Some of my earliest memories involve sitting with my dad in his study every night when he came home from the office. I’d watch as he put his personal items away: his watch, wallet, comb and car keys would always occupy the same spot on the table every time. It was as if he could see invisible lines drawn specifically for these things, not a centimetre more or less.
Dad’s comb was jade green. I heard he bought it when he married Mum, which made the comb two years older than
I was. Every night, he would smile, hand me the comb and say: “Be a good girl and help Daddy clean it, OK?”
I was more than happy to do it. At age five this mundane task brought me such joy. I would excitedly turn the tap on, then brush the comb with a used toothbrush as hard as I could. Satisfied that I’d done a good job, I would proudly return the comb to Dad. He would smile at me, and place the comb on top of his wallet.
About two years later, Dad left his sales job and started his own wholesale business. I started primary school. That was when things started to change. Dad’s business wasn’t doing so well, and our stable life started getting shaky. He didn’t come home as much as he used to – just a couple of times a week. And when he did come home, it was always late and I’d already be in bed. I started to get mad. Why didn’t he listen to Mum and just stick to his old job? Why take the risk and place the whole family in trouble? Over the years, I stopped waiting for him to come home, and stopped going downstairs to check on him.
Today, I’m no longer a kid. Now 28, I’ve graduated from college and got a job. Dad’s business has also started to get back on track. Things are better
now. Yet the uncomfortable silence between Dad and me persisted.
Two days before my birthday last year, Dad came home early. As usual, I helped him carry his bags into his study. When I turned to leave, he said: “Hey, would you like to help me clean my comb? It’s been a while since I last cleaned it.” I looked at him a while, then took the comb and headed to the sink.
It’s a new comb. This one’s brown. I hadn’t noticed that he’d changed it. He used to have the green one, then a pink one that he gave to me as a present but took back when his green one broke. I punch a few drops of soap from the dispenser onto an old toothbrush, and I brush the comb.
It hit me then: why, as a child, helping my dad clean his comb was such a joy. That routine meant that my dad was home early to spend the evening with Mum and I. It meant he would watch TV with us or play a few video games with me. It meant a happy and loving family.
I pass the clean comb back to Dad. He looks at it and smiles. But this time, I notice something different. My dad has aged. He has wrinkles next to his eyes when he smiles, yet his smile is still as heartwarming as before. The smile of a father who just wants a good life for his family.
Dad carefully places his comb on top of his wallet. After so many years, he still organises his personal items in the same meticulous way. I guess some things never change. And for that, I’m glad.