Reading time: seven minutes
In Raising FathersI had the privilege of sharing the story of my paternal grandfather Lian Kooi and my father Keong Heng Ang, both born in Malaysia of Chinese descent, and the impact this ancestry has had on my own life and now that of our family.
My grandfather was born in Johore, South Malaysia, in 1912, broad and burly despite being only 1.70m tall. With his thick black hair slicked back over a large, intimidating face, he could look stern.
However, despite this appearance, he had the character of a social man, so outgoing that my father barely remembers he was at home.
My grandfather made his living selling linens and tableware to miners who had flocked to northern Malaysia, in the town of Taiping.
Meaning “eternal peace”, Taiping’s calm was shattered by the Japanese invasion of then-Malaysia in December 1941, just hours before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
As the Imperial Japanese Army moved south, the family fled, desperate to escape the horrors that would be inflicted on men, women, and children throughout the occupation.
Like hundreds of others in Taiping, my grandfather fled to the relative safety of the surrounding jungle. Lian Kooi and my grandmother Lai Fong were among the hundreds of fleeing villagers and, fearing the advancing Japanese army, the young family friends hastily married in hopes of protecting Lai Fong from the threat of capture and exploitation. Eventually separated by the invading forces in 1944, my grandfather would endure torture at the hands of his captors while my grandmother was imprisoned with her newborn son, my father, before the war came to an end. .
Eventually separated by invading forces in 1944, my grandfather would endure torture at the hands of his captors while my grandmother was imprisoned with her newborn son
Home Away From Home
In the years that followed, the Ang family grew to a total of 11 with eight more children born in quick succession. However, over time, Lian Kooi was rarely seen at home. It is unfortunately one of my grandfather’s legacies that he was conspicuous by his absence.
At night, Lian Kooi, Lai Fong and eight of the children slept in the only bedroom while my father slept alone in the hallway on a folding canvas bed. Even in those early days, my father’s place in the family was like a separate person rather than a house within.
My grandfather held various jobs with mixed success as a salesman, then a store owner, and finally a taxi driver. It is this last enterprise that will end up costing him his life. When my grandfather died in a car accident, my father was already living in London, having moved there to escape the small town of Taiping, to work as a nurse and in time to bring back my mother whom he had met in the age of 17. My father had met my mother, Kah Chin Chong, in a Gospel dance hall at a ball in 1964 celebrating leap year and before long they were both working as nurses in London at an institute for adults with disabilities of learning. They got married in this town where my older brother Desmond was born.
My father doesn’t often talk about his own father. There is no trace of resentment or nostalgia for lost days, however, only the facts. The ultimate legacy of this upbringing and events on my father was a strong sense of autonomy and responsibility for his eight siblings, a widowed mother, and his own uncertain future.
His entrepreneurial spirit was not the product of choice but of circumstance. Whether catching fighting fish to sell at the market, or scavenging scrap copper wire from construction sites in Taiping, or selling ice cream in a van between hospital shifts in London , his diligence and creativity were a necessity, not a luxury. These were traits sorely lacking in his own father that my father seems to have inherited very little, not only materially but as an example.
Over the years, I grew in admiration for my father’s independence and hardworking ability, as it opened up a world of possibilities for us and for others, including his many siblings. I have no doubt that this role as provider and shepherd of the family came at a personal cost, as he was inevitably viewed by his siblings less as a brother and more as a father figure whom they feared as much as they respected. . This was also my experience as my father’s son, and economic pressures and harsh discipline within our household led my brother and I to become estranged from our parents and even from each other. With no connection so to speak to the center of our family, years of dissolute living followed, which continued through my college years, with repercussions for my health and my relationships. Once I had looked at the edge of life, almost to see how far one could fall, the inadequacy of that lifestyle led me to seek the gospel and eve of the new millennium to embrace the Catholic faith.
This journey to baptism at the age of 20 was difficult because it required turning to a new path that again differed from family expectations and turning away from illusions of self-sufficiency and misplaced desires.
With the relationship with my father and mother strained at the time, I struggled to find even the most basic words to tell them of my decision to be baptized and when I did, the night before, they argued with awkwardness and insecurity. My father, as was his tendency, didn’t say a word while my mother reacted with mild surprise and quietly asked when everything was going to be.
I still wish I could explain myself better. I was grateful to the small group of friends and sponsors who had gathered for my baptism that drizzly Wednesday evening of November 24, 1999. I took the Christian name “Matthew” because he was a disciple not in spite of, but because of his status as a sinner.
In time, I got married in the church of my baptism, to my wife Sara who also entered the Catholic Church as an adult. In the years that followed, I worked in media and advertising before taking my first Christian job with the Daughters of St. Paul and seven years later in the Diocese of Parramatta in western Sydney. I now have the privilege of serving here in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
In reflecting on who I have sought to be for my son and daughter as a father, I have endeavored above all to ensure that they have confidence in my presence and my love. Standing on my own father’s shoulders, I am able to provide our children with more time and attention than perhaps generations past. Like my father, I strive to provide for their material needs, but also to offer a clear witness to the ordinary and often quiet joys of Christian life before they inevitably encounter the sufferings and demands of self- drain of life. I try to teach my son in an emotional and often capricious world how to live or act not just by feelings but by what we value, and about joy, not like getting what we want but like experiencing to be loved. We talk about the gospel and Christian origins and influences on the great stories of our culture, the reality of being distinct as Christians in a complex world, and they ask simple and profound questions with a confidence that I seek to honor as best I can. box.
My prayers as a father are of course for their present and their future, for our family as a whole, for my own mother and my father who is sick. Over the past few years, my father and I have grown intimate and through the inevitable ups and downs of the relationship, we have become closer than ever.
In reflecting on who I have sought to be for my son and daughter as a father, I have endeavored above all to ensure that they have confidence in my presence and my love.
As my father ages, I know I will miss him terribly one day and I have enough perspective to enjoy the moments and the time that remains. This possibility of love, respect and mutual devotion in our relationship was largely made possible by my Christian faith which opened in me a new horizon of appreciation for what is good but imperfect, be it my father , the life of the Church or my own fatherhood which is still growing and changing in its gifts and demands. At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration a few years ago, I was able to share with my father that I love him and that my brother and I and their circle of friends were the beneficiaries of fifty years of marriage who gave more than they could have expected and more than we can give thanks. My mom’s daily care and devotion to my dad and our family was matched by the presence of integrity, dedication and love embodied by my dad that nurtured our lives and my Christian faith. He taught me the gift of being a father by being above all a faithful son.
Raising Fathers: Fathering from the Frontline – 12 Men’s Storiesedited by Robert Falzon, foreword by Greg Craven, Connor Court Publishing, 290 pages is available at The Mustard Seed Bookstore