It was the day he first taught me how to shoot the single-barelled shotgun made by British gunsmith Webley & Scott. I had in my trouser pocket a live Winchester Upland buckshot shell while another one was already in the chamber.
It was after about 15 minutes of walking in the bushes when we saw the intended target, a reptile that had been terrorising the chickens my late mother reared in our large tract of land in that far-flung southeastern corner of Negri Sembilan. We stopped and waited as the reptile, by then already sensing our presence, started to turn towards a pond not far away.
Life’s lessons. We must allow our children to learn from their mistakes and how to make their own decisions. Pic by writer
By then I was already sweating profusely, not knowing what to expect when I was to squeeze the trigger.
He asked me to control my breathing and to keep my hands steady. I froze instead, scared stiff, while the reptile moved ever closer to the pond.
Should it manage to reach the water, I would probably never see it again.
But still, I was paralysed with fear. I also felt like it was all a dream that he even let me hold the shotgun, let alone fire it.
My father was a man of few words but those few words were always enough to make any of his offending children feel as insignificant as a speck of dust.
I remember we even had to tiptoe around the house when the man was having his afternoon nap. None of us had dared to even touch the shotgun before.
We were never close with the man, I thought as I held up the gun’s sight to the lumbering reptile, but still unsure of what to do during what seemed an eternity.
My father then whispered to me words that I have never forgotten to this day.
He said, “hesitation will not take you anywhere. Take that shot”. It sounded like a command I often heard in the army garrison where I grew up before my father retired to the “kampung”.
I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger and didn’t even remember hearing the blast. All I could recall was the strong recoil from the shotgun slamming against my frail 14-year-old right shoulder blade and seeing the reptile, slumped some nine metres away, lifeless.
Somehow, I had hit it squarely on its neck. That was the day I mastered fear and, from then on, I became the official “shooter” in the house. I became very good with the shotgun and seldom missed.
Thereafter, and as my father’s health deteriorated, he passed on to me more information about the firearm, how to keep it in good working order and, more importantly, how to always maintain a high degree of responsibility in its handling. He died not long after.
A month ago my eldest daughter asked for my permission to trek solo down south in New Zealand. I was terrified of the idea at first, what with her being a young woman and the going-ons in today’s world.
But I listened to her plans, how she was to fly to Auckland and then travel by bus around New Zealand’s North Island before taking a ferry to the South and continuing with her journey of about 20 days. I
wanted to say no. I could have, but as I took my time before deciding, I recalled that afternoon I was asked by my late father to take that shot.
I thought that since I was given all the chance to discover myself by my late father, it would be unfair for me to deny my daughter of hers.
And so, she left and several days later started to send me pictures of what she saw and the places she had visited during her journey.
She made new friends along the way and when she arrived back home, I could see that she enjoyed herself tremendously. I hope she has discovered more of herself.
It was then that I remembered that afternoon I walked with my late father with the shotgun in hand. In what probably was the closest ever moment that he was with me, I remember him telling me that as I grew up, there would be many things that I would have to discover for myself.
Most importantly, he said, was to always have the courage to face my fears. Allow me to be a bit philosophical. Life is like running a relay race.
When our part is done, we pass the baton to the next runner and let them run their’s. While our children, like most of us, will have their fair share of making mistakes, as parents we must let them cultivate the capability of making decisions.
It has taken me this long to understand the lesson. That was probably what my late father had in mind that afternoon many years ago when he let me fire the shotgun.
He probably knew that when the time came, I, too, will have to have faith in my own children and let them run their own race.