One of a Kind: An Asian Dad’s Love

Dads are imperfect heroes who love you in their own special way

The Covid-19 pandemic brought many unexpected twists and turns which left a lot of us reeling in the aftermath. One of these gut wrenching twists is grappling with the loss of a loved one. The passing of a loved one is a painful and unforgettable experience. It is difficult for many to come to terms with because the death is unanticipated and in most of these circumstances, families were separated from their hospitalised loved one.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking knowing that there were people out there who took their last breath without the presence of their loved ones, no exchanges of last words or hugs. On the other end of the spectrum, when a loved one departs, our lives are forever changed in ways that we did not see coming. To deal with this unexpected grief, many are taking it a day at a time to navigate their way through the pain. 

Moreover, losses due to Covid-19 affected families at varying degrees. One of the families that have it hard are families who lost their sole breadwinner whom their whole livelihood depended on. This sudden loss leaves no choice for a few in the family who are now required to step up in order to fill in the role of a patriarch or matriarch, to keep the family together. Nelson Lip, a Malaysian artist, resonates deeply with this as he has also lost his beloved dad (who was the family’s breadwinner) due to Covid-19. In a beautiful blend of art and loss, let’s follow the story of Nelson as he reminisces his dad’s legacy through his art whilst figuring out how to navigate through life after the passing of his father.

1Twenty80: What motivated you to pursue a career in the creative arts industry?

Nelson Lip: I realised that I was passionate about arts when I had difficulties with other subjects during Form four and five. Art was the only subject which I felt came easily for me and this helped me identify my passion. I also met with other talented artists who didn’t pursue tertiary studies. I find it inspiring that there are many ways to keep learning and exploring in this industry. The fact that I had the opportunity to meet these artists is the biggest motivation.

1Twenty80: When did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in arts?

Nelson: An art project that I did during my Form 4 and 5 was when I had the realisation. I am really grateful that my art teacher was strict and as a result of that, I successfully completed the project.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of the project’s topic which was interior designing, it did make me take things more seriously and that’s when I realised my passion for the arts.

It was also the first time in my life where I didn’t sleep for a few nights, in an effort to complete this art project. It’s memorable indeed!

1Twenty80: Who or what inspires your art?

Nelson: Inspirations change as we grow. In the beginning, my biggest inspirations were Disney and Pixar animations. This led me to think that I wanted to become an animator.

However, throughout the years, I slowly realised that I’m not suitable to be an animator because that was not what I really wanted. Even though I didn’t become an animator, Disney and Pixar continue to inspire my art with their art style and story telling.

There are also a few artists out there who inspire my art style such as Joey Chou. I think his art style is more towards children’s illustrations and vector art. This can be seen in the olden days of Disney’s animations such as Sleeping Beauty. I really admire Joey Chou’s art style and it inspired me to implement and expand on similar elements in my artworks.

Art was the only subject which I felt came easily for me and this helped me identify my passion.

1Twenty80: Your artwork to honour the passing of your dad was indeed heart-touching. It also resonates with many people out there who lost a loved one due to Covid-19. Do you have any words or messages that you would like to share with them?

Nelson: To be honest, I really don’t know how to give advice or offer words of encouragement to those who lost their loved ones. Many people have advised me to move forward, be strong and to carry on. However, when it comes to me giving words of encouragement, I don’t know what to say because I know it’s not easy. If you were to ask me right now whether I have moved on, I’m not sure myself.

My emotions are up and down. For me right now, the most important thing is to not dwell for too long and always to look forward. Even though there will be sad times, it all shall pass. I just want to live my best in hopes to show my dad that I’m doing great and I’m alright. I believe when my dad knows that I’m doing good, that will be the greatest gift for him.

For me right now, the most important thing is to not dwell for too long and always to look forward.

1Twenty80: How much has your dad impacted your art?

Nelson: In the beginning, my dad did not impact my art as much. Initially, he had discouraged me from pursuing a career in the art industry, in hopes that I’ll find a more financially stable job. He recommended that I look into becoming an architect or a lawyer.

It’s because my dad comes from a really traditional background. Hence, that’s why he didn’t impact my art as much in the beginning. Even though my dad did not directly impact my art, he did impact my story telling abilities. This has helped me whenever I wanted to paint a story through my eyes. A good example would be one of my artworks cum short story titled ‘I want to be like you’. The inspiration behind this was a quality conversation that I had with my dad in the car. This conversation prompted me to illustrate a story through my lens and it’s based on my appreciation towards my dad’s strong qualities. It was a Father’s Day special almost two years ago.

This short story was one of my biggest symbols of love and appreciation for my dad. Even though I didn’t say ‘I love you’ directly to him, through the artworks in the short story I hope to convey the depth of his inspiration and impact that he had on me.

1Twenty80: Grieving is not an easy journey. How did you cope and how did art play a role in this journey?

Nelson: My Christian background has provided me support in the forms of church members and friends. After the passing of my dad, they called and checked up on me frequently.

Now that my dad is no longer here, I also had a tough time figuring out my roles and responsibilities as the oldest child in the family. I didn’t want to share my struggles with my mother because I don’t want to burden her. This had me bottling up some of my feelings, but not for long though. I confided in my friends from church because they’re loving and caring. I managed to release my bottled up thoughts with them and after sharing, I felt better. This has helped me. 

