Though it has been more than three decades since he left this world, on this Dec 18, his birthday, my siblings and I are reminded once again of how my father’s life continues to resonate and endure. We are reminded by strangers writing to inquire about one of his books. By childhood friends who remember visits to our home. They recall his voice, his presence. Intimidating to some, but unfailingly kind. They remember his oratory. Above all, they remember how much he helped when help was needed.
(left) John Victor Morais and Gladys Vaz Morais. A marriage of 50 years.
My father made it his business to help people get ahead and build a life. He helped them identify positions where they could find a fit for their talents. He helped by mentoring. By picking up the phone for a quiet word with an employer on the verge of firing someone going through a bad patch, who just needed a little help but did not know how to get it. He opened so many doors for others, and spoke on behalf of so many because he never forgot how the door to building a better life was opened for him by an older brother whose guidance he never failed to acknowledge throughout his long and useful life. In his memoir, Witness to History, my father writes:
“I am reminded of the many crosses that my brother had to carry as the eldest member of the family, the losses he had suffered early in his career by the death of our mother when he was away in Malaya, and the deaths of his two younger brothers, of whom much had been expected. Despite all these events, he remained serene and did his duty to his family till the last days of his life. No one could have asked for a more loving or dedicated brother. In a real sense he was a second father to the rest of us. His heroic spirit was an inspiration to us all.” (p.8)
(left) John Manuel Morais, the brother my father revered, and the Uncle we addressed in Malayalam as Valiappa. (Big Daddy).
Once again and forever I join my siblings in recognizing that if we have accomplished anything at all, it pales by comparison to the imagination and courage of the 16 year old boy in Kerala who pestered his eldest brother, teaching in then British Malaya, to let him emigrate and start a new life. He learned English, finished secondary school in a new country, took a correspondence course in journalism and worked his way up from cub reporter to editor of the Malaya Tribune at age 27. As a parent, he showed us by example how generosity is a practice that has nothing to do with how much one has in one’s wallet. Because generosity springs from a heart that hears, one that finds ways to help relatives, friends, neighbors, no matter how hard that might be.
Lessons that endure
I am so very thankful my children, Zubin and Sheela Jane, had the opportunity to spend their early years with my parents every morning while I was at work. They were truly treasured and taught. I pray they never forget the lessons of faith and family, lessons of love that never falters, the lesson that kindness makes a hurting world heal. That kindness makes us better people and enriches us in ways that money can’t buy. On this day, I am reminded of all that and more. And I am deeply grateful.