• Y. Y. Chan

Happy Birthday, Dad!

It's my dad's birthday today - 2nd January. He would have been 65. He was still relatively young when he passed away and he had only just retired. We celebrated his last birthday in 2017. At the time, we didn't know that the cancer was spreading and thought that his surgery had been successful in removing all the cancer. The doctors said they would do a follow-up a few months later before deciding whether he would require further treatment, but they seemed quite certain that the surgery was curative. We all thought he was done with cancer. I even went on a trip to Japan with a friend the week before his birthday and arrived back home just in time to celebrate. I made sure I wouldn't miss it so we booked the return flight for the 1st. It wasn't because I knew it would be his last birthday, but I simply didn't want to miss it. I bought a green tea cake before boarding the plane. When I arrived home, I was excited to show him the cake along with the other goodies I had brought back.

We spent his birthday exploring a short hiking trail and came home for dinner and cake. It was a simple celebration - nothing too fancy. We always take photos together on birthdays though, so after dinner, we set up the table with all the goodies and took out the cake. Mum lit the candles and my brother set the timer on the camera and took a few family snaps. I did not have a habit of keeping a journal back then and I really wish I had so these precious moments could be even more vivid and memorable. I wish I could recall our conversations and what he had said. I'm grateful we got to spend that day all together as a family and captured the special moments in these photos. You never know when would be last one.

My dad was a really special person. For those who don't know him, I want to give a brief introduction about him to honour him on this day. He was loved and admired by so many people and I didn't realise just how much he had done and how many people's lives he had impacted until he passed. I hope that his legacy will live on for many more years to come.


Dad was a clinical psychologist who had served in various capacities in different institutes in Hong Kong and Australia. He worked at a private hospital in Brisbane for a few years before returning to Hong Kong as an associate professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He was also the President of the Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association, and the Hong Kong Psychological Society. He was the Director of the Network of Health & Welfare Studies at PolyU, and was on the Board of Directors for a number of schools and organisations. He even founded the Hong Kong Quality Mentorship Network. His work and research in mentoring is one of the most influential in Hong Kong, and continues to expand year after year to this day. He headed up several government-funded research projects as well, and had published research papers in journals worldwide. I did a Google search of his name and found many articles about his work and what he was involved in, some of which I had absolutely no idea about. He never told us much about his work or what he was involved in. On top of all these, he was a wonderful teacher and was respected by all his students and colleagues.


To me, my dad was just my dad, and I didn't see the man other people saw, not until he passed away. To me, he was a little goofy, always making silly jokes, I even thought he was a bit weird and strange! After he passed away, I came across some of his former students, and people he had helped and mentored - people I had never even met or heard of before. All these strangers were telling me about my dad and what he had done for them. I was in shock and in awe. The man I thought I knew as my father was only half of who he really was. I felt ashamed that I did not know this other half of him. He felt like a stranger to me. I learned more about him and connected with people who knew him after he passed away. It was nice to share stories about him with other people, but I wish I had known them and paid more attention to what he was doing when he was here.

My dad and I didn't have a perfect relationship, even though I love him very much. The last few years were a struggle as I started seeing a big change in his behaviour and mood. Looking back, I can completely understand why, but at that time, I felt frustrated and annoyed and even avoided spending time with him. I will forever regret those moments and decisions as I can never go back again.


Every year around this time was special for our family. Having Dad's birthday so close to Christmas often meant that he'd only get one present and his birthdays would just be a simple dinner with a birthday cake. I'm glad we kept the tradition of taking family photos for every birthday so we would have these moments captured and saved.


These days, I imagine and create new memories of us together in my head. I play conversations of what I would say to him and what he would say in response. It makes me feel so happy to spend time with him in this way. I know it's strange, but it's something that has helped me a lot to deal with the grief. Grief is also a big part of who I am now and I think it will stay with me forever. But it isn't something that is sad or depressing - not anymore. I actually find joy and peace in remembering and thinking about him on these special occasions.


I look forward to our time together today!


Happy Birthday, Dad! I hope you are having an awesome day with all the angels in Heaven!

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