My Father, the “Lao Hee Low”

This post was first published on June 10, 2008 on My Ivory Throne.

My father happens to be my 1960s icon, and my own inspiration (and case study) for fathering the way I do. He first became a father with my first sister in 1965 (very close to August 25th, in fact), and to this day, nobody knows how he managed to put 3 of his daughters through university with his primary school education and meagre immigration officer pay. To this day, he refuses to divulge this secret himself, but we all have this nagging suspicion it has something to do with horses.

My father has since retired and now spends most of his days calling me to figure out how to use the Internet on his computer.

My mum called me this morning telling me my dad had spent the night at a hospital for gout pains. Apparently a friend had to drive him from work (he was on night shift) to Alexandra Hospital because of the excruciating pain he was feeling, and the doctors told him to rest in the hospital and head home in the morning.

As far as Dad’s medical history was concerned, this was almost unheard of. My father has an occupational history of the last 16 years without a single sick day, and would rather tough it out in the office than stay home and lay in bed nursing a fever or some such minor illness. He is also a colon cancer survivor with the determination to survive that’s as strong as steel, and even when he went into surgery to remove the cancer from inside of him, he contemplated taking leave to do it. Incidentally, that was 17 years ago.


My father was, and still is, on the payroll of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and has gone through grunt work, up to supervisory positions, and even all the way into management level. During this time he has always stood up for what he believed in, even when it meant standing up against what he didn’t. If not for the fact that he was working for government, he’d probably be a mafia don by now.

Case in point (and I am trying my best to portray as accurate a picture as I can): at one period in his career and sometime in the late 1960s, my dad, then a young, fit, and quite intimidating 20+-year-old immigration field officer, was relegated to guarding illegal immigrants’ lockup cells.

(When he told me this story, I was envisioning one of those Mexican police station lockups with my dad and a colleague sitting in an open area in front of the cells smoking and playing poker or something. Of course, this being Singapore, it is very likely much more mundane than that).

The guy he was supposed to report to (who, according to my dad, was this young hotshot university graduate that liked to pull rank, especially to older, more experienced staff, as a show of tail feathers) walks in one day while they were smoking and playing poker and starts shouting at them for skiving at work.?As he drew nearer to them, my father – still seated – starts reasoning with him, but the bespectacled man starts screaming down at him in his chair, bringing my dad to boiling point. So my dad gets up out of his chair and looks down into Officer Suddenly-Realising-His-Subordinate-Is-a-Head-Taller and starts telling him in a louder-than-comfortable voice, “Show some respect,” while raising his index finger to Captain Wide-Eyed and slowly pushing his glasses back up his suddenly sweaty nose bridge and into his face – hard. A few months later the university graduate requested a transfer out of that department (my dad says the guy tried to get him transferred, but was told of my dad’s history with ICA and decided to do it to himself instead).

Of course, this may be a little more dramatic than what actually happened, in which case, do forgive the idolising son who has not encountered any other person in his life with such a strong personality.

Which leads me to the epilogue of this entry. Over the weekend I heard my dad had gone to get himself checked for some immobility in his left arm, and he did a very similar thing as I have described above to the doctor that was unfortunate enough to have been tasked to show him his ECG results. It went along the lines of him flipping out in the doctor’s office, telling the poor physician that his results cannot be trusted and that he should eat the file his ECG results came in (or something).

He was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke and two minor heart attacks – and over the last three months.

Strength is measured in many forms, not least in physical attributes, and more intangibly, character. But while strength can be taken from the body in many ways, it is not easily diminished in a person’s character, so long as he has held on to that strength his entire life. Say hi to my dad.

4 Replies to “My Father, the “Lao Hee Low””

  1. Dads tell the best stories. I have to say though, your dad’s are excellent! The strong personality comes through like a broadsword.

    1. I once asked him if he ever watched Point of Entry (his field work involved just that kind of immigrant-chasing scenes in the show). Then he started sharing some of his experiences with us (including this one). When he was done, his children (and children-in-law) came to one unanimous conclusion.

      Point of Entry is absolute crap.

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