Monday, October 12

To celebrate, to remember: my father

"Take care of the house, the dogs, the chickens, fertilise the plants and take care of mum," was one of the last things my father told me. I struggle to remember the exact last words he told me before he was sedated - to help him recover faster. However, the last memory of me reading Jeffrey Archer to him would be something I will forever cherish. 

The past week, my family and I were overwhelmed with the love and support from friends and family near and far. For me, hearing about his life as a lawyer, politician and friend was comforting and refreshing, as his daughter, intentionally or not, I was not able to experience him as someone other than my father. 

This piece is dedicated to remembering him as a father, hoping that it can bring comfort to you as your tributes/eulogy have comforted me. 

For those who were there for my dad's 60th birthday party, you might remember me saying that my dad and I never had a daddy's princess sort of relationship. My father showed affection slightly differently, mainly through his stern lectures. It was hard, trying to live up to his expectations as his firstborn, especially through my teenage years. I felt like I was constantly being pushed into a corner - to be a lawyer, to join politics, to follow in his footsteps. However, this pressure was all in my head, an expectation I have set for myself. 

In truth, my father has always supported me, despite how crazy my dreams and ambitions were. When I first told him I wanted to study English Literature and be a journalist, he bought me books on literature and writing. When I wanted to take 4 weeks off of Malaysian school to attend summer school in Oxford - he let me, with little resistance. When fencing started becoming competitive for me, he made sure I had the necessary equipments, checked in after every competition, had thanksgiving dinners after each victory. When I got into University of Bath for psychology, he was there for my first day - to make sure I was all settled down. When I graduated, he took 3 days off from his role as a cabinet minister to attend my graduation. When I landed my first job as a consultant in the inclusion and diversity field and in women empowerment, he tried to help in any way he can (even pushed for the sexual harassment act, which has been in the works since the 90s). 

In hindsight, his tough love, was the warmest love a father could give.

My father and I after I came back with my gold medal in fencing. 'Next stop, Olympics' he said. [2012]

At his favourite restaurant, Ang's Hotel [2016]

At my mother's 55th birthday surprised birthday party, all planned by my father. [2018] 

My dad is one full of (recycled and reused) jokes and silly antics. He hardly ever brought home his work, it seems like the moment he steps into his home and changes into his house clothes (usually a loose t-shirt and his sarong), he becomes a stay-at-home dad who loves his garden, his chickens and dogs. My home has never looked the same each time I come back, there is always something he is changing, adding and upgrading. He wanted to create a space where he can be at home and still be able to host people from all walks of life - I think he managed to do that, with great success. 

With the Children's Liturgy Caroling team [2018]

My dad always, always puts family first. His tough love extends to my cousins, their children and beyond. He took pride in how diverse our family is and how we all, in general, get along. This pride extended to the whole state of Sabah, and I know he fought hard to ensure not only this harmonious living continues here but that it can influence the rest of the nation to follow suit. Lest forget his efforts in the MA63 fight. He really fought tooth and nail to ensure Sabah and Sarawak gets their status as partners restored. 

Funny enough, this was when I started to really have proper conversations with my father surrounding politics. When the votes did not go through in parliament, he took leave mid-year to fly over to London to get his mind off things. I took a bus from Bath to see him. Over dinner with just the two of us (no entourage, no meetings to go to - very rare), we discussed why few MPs abstained, how important the vote was...and if he will ever retire from politics. He told me that he'd love to one day but his then boss, a 93-year old, has set the retirement age too high. From that night onwards, whenever I needed a sounding board to understand the mess that is Malaysian politics, I go to him. Eventually, I decided to record our conversations and turn it into a podcast: Conversations with my Father. Now, it has become my go-to playlist whenever I need to hear his voice. 

My father loved being behind the camera. Our house is just filled with photographs. [2014]

My father also loves the Word and the Lord. He hangs bible verses all around the house and constantly quotes bible verses to us when we were in difficult situations. Every celebration and even tribulations, he trusted in God and made sure we all prayed and celebrated in His name. This meant a lot of thanksgiving mass at home and yes, more gatherings and parties. His faith in Christ has also made his passing slightly more comforting to me as I know he is no longer in pain and back in the arms of the Lord.

At my parents' 24th wedding anniversary thanksgiving mass. I'll miss holding your hands pa. [2019]

Having said that, part of me still struggles to accept that he is really gone. Part of me still expects to hear the door open and see him come through the door, back from his travels to KL, Sandakan or a meeting. Part of me still wants to see him sitting in his favourite spot near the fishes, drinking his favourite durian coffee. I have learned so much from him, yet I still need his guidance in so much more. Definitely needed his opinion on the current political situation in Sabah and Malaysia but alas, I would have to wait till I meet him again in the new life. 

I know there is still so much to my father that I have yet to talk about - his love for photography, for adventures, for whiskey and cigars. However, I'm pretty sure you all reading already are aware of this and plenty has already shared what kind of person he meant to you. I thought I'd share how he was as my father - just so we can all continue to celebrate his life with this knowledge. Not sure how long it will take me to stop tearing up whenever I think of him, but I know with the love and support from all of you, family and friends - this incredibly difficult time has been so much more easier to go through. 

Our final family portrait [2020]

"Enough lah, enough, Ying. Be strong. I need you to be strong, I am okay" was what he whispered to me, 2 days after his passing. It was then, I realised that I am the one to continue his legacy and I know he wants me to be ready, when the time comes. Here's to hoping, he continues to whisper to me when I need him the most. Pa, I'll continue to make you proud. 



  1. God's plan for each & everyone is a great mystery. We appreciate & glorify God for the gift of life. We do not know what God's plans for us. When the time comes for us to undertake a task, place our total trust in the Lord. He will guide & guard us. Call on Him at all times. He is our great Father. God bless you girl.

  2. Liza we stand by you and your family. He always wanted you to be happy without stepping into his shoes. He wants all of us to create our own legacies. You are his pride and joy.

    We pray that the Almighty gives strength to all at home. We will always be there to support and see you through to build your legacy every step of the way.

    I can never forget his smile and laughter! Brings tears to my eyes every time I read about Sabah. We had so many ideas and plans but I really hope it will come true.

    Love to all at home.