These days, I slap myself every time I am unable to visit Bapak.
I have pictures in my head -- of being somewhere when I should be with him and then, ominously, getting that dreaded call on my cellphone.
I shiver, I shudder without fail.
Bapak is old. Very old. Very frail. His eyesight is failing him so, most times, he may not be able to see your face clearly. Some names may elude him. Some don't, especially if they belong to very, dear old friends.
There are people he remembers. There are those he is unable to.
We had a birthday gathering for Bapak about two weeks ago. It was a small one with just family and very close friends.
For me, hosting a gathering for Bapak is easy because we "share" the same friends. He knows most of my colleagues and close friends at NST. So, the invitation list would always be easy to draw up.
We decided to hold a simple dinner and made sure the guests really knew Bapak, so they'd understand why Bapak may not be as spontaneous as he used to be.
It was nice that his friends did not insist on seeing him when they arrived for the dinner.
"Oh..Bapak rihat, ya..Tak apa, tak apa," said one of our old-time neighbours on being told that Bapak was in his room and would only be out a little later.
I remember a few years ago when an old friend of Bapak's visited him at Pantai Hospital.
Bapak was in for treatment of his diabetes.
Bapak's friend, (the late) Shahril Lembang, was an editor in the Berita Harian group when Bapak was at NST.
Shahril had not met Bapak for a very long time and on hearing that Bapak was in hospital, did not hesitate to see him.
I was there in Bapak's room when Shahril and his wife came. My step-mum was also there.
I could see that Shahril was so shocked at seeing Bapak.
You see, Shahril remembered the robust and animated Pak Samad. And possibly someone a few pounds bigger.
What greeted him was a very frail and thin man who seemed to have aged so much.
Shahril broke into tears as he "salam" and hugged Bapak.
Dear arwah Shahril. A gentle and soft-spoken man. (Al-Fatihah.)
That was years ago.
Today, Bapak is far less mobile. Just as frail and thin. And older.
A guest at Bapak's birthday dinner thought Bapak was not just "tua", but also "nyanyuk".
He made the remark in the presence of my brothers-in-law, not knowing, of course, that they were Bapak's sons-in-law.
I suppose Bapak did not recognise him. Nor remembered who he was. So, he concluded that Bapak's failing memory must be due to senility.
None of us knew who he was as he was one of the four people (from a certain institution of higher learning) whom my step-mum had invited.
My step-mum had invited them as they had earlier wanted to host a birthday gathering for Bapak.
We told our step-mum that it was not a good idea, given Bapak's frail condition. We told her it was, nevertheless, a nice gesture on their part.
I supposed she did the courteous thing by inviting them to Bapak's birthday dinner instead.
That was fine by us, of course.
We don't hold that person's remark about Bapak against him because Bapak must have seemed senile to him.
I'm glad though that by and large Bapak remembered most of the people who were there.
I met P.C Shivadas at the launching of the new Malay Mail at Nikko Hotel two weeks ago.
He told me he was not able to attend the dinner but he made a point of visiting my dad earlier.
Shiv (as he is known) was NST journalist (and group editor) and has known Bapak for -- ever.
I asked, a little curious: "Did he remember you?"
Shiv: "Of course. Why shouldn't he-lah?"
Me: "No-lah...just wondering. You know. He's old. He may not remember some people."
I'm glad Bapak remembers many of his old and not-so-old friends.
That evening, the Prime Minister called him to wish him well.
I didn't have to prompt him but I still had to ask him whether he remembered Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
"Of course, I do," he snapped at me. He was not amused. Yep. I could have slapped myself for asking him that question.
And no... there was no trace of senility when he chatted with the PM.
So, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln's words:
"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."