Michael Chen Kim Foo: A tribute to an honorable man – Robert Chaen
My article was published in The Malaysian Insider:
http://tinyurl.com/maakm9p (this website has since been closed down on 14 March 2016)
Michael Chen Kim Foo crossed over on Chinese New Year Day on February 19, 2015 at 12.03am. He was born on June 21, 1921 in Gopeng, died in Hong Kong while undergoing medical treatment.
My dad, Michael was a good family man, played a great father role model to us sons, and was dedicated and loyal to his wife and his company that he worked with.
He wooed his future wife Jessica, who was 19 years old at the time, while he was 28. They married in 1949. A year later Tommy was born, followed by Jimmy, Andrew, and me – all sons. I was the last try for a much-desired daughter.
Dad was a romantic man and was very loving to Mum – the love of his life. He would give most of his pay to mum to run the household as a full time housewife.
Dad was good looking and mum was beautiful. He never cheated on her. I remember as a kid I saw many beautiful cigarette sales girls who would be at events but he never fooled around. Born a Hakka, he never hit his wife although earlier generation Hakka husbands were known to hit their wives.
Dad and mum celebrated their Diamond Jubilee 60th Wedding Anniversary in 2009. It was a grand occasion with them renewing their marriage vows at a Catholic mass in the Church of St Michael Ipoh, conducted by Father Michael Cheah, my classmate. The event was reported in five mainstream newspapers as it was a very rare news story being a 60th wedding anniversary. A grand dinner was held later that evening.
He lived a simple life in Ipoh, with no trappings of success or keeping up with the Jones. His father gave him away when he migrated back to his ancestry hometown in Chen Village (Tsang in Cantonese) near Guangzhou. He was adopted by his uncle and became the 8th son.
He had a tough life growing up, was neglected, and had to fend for himself. He had to carry heavy pails of water daily from the communal tap for neighbours. He would get a few cents but what he earned was immediately taken away by his foster parents, they were quite poor. Still, he became the most successful of all his foster siblings. He would teach tuition to earn money while walking to secondary school.
He knew what real hardship was and made sure none of his children would go through that hardship he had.
He worked for Malayan Tobacco Company (MTC, now called BAT) as a travelling salesman covering various Northern Malaysian states for more than 30 years. Yet he didn’t smoke at home. He revealed that he never inhaled the smoke.
Dad was a good father role model. None of his sons, nor dad himself, fell for any of the four main men vices – smoking, drinking, gambling, and womanising.
By the way, I changed my surname to Chaen for an ideal numerological matching with my birthdate and birthname. This transformed my life, however, my parents questioned this, though they later accepted my choice.
Chinese New Year was always memorable and happy times for the Chen family. Those days distributors would give huge ang pows (red packets) of money up to 4-5 months’ salary, several crates of high grade mandarin oranges, big tin cans of imported China sausages and waxed ducks (pre-hamper days). My mum will make Tulip brand cocktail sausages stuck with toothpicks on a big orange specially for dad’s bosses when they paid a visit. He was much respected and a favourite among the distributors.
I remember on one Chinese New Year when his bosses visited, he smoked with them at the dining table. As a 9-year-old I whispered to dad why was he smoking at home. He literally hushed me and got me out of the way. I was hurt. In later years, I realised that I nearly exposed to his bosses that he didn’t smoke as a salesman.
Through his company he got scholarships to send all sons to universities, except Jimmy who is mentally-challenged. Andrew studied in Dublin and became a doctor.
Dad gave some talks about caring for a mentally-retarded child to inspire families not to be ashamed of such social stigmas of mental illnesses that affects 20% or more people.
I personally do not know how dad and mum could be so devoted to caring for Jimmy for all his life, and not put him in a home. This lifelong sacrifice also brought meaning and purpose for my parents.
Dad told a wartime story. During the Imperial Japanese occupation in Malaya, he was roped in to be a translator for the Ipoh Japanese military head.
Once he met the brave Sybil Kathigasu in Batu Gajah prison. She pleaded to him for a warm blanket but he was reprimanded never to talk to any POWs. He was savvy enough to work under a fair military chief but he never revealed any communist friends who were fighting the Japanese imperialists from the jungle.
In later years, dad revealed to me that the toughest time for him in our relationship was not being able to give me the money I needed to start a business. In my youth, I had expressed my big disappointment, and my anger and hatred showed. He was very hurt and I was so immature and insensitive.
I’ve asked for his forgiveness for any hurt I have ever caused. And I’ve forgiven him for whatever hurt I had. I’m glad that whatever I wanted to tell my dad I have been able to, for the last 24 years. So it was okay for me not to be by his side when he crossed over. We were connected.
Three times he cheated death. Call it DIVINE INTERVENTION.
Once when a tragic landslide happened next to him in Cameron Highlands while working. I guess it was his good karma to have lived to such a ripe old age of 94 – with none of the usual ailments like dementia, deafness, inability to eat, and being bed-ridden. He was even driving until the last four months of his life.
I “soul whispered” to him about crossing-over and he said he was ready to meet God. And every day was a bonus. His soul was at peace.
In summary, Michael Chen lived a fulfilling and full life with little regrets. I salute and celebrate the wonderful life of the greatest dad.
I miss him so much.
I let go. I let God.
You are welcome to write a condolence message >
* Robert Chaen is the Founder of #BounceBackMalaysia, a nation-wide initiative to unite Malaysians to spread acts of kindness, and to show Malaysians can bounce back as a better, loving Malaysia after a disastrous 2014.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.
– See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/michael-chen-a-tribute-to-an-honorable-man-robert-chaen#sthash.CPDIDWaR.dpuf
(this website has since been closed down on 14 March 2016)
Published on 19 February 2015.
Updated on 19 June 2016 (2:06 pm).
Comment in MI: Sorry to say this. But your father knew the dangers of smoking, didn’t smoke himself, and yet had no qualms pushing cigarettes to others.
it’s easy for strangers to judge my father’s choice to be in the tobacco industry. Tobacco CEOs finally admitted health risks before the US Congress in 1998. By then my Dad had retired since 1981.
Jardines, my Hong Kong client and one of the top 3 “Hongs” (150+ years old general trading companies) pushed opium LEGALLY. It was a very lucrative business category. My Great Grandfather in Penang was an opium addict. Who do we blame? Societies and human rights change over time.
There is hardly any industry that is 100% free from pollution, greed, corruption, health hazards, and unethical practices.
The internet and gaming industries produce more “addicts” than smoking. 60% of products randomly chosen from Taobao.com failed to meet China’s retail-goods standard or are fakes. Do you still want to work for Alibaba’s subsidiary?
I had an interesting chat with a Muslim scholar last week. He told me that if a thief steals to feed his hungry children it is ok because it all comes down to intention.
Life, career, health, ways to make money, relationships, values, habits, and the 4 men vices mentioned in my article are all choices one makes. It takes 2 to Tango. There is demand and supply in a free market.
Just food for thought.
That’s why as a Change Expert I advocate CSR, ethical and sustainable practices, educating youths about life choices, charity work, and work-life balance.