This is a recalling of how a temporary goodbye made me realise the strength of a father’s love.

For the third year of my study in university, I was offered to undergo an exchange programme to a higher academic institution in Manila for a period of 4 months. The long and dreadful journey towards acquiring a return air ticket from Brunei to Manila was tiring and filled with paperwork, miles of walking around campus, paperwork, endless financial woes, medical checks, numerous tips from friends and families on how to keep myself alive in the “dangerous” city of Manila and yes, you’ve guessed it, more paperwork.

Eventually the day came where my dad would fly off to work in Indonesia for a couple of weeks, and that day fell a mere few days before I would be gone from the house for four months.

Staying strong in trying times has been one of my specialties, but I had to admit that saying my goodbyes to my father was where my so-called strength found its match

I woke up earlier than usual that day to make sure my dad’s request of me finishing my packing was fulfilled. I had breakfast with him, which consisted of fried eggs, no-sugar white coffee and the Dangerous-Fact-in-the-Philippines of the Day, or so I’ve started calling them at that point. It was one of the most memorable breakfasts I’ve ever had in my whole life; My cats’ fur brushing against my legs under the table, the dirty chocolate stains around my little brother’s mouth, the grumbling grunts of my grumpy next-door neighbour as he struggled to round his 2,500 rabbits up into one cage– It was quite the beautiful morning. It was one of those mornings that I longed for when I was sobbing uncontrollably, alone in my king-sized bed in Apartment #2702, Tower 1, The Grand Towers, Malate, Manila, but that’s a story for another emotional chapter.

We have this tradition in our family where when one is about to embark on an overseas adventure, he says his prayers right before he steps out of the house, with bags in hand and nerves as well as excitement in the heart, to keep himself protected from the dangers of travelling. It was midday when the time came for my dad to ask God to keep him safe before he steps out of the door, into the car and to the airport. I sat on the couch with cupped hands with my baby sister by my side while my dad recited the many du’as.

When he was done and when it was almost time for him to go, I merely looked at him stuffing his luggage into the backseat of the car, the little one in my arms. At this point I was blinking back my tears because, of course, I was a strong woman with a stone-hard heart, or so I thought. I liked to think that goodbyes absolutely did not faze me. It did help and distract me how my sister was uncontrollably drooling onto my arms. I was and still am very much disgusted even at the thought of baby saliva. I have never understood what is so cute about drooling babies. Drooling babies are gross and they should not be allowed to live in households with 20-something year-old Sa’adahs.

Before I knew it my dad was calling me to come to him, interrupting my inward commentary of baby-drool hate, so I did. He told me to take care of myself in Manila, to not start smoking “or [I]’ll die of asthma”. He then asked me to sayang (love) him, as he usually does when we say our typical goodbyes. I hugged him with my left arm, little sister still in the other, and I heard him mumble, “Bisai-bisai disana atu Lai,(Take good care of yourself there, dear) and that was when my heart melted into a puddle of hopeless daddy’s girlness, and I started tearing up. It dawned on me that I would not see this man for the next four months.

This is the man who drove me back and forth to school and soccer practice, who endured years of single parenthood to me and my older sister, who pulled my hair into horrendous ponytails for primary school and who tried as hard as he could to feed us in the most difficult times of our lives, even if it was just with rice and butter

I would have to endure the many Dangerous-Facts-in-the-Philippines without his guidance and his protection and that made me scared. I was ultimately overwhelmed by how much I would miss him.

When we parted, I saw tears in his eyes, which broke me even further because then I was just shocked that he would miss me too. After years of thinking that I was a problem child, with my constant refusals to put on my hijab and my many snaps at him for hurting my feelings, I was just in pure disbelief at the realisation that he would miss my presence too. I have and will always love my Babah (father) unconditionally with the whole of my being.

At that point in time, I have never been happier to be assured that he loves me as much as I love him too

I cried like a baby in that hug. Just picture a garage, where a middle-aged man is hugging his 22 year-old baby, who is in turn is holding a young toddler. If any of my neighbours were there to see the scene from their respective windows, they would have definitely had a good laugh for witnessing the love between a father and a daughter.

I realised, at that point, that it wasn’t so bad after all to let down your guard once in a while and embrace your inner daddy’s girl.

I realised that, no matter how old and independent I become, my dad would always love me, as much as I love him