“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

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Beauty News -

“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.”

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