My Privilege(s)

“Nak apa-apa dari JB?”, my dad asked.
“No lah, thank you.”
“Okay, bye. I love you.”
“Love you too.”

Lump in the throat. My father doesn’t say the 3 words very often. I usually say it first and he replies. Otherwise, he saves it for important moments — birthdays, when he/I are travelling to somewhere far, when I got divorced.

This morning, he dropped by the office to pass some stuff from JB — kuih baulu and a cake. Got a kiss too.

Being a Sociology major and having taken a module on Sociology of the Life Course, I always wondered and reflected on how people’s lives diverged. I felt this especially strongly once when I was scrolling through my Facebook and saw an update of a fellow course mate. We studied Sociology together for 4 years then she got married, migrated to the US, has 2 kids and another on the way. She teaches her sons to cycle and she goes on camping trips and has a cabin and celebrates Christmas and Halloween with her in-laws.

Out of all our peers, I felt like her life couldn’t possibly be more “different” than mine. I came to the conclusion that my cohort (1987) had similar childhoods and life journeys — 6 years of primary school, 4/5 years of secondary school, 2/3 years of JC/poly/ITE, then it was work or uni. And thennn that’s when our lives branch out in a myriad of ways.

While my Facebook (or Friendster) feed used to look pretty similar and familiar— burning the midnight oil to finish a paper or an assignment, spending time with friends and family, doing a part-time job etc, after graduation, suddenly, there were so many different options — marriage, children, migration, further education etc.

I realize now how wrong I was!

I only felt that way (that we had similar childhoods or life journeys) because my life journey was extremely sheltered. I literally had nothing to worry about growing up but doing my homework and finishing school.

  1. I grew up in a lower middle-class family, not in poverty.
  2. Both my parents had to work but were in good health.
  3. They didn’t get divorced.

And all of these were actually huuuge privileges I didn’t realise until recently. Shocker.

Even in primary and secondary school, classmates and schoolmates lost a parent, had disabled siblings/parents/grandparents they had to take care of, parents got divorced or retrenched, or had to migrate, or all manner of trials and curve-balls.

Peoples’ lives had always been different and complex, I was just unaware. People celebrate loudly but suffer silently. Very very silently.

My parents remaining married and loving both me and my brother while we were growing up are the biggest privileges of my life. You can’t be thankful if you don’t even know what blessings you are the recipient of. And I’m so thankful to even be aware of this so that I can properly be grateful. Hopefully.