“I’M ON THE RUN FROM MY FATHER’S LOAN SHARKS.”
Jane’s* dad left the family when she was 10, but she was forced to flee her home as an adult because of his massive debts. AS TOLD TO CHERYL LEONG
“I still recall the day Dad moved out – he was shouting at Mum while my two younger siblings and I cried in our bedroom. After he left, I crept out of the room and saw Mum lying on the oor weeping. She refused to talk about my father or why he left – it was as if he’d never existed.
The Truth Hurts
Shortly before Dad left, Mum had been diagnosed with advanced-stage leukaemia. She was 40 years old. At that time, I was just turning 10, while my sister and brother were eight and ve, respectively.
Mum passed away six months after Dad left us. My mum’s sister – along with her husband and their two children – moved in to take care of us. I was overwhelmed with grief. I wanted Dad to come home, and I cried and pestered my aunt every day for two months to speak to him.
That was when my aunt told me why Dad had deserted us. When Mum rst broke the news of her leukaemia, Dad had admitted to having an affair and said he’d been thinking about leaving us – he’d said he couldn’t look after a sick wife and young children by himself.
I felt so guilty on learning the truth. I had blamed Mum when Dad left, for not trying harder to convince him to stay. My father and I had shared a special bond. He often had a treat for me when he came home from work and would take me out for ice cream without my siblings. His abandonment affected me the most.
After talking to my aunt, I felt so angry with my father. I remembered how he hadn’t bothered to visit my mother when she was hospitalised a month after he left. He didn’t come to her funeral or call to check how my siblings and I were coping.
Even so, in my 10-year-old mind, I hoped that one day soon, I’d open the door to our home and see him there. After a year of waiting, I gave up hope. I missed Mum constantly, and it was difficult adjusting to my new “family”, but my aunt took very good care of us and we grew up in a loving home.
I wondered about Dad occasionally, but I learnt to shut him out of my life. In fact, it would be nine years before I heard from him again.
Back in My Life
It started with a phone call and just like that, my father was back in my life. I was 19 and had just completed polytechnic. When I answered, the person on the other end stayed quiet for a few seconds before calling me by my childhood pet name. I was stunned; it took me a while to recognise my father’s voice. He had somehow got hold of my number.
I heard him sniffling and when he spoke, I could tell he was holding back tears. He apologised for leaving us – he said he couldn’t bring himself to contact us after Mum died because he was so guilt-ridden and ashamed.
I must have had some residue of longing for my dad because I swallowed the years of pent-up anger and didn’t hang up on him. When he told me how difficult it was to live alone – he said he’d ended his affair a few years after Mum’s death – and make ends meet, I didn’t doubt him. He then hinted that since I’d grown up and was earning some spare cash – I gave tuition to lower-primary kids on weekends – I should fulfil my “duty” as his daughter and contribute to his living expenses.
I barely hesitated, partly because I felt sorry for him and partly because I was glad he had turned to me for help. It meant that I was still important to him. So I agreed to transfer a small amount of my tuition earnings – $200-$300 – to him each month. He was so grateful and happy. I felt like we were beginning to repair our relationship.
The Disappearing Act
For the next two to three months, I heard from my father regularly – one or two phone calls a week; every few weeks, he’d take me out to dinner, mostly at food courts or hawker centres. He seemed genuinely keen to be part of my life. He often talked about Mum – reminiscing about their courtship, the things she liked or the quirks she had – and how much he regretted leaving her.
I took this to mean that he had never forgotten her, and after a month or two, the gaping hole in my heart began to heal.
So when Dad pushed – gently – for more money, I agreed. We settled on $500 a month, even though I had to take on a few more tuition jobs.
From that point, though, the phone calls started to dry up. Over the next six months, whenever I rang Dad, I was routed to his voicemail and it’d be days before he returned my calls. I continued to transfer money to him via ATMs, until he disconnected his mobile phone line.
My father had walked out on me
“I couldn’t believe that my own father would use me as a guarantor for his debts.”
again. This time, I felt even worse – as if I had somehow allowed it to happen to me. I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been. I’d thought I was special because I was the only one among us that my dad had reached out to. I resolved then to forget about my father.
Harassed at Home
I wish I could say that was the end of it, but something worse happened. Several years later, when I was 22, I received a call from a loan shark who shouted that if my father didn’t repay his debts, they would come after my family instead.
The call left me frightened and shaking. I phoned my aunt for support and that was when she revealed more unsavoury truths about my father. He was an incorrigible womaniser and gambler who borrowed from loan sharks to
fund his vices, $4,000-$5,000 at a time. If he couldn’t settle his debts, my mother would step in. When she could no longer afford to, she turned to her siblings for money.
When I heard this, I broke down. I knew he wasn’t someone I could trust after he left me without a trace three years ago. But I couldn’t believe that my own father would use me as a guarantor for his debts.
For the next few days, I received incessant phone calls in the middle of the night and often saw burly, aggressive-looking men loitering at our void deck. My siblings and I made it a point to get home early and meet before taking the lift up to our at together.
A week after our ordeal, my dad called me from an unknown number, crying and begging for help to clear his gambling debt of almost $100,000. I didn’t have that kind of money so I turned to my aunt, who scraped the sum together. She
warned my father never to look for my siblings and me again, or she would call the police.
Forced Out of Our Home
Things were peaceful after that – my sister got married, while my brother and I continued living in our family home, which is under my father’s name and mine. I thought we’d nally moved on from our sad past.
But last year, I returned home from work to a terrifying sight – the lift door and walls were spraypainted with our unit number and “O$P$” signs. When I got to my at, I found the front door splashed with
red paint. My mobile phone rang right then – an unknown number.
When I picked up, a menacing voice on the line said that if I didn’t settle my father’s debts, worse things would happen. I asked how much he owed, and the answer – $500,000 – knocked the wind out of me. To make things worse, Dad was on the run.
As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t want to call the police about my own father. But I couldn’t bring myself to turn to my aunt again for help either – she’d already wiped out her savings the last time.
My sister decided that the best course of action was for our brother to move in with her and her husband while I moved in with my ance’s family. We didn’t want to talk about how long this arrangement would last, because we didn’t want to consider that we might never return to the home we grew up in. We packed as much as we could and changed our contact numbers.
Closing a Chapter
It’s been a year since we were forced to flee our flat. I haven’t gone back because I’m afraid of what I might nd – more scrawled graffiti, death threats, or worse, the thrashed remnants of my home, which I can’t sell without my dad’s consent. My aunt and her family have moved back to their own place.
My fiance and I got married six months ago and we’re now waiting for a flat.
I haven’t heard from my dad. I still feel jittery whenever I get calls from unknown numbers, but I’m determined to put aside that fear and move on with my life. Even though Dad has caused so much unhappiness, I don’t hate him anymore – I just don’t want to have anything to do with him. That, to me, is the best way to move forward.”