By Kevin Cureau
A phone call. That’s all it takes to change someone’s life. In this case it changed the life of four people.
The day started beautifully as I watched the French soccer team win the 1998 World Cup held in France. My Mum and two younger brothers were with me. We all cheered. It was a happy moment.
At that moment I thought about my Dad, who was a big soccer fan, and how happy he must have been after seeing this. At least I like to think that he did see it.
He was in France and we were in Hong Kong. We had arrived before him and he was supposed to join us in a few days.
Later that day, while visiting my Chinese grandfather’s apartment, the phone rang. The atmosphere changed. My older cousin was tasked with putting my brothers and me in a room.
“What’s happening?” I asked. “I don’t know” she answered.
Something was not right; I could feel it, I had to check it out. I left the room where I was, and walked towards my Mum’s room. I could only glimpse inside it for less than a second and see her, head down, crying, before I was caught by my aunt and brought back to the ‘holding’ room. At that time, I didn’t know what those signs meant.
We left Hong Kong early the next day for France. “Why are we leaving so early?” I asked my Mum on the plane. “I will tell you when we arrive home son,” she replied. She was being the strongest woman possible right now and I had no idea.
Twelve hours later, we arrived home. My French Uncle drove us from the airport. The whole family was here.
As soon as we stopped, I could ask the question again: “So, what’s happening Mum?” No answer this time.
I ran out of the car, towards another Uncle. “Where’s Daddy?” I shouted, expecting him to come out of the house as I said those words.
My uncle grabbed me, looked me in the eyes and said, “He went up in the sky” while pointing at the clouds. I understood. My Father wasn’t alive anymore.
During the following minutes, I cried. I let out all the tears I had in my tiny body. My brothers had learned the news and were crying too. It was a sad moment.
I later learned that he had died of a heart dysfunction, something to do with an aortic rupture. As a kid those words don’t mean anything to you and just go over your head.
Fifteen years later, I still remember those six words perfectly and I still remember that day.
It’s the day my life changed. It’s the day I became a man. I realized that I had become the male role figure of the house. I didn’t have any choice now, I had to step up and take care of the family, and I had to take care of my Mother and my two little brothers.
I was nine; my brothers were seven and five years old.
My Mum was facing her biggest challenge yet. What does a widow from Hong Kong who hasn’t mastered French do with three small children? Should she stay in a French environment to raise her boys, a place she’s not entirely familiar with? Or does she go back to her family in Hong Kong, in an environment my brothers and I were not familiar with?
Ultimately, she decided to sacrifice herself for the good of her children. She stayed in France, for us. That sacrifice was the first one of many to come and there’s not enough time in my life to show her how grateful I am.
After my Dad’s passing, I started helping more around the house or when we had guests at home so I could take some pressure off my Mum.
As I grew up I knew that it was not easy for my Mum so I became the IT guy of the house choosing the TV or solving any technical problem in the house whether it’s fixing the Internet or setting up a new ceiling lamp.
A father’s death or absence in a household affects the children’s behavior, how they perform at school or their engagement in delinquency acts. And that is what happened to my second brother. He gravitated toward bad people, was involved with the police and at the end it hurt my Mum. It took him years to realize the harm he had done to the family.
Nine year-olds also have behavioral problems as they become more independent.
I skipped that period because as the older brother, I was left as the male figure of the home now. I had to set the good example for my brothers because they were looking up to me now.
I was also keeping a promise I made to my Dad, a promise I wrote in his obituary book and that I still try to keep today.
“Daddy, I promise I will take good care of Mommy.”