The writer’s father showed her that no matter what the circumstance, true recognition comes from finding peace within.

My father’s climb from an ordinary sergeant to a senior ranking officer, was a matter of honour in the eyes of his family. He constantly referred to his distinguished career, as being only a “law enforcer”.

Even though I always felt distant because of his irregular hours, he was still my father and the rock of our family. What I longed for more than anything, was for my father to lead an ordinary life. Upon retirement, Father chose to move back to our hometown where he enjoyed an unrecognised housebound existence. His grandchildren, garden and pets were his passion, and it won more medals of pride in his eyes. Only then did the distance that had stood between my father and me melt away.

As my father’s death anniversary came around, my mother became more and more depressed as she traced and caressed my father possessions, left in her keep. Ceremonial uniforms and vests for various formal occasions containing his name tag, rows of colourful badges, beret caps and batons of various sizes were left hanging in their respective coat bags after he passed away.

None of us ever thought of burying him in his uniform as his demise was sudden and unexpected. His medals of honour (still in their boxes) took on a yellow hue as their ribbons faded, and their once shiny faces now turned brownish.

Going through my father’s personal effects with my mother, I was mesmerised by his medals, commendation letters, tokens of appreciation, boxes of brass buttons, silver cufflinks and various ceremonial tie pins. I realised how much respect, dignity and admiration my dad’s achievement impacted others, yet he chose not to publicise his fame.

When US President Barack Obama visited our country, mum told me that my father had also played an important role when President Lyndon Johnson and his wife visited Malaysia in 1966. Father was in charge of the movement details which provided security for his entourage. For his excellent work on security enforcement, he received a very special engraved pen from the President, and a letter of appreciation from the ambassador of the United States in Kuala Lumpur who conveyed his appreciation for the work undertaken during that period.

Prior to his retirement, my father was awarded the Ahli Mangku Negara (AMN) by the Sultan in recognition of his work and loyalty to King and country.

As I sat at my father’s desk and read all his testimonials kept in a crumpled brown folder, I was struck by his innate modesty and how secretive he was. Everyone knew he was an ex-serviceman, yet he never displayed his plaques or medals, nor any of his citations or awards on the walls of our home. His career had spoken for itself. He believed in his country and served with pride in the face of danger.

However, after retirement he led an ordinary life and always said: “I would rather be ashes than dust.” Because true wealth, he felt, was living simply, learning what not to want and how not to want it. According to him, “when you wake up, get up. And when you get up, do something!”

And so, he always had a healthy body, his mind was alert, his work was interesting and people trusted him. For him, failure was not about how one could not do something, but rather, it was more important knowing how to do it. His wisdom played an inspirational role in my life and in a way, sustained me as well. For in sharing it, he showed me that no matter what the circumstance, true recognition comes from finding peace within.

I sat and wondered what I would be remembered for in my lifetime. Looking around and sensing the unyielding passage of time, I felt I needed to do something that had real meaning. All of my father’s tangible mementos which sustained my mother’s faith all these years, should be stored in a special place of honour.

Slowly, I persuaded mum to donate his possessions to an Armed Forces museum – it was better that way, I assured her.

It has been eight years since my father passed away. These days, whenever I need to celebrate his birthday or the anniversary of his passing, I take my children and their grandmother to the museum to view all the historical pictures, uniforms and decorations. That brings back memories of a man who set himself a goal, and constantly fuelled the fire of anticipation in his life.