One thing I am fond of remembering about my maternal grandfather is what he would do during my school examination period. It was the anticipated time when I, and all his grandchildren, would be treated like princes and princesses in the hope that we would do our best at the exam. For other people in my village, it is Christmas their happy time. For us, it is double: Christmas and exam period. The man was so committed to the high ideals of education that he would do anything to his grandchildren schooling.
He was a nurse by trade and Dutch trained as such. I think he is the first male nurse not only in my village but also in our island. He was trained as a nurse when he worked for a Dutch oil company in West Papua before it was incorporated into Indonesia. So while emancipated male nurses just emerge recently, for us it is nothing new.
As a nurse he was well known in our island and the surrounding islands as well. People were fond of saying him ‘Mantri Kaba’, ‘Kaba the nurse’ in our local language. He arranged once a while to visit villages in the islands. On several occasions during school holidays he brought me also with him. His visits were very much anticipated by the villagers, who would know his coming by word of mouth. Somehow, he was able to cure most of them. This perhaps made him such popular nurse, even more popular than doctors. Although his house is next to a doctor, people would choose him instead, transforming his house to a little hospital because sometimes people from places a bit far stayed in this house, until they got better. For him, of course, this could mean business. He could be a rich man, by our village standard, if he knew how to manage all the money.
He is very strict, critical and no-nonsense man. Following my parents divorce he took me under his wing. Shortly thereafter, he became a sworn enemy of my father. Even before that they never had a good relationship anyway partly because their religious convictions were at the opposite ends and he hated him even more so for converting my mother to his religion. He burnt all my father important documents following his departure and never talked in good terms about my father. He changed the Islamic name my father gave me, had me baptised into his church and gave his family name which I still bear until now. He wanted to erase all the traces of my father. If he was able to perhaps he would have filtered my blood from my father’s.
While people from my island are well known for their love of dancing and drinking, I, on the other hand, did not know how to drink until I was living in Australia. He would have killed me if he found me drinking. I knew of my older brothers who were dragged by him from the dance ground, smacked them in front of their friends. It was very embarrassing and I think it was his way of stopping us doing things he did not like. So I never tried dancing and drinking. I once smoked and he almost killed me. I never touch cigarettes after that!
In some way, I have to admit that his style of parenting has worked for me temporarily. I said for me because it did not worked for my brothers and in the long term it is very damaging to one’s self-esteem. Without him treating me like that, I could have ended up fathering a child too early, failed to finish my school and perhaps struggled to overcome drinking problems. Who knows? But, on the opposite, who knows also that without him treating me like that I could have become a better man?
No. I should thank him instead because he has done to all his grandchildren what he thought the best for them. This is what matters.
(Jakarta, December 19, 2006)