Monday, May 11, 2009

Profile Piece

Experience is My Father’s Best Teacher

“Hey, wake up, lazybones!” Papa yelled at my 24-year-old cousin who stayed with us shortly after he had completed his Business and Management Studies. But the lazy young man kept sleeping.

“Wake up, young man!” Papa yelled again. He began to angrily knock on his bedroom door.

This time the door opened slowly as my cousin was still rubbing the sleepy sand from his eyes.

“Do you know what time it is? It’s high time you were in the office for the sake of doing your work. The early bird gets the worm, lazybones,” Papa said to my cousin in his deep, gravelly voice.

Papa always says that people who wake up early in the morning are healthier, wealthier, and wiser than people who wake up late. He likes to get to work before anyone else. Although the fine wrinkles around his unfriendly dark-skinned face make him look old, he still retains the same energetic sprit as a young man does.

Papa is someone you’d fear when you first see him. He has cold eyes that always appear as if they spoke and whispered something you need to know that his life is not a piece of cake, but the one that has traced the stench of failure to the sweet smell of success. His demeanour is self-assured and sharp, but his congenial nature makes him well-loved in the family and workplace. Beneath his gruff exterior, he is really very kind-hearted.

Life doesn’t always go your way. The words Papa spoke always replay in my head. At that moment he also told me about his bittersweet memories of childhood. He was born in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan in 1952. “My parents were divorced when I was still a kid,” he said. He was raised by his father’s cousin who didn’t have a child. “I must say that living with my foster mother was the happiest memory of my childhood because she always treated me like her own child,” he added.

Things went from bad to worse. “Soon after my father had remarried someone else, my mother passed away,” Papa said. He then spent the school year with his foster mother.

When Papa turned 13, he missed his biological father terribly. He went to visit his father and moved in with him, who had been living in Tarakan during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation over the future of the island of Borneo in 1963-66.

Papa didn’t complete his secondary education in junior high school at that moment. He began following his father into gambling and became addicted to alcohol. It was around this time that he joined a gang and engaged in delinquent behaviour. “Things were just awry in my life that time,” he said, looking upset.

In 1974, Papa moved back to Balikpapan looking for work to live a better life. He got a part-time job in logging industry. His uncle happened to run his own company in the town and always let Papa use a typewriter in his office to learn to type, eventually working for the company and still breaking new ground.

Then Papa left his job at the company and began working a roustabout in a drilling industry for the Scan Drilling Co Inc in 1980 as a few international oil and gas companies such as Total E&P Indonesie and Unocal Corporation started opening offices in Balikpapan.

“I didn’t know how to speak English with bule (an Indonesian slang term meaning foreigner or white person) in the company. But what I used to do was make gestures at them,” Papa said with a giggle. Then a slight tinge of red suddenly spread over his cheeks. But he didn’t give up. He learned English and started reading some English-language books about drilling operations and techniques. Slowly things began to improve and went smoothly.

Around 1988, Papa met my mother and they were kindling a romance. As time went on, they wedded. Starting a family was his main motivation for working hard, he said. He worked on an offshore oil rig from early morning until late evening, and then had anxiety about leaving his wife and little daughter alone at home for weeks. But he refused to complain, as he believed that “every gray cloud has a silver lining”, he said.

While many companies today prefer a college degree, people struggle to gain higher education so that they will succeed in getting a job after finishing their college studies. “And I will never be one of them,” Papa said, shaking his head.

But he never let an infinite spectrum of possibilities vanish into thin air. He joined some training programs conducted by the industry – honing his skills, and hoped it would finally give him a step up on the ladder. He first joined a training program at the Sedco Forex Drilling Company and climbed the ladder. Then, he flew to Singapore to join another training program and his efforts bore fruit. After completing all of his training programs, another oil rig company offered him a drilling position job at PT Apexindo Pratama Duta in 1992. He stayed with the company for 15 years, eventually becoming an assistant rig superintendent until today.

“You know, there’s always a painful lesson in life for everyone. It just depends on how you will get it accomplished,” Papa said with a winning smile placing on his face. My fingers felt as though they had attempted to wipe away a new wave of tears collecting behind my eyelids after hearing all of his words. But thank goodness I didn’t cry or I could have felt my cheeks burning if I had cried in front of him.

One of the many things that I have learned from him is that experience is the best teacher, and nothing ventured, nothing gained. Failure and hardship have made him as strong as concrete. And I will always remember that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.