Since young, my family has been going on road trips all around Malaysia especially during the long weekends. Growing up with four other sisters, our dad has always encouraged us to be adventurous and to try new things in hopes of gaining new experiences.
Recently, I went on a father-daughter trip to stunning Sabah where I witness the locals living the classic orang Pulau (Islanders) life. Upon reflection, I’ve garnered some insights about my dad as I travelled with him. Here are the five life lessons I’ve learnt while travelling with my mid-60s dad.
1. Don’t underestimate him
Among my family members, I would be the one that’s most interested in doing adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities. Before I left for my week-long trip to Sabah, my mom warned me many times to not push my dad too hard. She asked me to be his “alarm” and remind him to take his daily medication daily. I have to admit I was initially apprehensive since the activities I had mentally planned now had to be modified to be dad-friendly.
To my surprise, many times during our travels, my dad was the one who was pushing and daring me to do more than what we’ve planned. He had no trouble snorkelling effortlessly through the strong currents in the South China Sea, while trying to peer down at the shipwreck about 20 metres under.
During our snorkelling adventures, my dad would also put his “National Geographic” knowledge to good use. He would explain and differentiate all the various species of corals and sea creatures we chanced upon while I, on the other hand, relied on my limited knowledge which I got from watching the film Finding Nemo.
2. As a daughter, I have to care for my dad
One of the main highlights on our itinerary was hiking up Bohey Dulang. My dad has always been an individual who loves the outdoors and I knew this hike would be right up his alley.
Despite the possible strenuous 600m incline hike up, we decided to brave to the top without a guide. We were determined to reward ourselves with the view from the peak. During the last stretch of the hike, I noticed my dad getting quieter and slower. He confided in me that he was feeling a little light headed and needed to rest.
With the gummy worms in hand, we silently sat down munching on them hoping that it’ll provide us with a burst of energy needed to complete this short hike. It wasn’t before long we started moving again. And Alhamdulillah we were greeted with the best view, overlooking the entire Tun Sakaran Marine Park.
This minor set back prompted me to only take my dad’s ability into consideration but also, conduct proper research before deciding on any strenuous activity. Without those gummy worms, we could only rely on the support and cheers that were given by the rest of the climbers which was really endearing.
3. Live and let live
Travelling with my dad means travelling with a morning person. Right after Fajr, he was up and ready to start his day while I was unfortunately still in bed. My dad had his own plans starting his day before six in the morning. Yet, he never forced to be anything but myself. My dad always allowed me to be my own person and he never wrestled with me to dictate our itinerary.
Instead, my dad and I planned our daily activities as we went along despite having our own personal preferences. Whether together or separate, we both knew which activity sparks most joy for ourselves and proceeded on with it. It was refreshing to travel with a person whom I didn’t have to worry about whether he would enjoy the flexible itinerary.
4. Wisdom and experience come with age
When travelling with anyone in their 60s or with a medical condition, it’s your instinct as a daughter to want to protect them. Everyone warned me to ensure that my dad ate his medication on time and not to carry out activities which are too strenuous.
That’s what I felt at the beginning of our trip. But along the way, I realise that, despite his health and age, he is still my father. Being my father meant that he would still want to take care of me as long as he’s able to.
While I was heavily reliant on Google Maps, my dad would easily navigate around the area without any help from technology. He knew how to talk and relate to the locals while I had a hard time grasping their slightly different Malay twang.
Instead of falling for tourist traps, my dad was fortunate enough to come across a few locals who pointed us to the lesser-known more rustic locations. For the most part, my dad ended up leading me instead.
5. Communication is key
Most daughters are naturally more inclined towards their moms rather than dads. Generally, most conversations between fathers and daughters might be factual and may occur only when necessary. “Pa, I need help with the sink in my toilet” or “Pa, tomorrow can you send me to work I have to be there early” or something along those lines.
Throughout this trip, communication with my father was key. From planning our daily activities to asking if the dish we just ate was as good as my mom’s, I learnt how to initiate non-awkward conversations with the most important man in my life, my dad.
There was a distinct difference in the way we communicated because my dad was the only other person with me. Over our many conversations, I began to realise that I had just enough things in common with my father as with my mother.
As we get older and get more occupied with work commitments and socialising, we forget that our parents are silently ageing too. You might not be able to detect the day to day changes but looking back a few years ago, you’ll be able to identify the physical and mental changes in them.
Let’s take this as an opportunity to reward our parents, no matter how small, for their sacrifices. Fathers Day need not only be restricted to 16th June, but it can also happen any other day. For me, it was that entire week spent with my dad. Happy Father’s Day Pa!