad got home, my brother and I told him, sometimes impatiently, that he must not smoke anymore.

It is very serious, you might just die, we said.

Things were fine for the first week and we didn't see him smoke at home.

But we knew he was probably still smoking when he was at his favourite hangout, a kopitiam in Chin Swee Road.

So we kept nagging him to stop. By the second week, he got annoyed. He would snap at us and tell us to keep quiet.

He has a fiery temper and a booming voice and can make a room go quiet with his piercing stare.

Sometimes, when chatting with my friends on the phone in my room, they would ask me to lower the volume of the television.

Err, that's my dad talking in the living room, I would say.

So when he shouted at us to stop nagging, we did just that.

And even when I smelt cigarette smoke in the bathroom and when my brother caught him lighting up in the corridor, we kept quiet.

It is so difficult to police papa, my brother said.

I confided in a friend and she suggested I try a different approach. Why don't you tell him how much you love him and how important he is to the family?

It was a thought that made me cringe. How do I say that to my dad?

Things like this do not come naturally to my family. We hardly show affection for one another - I have probably never said thank you or good night to my parents.

But still I thought about it and concluded that this was what we needed to do.

I decided to ask my mum. She was squatting in the kitchen with her back to me, wrapping rice dumplings in bamboo leaves.

Hey, why don't you tell papa that you love him? Maybe it will make him quit smoking, I said.

She gasped and sputtered into the rice dumpling. Crazy! I can't say that, she laughed. I might be able to do it if I were still 30.

Perhaps my brother could do it. As the only Christian in the family, he prays for us often. He could probably tell my father he wants to pray for him and slip in those three words.

Or maybe my younger sister, who is studying in Tokyo. She just needs to send a message to our dad. It might not be that awkward as she doesn't need to face him.

More than two weeks have passed and still no one has said anything.

It is funny how we crack our heads figuring out how to tell papa we love him.

I pepper my text messages to my friends with hugs and "love you"s, but find it hard to say those same words to my own father.

But I do want him to know how important it is to us that he quits smoking and how much we want him to be around.

And perhaps this Father's Day is a good time to do it.

So, quit smoking OK, papa?

I love you.

This article was first published on June 15, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.