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October 24, 2012

Growing Up Together All Over Again

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – “An angel and a little devil,” I exclaim as both my wife, Suriani and my son, Dzul, walk out of the bedroom each morning. I usually arise an hour or so before them, checking my e-mails, wandering through Facebook and sipping a huge mug of coffee.


I receive back smiles and grins from both of them as my wife pours glasses of cold juice. Suriani then cuts either a mango or papaya, into elegant slices dripping with essence. The fruit season has started and for three months we will gorge ourselves.


My son, now almost two, swims between two worlds. He babbles a combination of both Malay and English. He will proudly point to a shirt and say “shirt,” and then will also say the Malay word. Sometimes, he will gesture to something and say the Malay word and looks at me expectantly for the English term. I think he has the idea that each item has two names.


Eating also has been comical. Suriani and her family and most of the Malay world eat with their hands. This is not some sort of primitive “grab and stuff.” After a very thorough hand washing, one takes the three middle fingers rolls some rice and curry and brings the hand to the mouth, pushing the food in with the thumb.


When visiting the grandparents and cousins, everybody eats with their hands including me. Dzul dives right in and has learned not to touch food with his left hand, just as westerners place the hand in our lap.


Suriani eats with her hands while I eat with a knife and spoon at home. Not because I insist, rather Suriani always places the utensils near my plate and I automatically, without thinking, begin to use them. After almost three years of marriage, I never realized that was happening.


Dzul did notice the difference. One mealtime, he kept pointing at me and the food. We both had the same fare and I could not understand what he wanted. It dawned on my wife first. I am a bit slow, and she handed him a fork where he tried to emulate me. The fork won in the battle to bring food to his mouth because it was too large.


I went out the next day and purchased the “little people” variety. He tried and tried to use the little spoon but to no avail. Then he attempted stabbing rice with the small fork. Frustrated, he now holds the fork or spoon in his left hand while hand eating with his right.


After my divorce I knew I was going to re-marry because I am the marriage type. I only want one lady and I love the security and warmth of an intelligent woman sleeping next to me. One of the things I did notice was many men my age remarried a much younger -I mean much younger - woman and started a second family.


This was not going to happen to me. I had a vasectomy, or so I thought, and that was the end of it. My life would be travels and adventures with no kids in the way. Smartly, I always used protection because AIDS and other STD scares me. The life of my youth when the pill and an antibiotic shot would take care of any problems was gone.


Then Dzul came along. The kampung people think I am very potent. Not only was I about 60 when I had a child, I also had busted through a vasectomy and had a son to boot. This was unheard of in the village and – to be frank – most everywhere else. My sexual prowess has become legendary in their world.


However, I did not want people to think I had divorced my wife to marry a much younger girl and start a second family. To me, for whatever reason, this was not who I was, and I did not want people to think of me that way.


Whenever we met some of the few Westerners who live or visit here, I always said “and meet Dzul, he is the product of a botched vasectomy.” I know, I know. I was saying this to perfect strangers who I had met for about two or three minutes and would return to Australia, England or the Netherlands probably forgetting all about me.


I have stopped doing that. I don’t know when it finally dawned on me that it was the stupidest thing I had ever done. Could be when he sits next to me when I am reading my I-pad and he says book. Or when he started using the fork. Or when he insists on going out with me wherever I go. Or when he helps me empty the trash, and I give him a small piece of paper to carry.


Now, when I meet people I say proudly ‘this is my son, Dzul” and omit the failed birth control part. And I like it that way.


…Life is good


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