As for art playing a role, I’ve always wanted to include deeper stories in my artworks. Usually my artworks are colourful, positive and cheerful. So, I’ve always been thinking of including deeper stories. Whenever I find myself doing sad artworks, I usually use blue, purple or even dark green colours to convey the intense message.

When I have a bad day, I go back to drawing because I don’t have to think much. Drawing is also a good emotional outlet because we can’t predict emotional attacks. We don’t know when these intense feelings can creep up on us.

During the day, I work out and it also functions as one of my outlets. However, what if I feel sad in the middle of the night? I can’t wait for the gym to open. So, art is convenient as it’s available at any time.

1Twenty80: Could you tell us one life lesson that your dad has taught you which you will bring for the rest of your life?

Nelson: This is a tough question because there were times where my dad was busy working to provide for the family. He was frequently out of station for work. This made it a little tougher because I could not spend much time with him. There is however one strong lesson that I learnt from my dad. It’s that I need to know how to find alternative ways and not depend only on one solution. He taught me that it’s always good to prepare backup plans.

This can be seen when he advised me to find ways on how I can generate income from other avenues and not rely solely on one channel. I think what he’s trying to say at the end of the day is that it’s always good to look for opportunities.

As a freelancer, this advice has helped me to be up and ready to find art gigs whenever I find my schedule to be free. I fill my available time with beneficial activities that will help me generate secondary incomes. Thanks for asking this question! It’s a reminder for me again!

1Twenty80: What is your favourite memory of your dad?

Nelson: My dad brought me to fly a kite when I was young. I think I was around the age of eight years old during that time. This memory stands out to me because it was both the first and the last time that we ever flew a kite. I remember the moment where our kite got lost in the middle of the jungle and that had prompted us to head back home early. My dad’s company and the interaction we had whilst flying the kite led us to have really good teamwork. I had a lot of fun that day.

Now that my dad is no longer here, I find myself thinking about how to sustain my family and sponsor my brother’s studies.

1Twenty80: Since the passing of your dad, how has life changed for you?

Nelson: It’s a tremendous change. My dad used to be the breadwinner of the family and my mum has been a housewife since I was really young. I also have a 15 year old brother who is still studying.

After the passing of my dad, the financial burden fell on my shoulders because I’m the oldest child in the family. I also feel like I’ve grown up too fast. At the age of 28 years old, I see my fellow friends spending quality time and sharing their accomplishments proudly with their parents.

As for me, I feel like I’ve lost someone whom I can make proud of. Prior to my dad’s passing, I’ve not put much thought into my brother’s education. Now that my dad is no longer here, I find myself thinking about how to sustain my family and sponsor my brother’s studies. This financial turmoil is the one that worries me the most.

I think fathers out there are trying their best to provide for their family.

1Twenty80: Father’s Day is just around the corner. Do you have anything that you would like to share with all the dads out there?

Nelson: This may sound cliche but it’s the truth in my eyes. I believe that there is no such thing as a perfect father in the world. I think fathers out there are trying their best to provide for their family.

My father wasn’t perfect either. He made mistakes but he still tried his best to provide for his family. He helped me with my education, provided a roof above our heads and kept our tummies full with good food. 

There were instances where my dad’s words have hurt me because I view my parents’ words as something really meaningful and big. However, I also grew to understand that behind these hurtful words were actually good intentions. It’s just that they might have had trouble communicating their thoughts. Hence, it came out the wrong way. I do have something to add on to all the children who will be reading this. As I mentioned earlier, our parents are not perfect and they did their best. 

I know that there are mistakes done by our parents that can’t be erased such as their hurtful words that might have scarred our hearts and minds. Nonetheless, I believe we can try to build greater and sweeter memories with our parents, to help heal with the negative memories. I think children need to initiate the first step to invite their parents for some activities where we can spend some time together and create positive moments.

I really thank God for giving me the opportunity to spend some quality time with my dad during the Movement Control Order (MCO). During the MCO, I managed to find my way back home to Sabah from Kuala Lumpur. Once I was back home, I got the opportunity to spend more time with my dad and had some quality conversations. This helped me to reconnect back with him after I had spent some time away from home.

I know the bad memories won’t go away. Nevertheless, the new and positive memories we create with our parents in the present time will help with the healing process.

Nelson’s story may be relatable to a lot of us who grew up in a traditional Asian household. At times, even saying something as simple as “I love you” to our parents may be difficult because it wasn’t normalised throughout our childhood. However, that doesn’t mean our parents loved us any less. Love from our parents can be seen when they ask us whether we’ve eaten, in the form of our favourite dishes, when they proudly share your accomplishments with relatives and more.

The light at the end of the tunnel here is we get to improve where our parents couldn’t. We can make the choice to normalise expressing emotions, practising constructive discussions to improve the quality of the relationship with people around us and finally embracing love in its entirety.

If you’re interested in following Nelson and his art adventures, you can find him on Facebook as NelsonTsen and on Instagram as @nelsonlip_