I will always love you, my one and only daddy.
It’s been just over 3 days since you left us and the harsh reality of your departure is beginning to sink in. Last night we were having our malam keduak tahlil for our late father when the familiar site of the Chief Minister of Sarawak’s car pulled into the drive.
First out of the car was Haji Jemain, the tough, dedicated head bodyguard to the CM. Before stopping the doors of the second car opened and the other bodyguards Zul, Amrin and Hussein were on the move. And then the rear door to the CM’s car opened and outstepped not my daddy but the honourable chief minister of Sarawak Abang Johari.
The same car, the same bodyguards who just a few days ago were part of our family, are now part of another. Out of respect for us the new honourable CM did not have the siren on, but all the same it was not the figure of my daddy that emerged from the car.
Since his passing, I have not had the strength to venture into his bedroom. As redha as I am for his departure, I am not quite ready to face the reality of not having him stuck at his computer reading and analysing the news or taking a break and watching the National Geographic or History channels.
My daddy, Adenan Satem was a World War 2 baby having been born to a Malay father and a Chindian mother on 27th January 1944 in Sarawak, state of Japan. This was the time of extensive fighting in Sarawak and my grandmother frequently told us of how she and my grandfather escaped marauding Japanese soldiers by crawling through tunnels with daddy in her tummy.
Our grandfather was a customs officer and had 4 other children before Adenan. 5 if we count the eldest sibling who died at child birth or 6 if we count the Chinese boy, son of a corner shopkeeper who Hj Satem took in to live with us after the demise of the boy’s parents. A few years after him another brother was born.
So Adenan Satem grew up in a big family. He had a very happy childhood with a very dedicated and loving mother who made her children’s education a priority and a disciplinarian father who put honesty and integrity above all else. Principles he applied throughout his working life. There were no luxuries in the household but there was always enough food for everyone. It was a very close knit and happy family.
Growing up in Sarawak in those days kids would walk or cycle everywhere. He would cycle from our family home in Jalah Datu’s as it was called then (now known as Jalan Datuk Ajibah Abol) to Reservoir Park in Kuching centre.
As Reservoir Park borders the British High Commissioner’s residence he would stand against the fence, looking up to the great big house and watch the shenannigans going round the house compound.
He told me that when he saw the difference between the High Commissioner’s compound and his humble kampung, it was then that he decided to become a leader for the people. To help Sarawak, to ensure Sarawakians prosper.
Encouraged, often cajoled by his parents, he excelled at his studies and won a place to study in Australia under the Colombo plan. One of the toughest decisions he had to make was to leave my mother, pregnant with me while he went to study in Adelaide.
Fast forward 24 years and Adenan Satem moved on from being a lawyer to become a Dewan Undangan Negeri member at the age of 36. Five years later he was made an Assistant Minister. Even in his early days as a politician he was very vocal and sharp. His law background helped a great deal when he was later made the minister of Land development.
After many years as a minister in Sarawak he was transferred to Kuala Lumpur as the Federal Minister of Natural Resources and Environment. He resigned from his post and returned to Sarawak without a position in the State Ministerial cabinet.
Lots of rumours circulated about his departure from the federal government. Some were scurrilous gossip and meaningless nonsense. Many were insensitive and below the belt. Most were just outright lies. The result of idle minds and real gutter politics. Each time I discussed them with my daddy, he would end the conversation with “Nevermind, let it be”.
In February 2014 he became Chief Minister of Sarawak. The very same group of people who had gossiped and slandered him came asking for help and without malevolence he came to their assistance.
That was the kind of man he was. Forgiving and always ready to help those in need without asking or expecting anything in return. So magnanimous was his heart, ever so selfless and putting others before himself.
The last few days of my daddy’s life were spent in Institut Jantung Negara in Kota Samarahan. He was admitted on Saturday and on Sunday morning I flew over from KL and set up camp in the room next to his where I stayed for 4 days and 3 nights, nipping out for the odd meeting or a quick trip to the gym.
He was looking very frail when I arrived. But over the next day or so he was looking much better and with the Doctor’s diagnosis, we thought he was on the road to recovery.
On his final night in this world, I was alone with my daddy, sitting next to his bed with 2 nurses seated on their desk a few feet behind me. Of course we had no idea it was his last night. If we had, the whole family would have been there. I’ll never forget this night. It was a still and very quiet night.
The sound of his breathing was repeatedly interrupted by the sound of the machine used to pump up the air mattress on which he lay. He looked so peaceful and calm and I couldn’t stop staring at him.
Many times he kept on waking up and shifting his position in the bed. I would adjust the elevation on his bed and rub his back to make sure he was more comfortable and sleep better.
Occasionally he asked for water to quench his thirst. A few times he would mutter in his sleep. Every time it was related to work, like “…this is unconstitutional” another time he muttered, “I have commitments tomorrow…”.
Even in his last few hours he was constantly thinking of his beloved Sarawak…
Next morning he had a light breakfast followed by physiotherapy and Mrs Ah Ti, a long time friend and I fed him a bowl of his favourite ice cream with some bread, a favourite of his and his father before him. He then napped and I decided to go for a quick gym workout.
And then he was gone and I never got to say goodbye. He left just over 2 hours after I fed him ice cream on bread. That was my last interaction with my daddy. Many times since then I’ve wished he waited for me to come back from the gym but Allah swt knows best. He was only on loan to us and now he has been returned.
My daddy’s dedication to Sarawak isn’t unique because all Sarawakians are dedicated to Sarawak. But his position of strength in negotiating a better deal for Sarawak and Sarawakians was based on his honesty and integrity.
I hope and I pray that the new CM and future leaders will continue his legacy based on what is best for Sarawak and Sarawakians.
He saw our multicultural background as a strength, an opportunity not a hindrance. He felt that anyone who wanted to drive a wedge between the races, who wanted one race to prosper at the expense of other races was not welcome in Sarawak and would be better off on an island.
He saw the jungles of Sarawak as a gift not a hindrance. He knew we have to look after our jungles, our environment because once destroyed, mother nature will never give them back.
He saw the benefits of learning and speaking English well and what it would mean to Sarawakians if they could communicate well in what is the global language.
He understood that life is short and that it is better to forgive and forget than to bear grudges. He preferred to think before opening his mouth and saying something stupid. He insisted on giving more than he took.
He was always patient. He refused to give in to bitter and twisted thoughts if things didn’t go his way. He read profusely and recommended everyone to read and read and read.
He avoided temptations and refrained from double standards. He was honest and transparent and often said that if a politician doesn’t want to help his people, he shouldn’t be a politician.
He refused to participate in gutter politics. He refused to politicize social, cultural and religious issues to his advantage.
Daddy, like all of us you had your faults but you were the perfect father. Principled, dependable, responsible, honest, kind and just a little bit grumpy on the outside but super soft and loving on the inside.
I feel that a big chunk of my heart has gone with you but alhamdulillah I find solace in my prayers and in the faith that we will all be together again one day.
I promise to do all the things you asked me to do and do the things I know you would have liked me to do but never demanded of me.
I will always love you, my one and only daddy.
To the 2 nurses on duty that final night please contact me. I would really like to talk to you.
To Dr Cheong, Dr Sim, Dr Tiong, Dr Alan, Dr Song, Dr ‘Physiotherapy’ and the other doctors and the nurses who attended to him, I thank you so very much for your dedication. You tried your very best and for that I am grateful. Allah (swt) always has the final say.
And thank you to all Sarawakians for your expressions of love and respect to my Daddy. I promise he loved you all very much.