ad astra per alia porci


life happens
December 21, 2008, 4:35 am
Filed under: diary

201208

T has always been the epitome of steadfastness and reliability to me. He is the kind of person who you would readily entrust with responsibility. He is one of the hardest workers I have seen and a real go-getter, as far as my scouting days with him in secondary school and junior college suggest.

Hence when he announced to a gathering of friends that he is planning to marry last year, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought that being someone who lives life on fast forward, it is not unbecoming of T to be hitched so early. The usual good-natured teasing and jousting happened, and we thought it was great news.

Surprise led to intrigue when T invited us to the full month celebrations for his baby a week ago. T was fast for his age, but isn’t he a bit too fast? The obvious inference was that he had a shotgun marriage. But understandable as it is, he did not tell us that when we met a year ago. What does that mean? Hence while normally one would feel happy for a friend, in such circumstances my happiness was tinged with a shade of uneasy uncertainty and intrigue.

T was my first peer who got married, and also the first to have a child. Getting married and having babies are not matters friends compete in, but seeing T apparently doing so well with his life so quickly inevitably led to some jealousy on my part. I am yet to even have my first girl friend, much less get married. I felt somehow inadequate and unaccomplished. This sense of being left behind in the race of life made the itch of having to see it to believe it even stronger.

So that’s how I spent my day today: I embarked on a roadtrip with two other friends to visit T at T’s house in Johor.

I felt slightly guilty because this visit was not solely motivated by my altruistic desire to meet a friend I have not seen for a while, but also to satiate my curiosity as to how he is coping and how it feels like to be a father so early in life. I am in some sense trying to experience a snippet of early fatherhood vicariously through T, in a slightly Machiavellian fashion.

T now lives in a suburban residential area not far from the causeway. The entire neighbourhood is filled with lines and lines of cosy-looking, new and well-maintained private houses. One would have mistaken this place for a really new private residential neighbourhood in Singapore, if not for the street signs with Malay names on them. Hence our initial impression was a good one as we circled the neighbourhood trying to locate T’s house.

T greeted us in his tan polo and khaki slacks with soft handshakes. His complexion seemed to have become lighter. I congratulated him on behalf of the scout friends who couldn’t make it. He invited us into his house and disappeared to the upper levels. We were left wandering at the living room, taking snacks, smiling at his relatives, and making small talk with the few medicine friends which were there already. T’s wife was nowhere in sight; we later found out that she was breastfeeding the child.

It was a quiet celebration. Catered food, about 10 friends and T’s immediate family. T’s wife’s family are from Myanmar and were not able to come down to Malaysia.

T was constantly disappearing and when he did appear he was usually shuffling around the house. We only managed to really get to converse with him somewhere at the middle of the lunch service.

T was cordial and friendly, but seemed uneasily undisengaged. We made small talk, before we approached the deeper issues. T seemed like he was floating; he seemed too distant for a father, and he looked just like any of us. No increased air of maturity brought about by fatherhood, no superlative emotions exuded. It felt like just another day.

The problem is that it is not. I can’t imagine what I would do if I had a child at this age. I would be at a loss. I might feel happy that I am father or I might brood over the fact that I have such an immense responsibility now. At any rate, I won’t be neutral. But T acted and looked as if it was just another day. That is what troubled me.

When we finally managed to isolate T and get down to talking, T was again neutral in his comments. “So how is it like being a father?”. “Life goes on… like that lor”. “So what do you plan to do now?”. “Just study and get my degree”.

But T’s reaction to my other friend’s question was markedly different, and telling. J asked T, “so why did you get married so early?”. T retorted, in a irritated tone that suggested frustration, “what can I do, it was a shotgun marriage”.

That was the first time in the evening T actually showed any emotion that departed from the average. And it gave us the impression that he was not particularly happy, as much as we would want it to be otherwise. Soon after he answered J’s question, he went back to his shuffling around the house.

The incident broke my previous impression of T. I thought he would have wanted this to happen all along, that it was part of a deliberate plan to advance his own life and grow as a person. But it was not. A shotgun marriage, which led to a child that was not expected. And this was coming from a person who I thought was one of the more steady-minded person I have seen. He is a reluctant outlier.

We talked quite a bit about how we felt on the drive home to Singapore. For J this reaffirmed his belief that he will adopt a child when he gets married. If he ever gets married. For me T’s situation was a caveat against taking things too fast. Having a child so early is extremely disruptive.

I saw marriage and having children a bit differently now. The thought that marriage and children are obligatory have lost much of its lustre.

Marriage is not some ritual that everyone must go through, and substance is more important than form because getting married itself says nothing about how fulfilling it is. Perhaps marriage itself is an archaic notion that has lost much of its relevance.

As for children, having children is not like keeping a score in a competition and one should always plan for one. But sometimes, life just happens. And you are left to pick up the pieces. For better or worst. I hope things turn out well for T in the end. There is every chance it would given the love , support and warmth displayed by his family when we were there.

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