“Once he’s decided on something, he won’t change his mind.”

When my prospective father-in-law said that about his son many years ago, I found his tone curious. It wasn’t a disapproving or complaining tone. Nor was he trying to warn me about wedding an unyielding man.

He said it as a passing remark.

A passing remark that evoked images of a patient and well-meaning father who had tried to cajole his son into making choices the father deemed superior. But to no avail.

My prospective father-in-law’s tone signalled to me then that he was a parent who accepted his son just the way he was.

A devoted husband

My father-in-law earned a strong reputation for being a caring and attentive husband throughout his 60 years of marriage.

He was careful with money and held the purse strings in his marriage. But he was no scrooge when it came to things that brought joy to his loved ones.

For instance, my mother-in-law has an incredibly nurturing green thumb. My father-in-law didn’t let his frugality stop him from indulging his wife’s gardening hobby and he would buy plants, pots, and gardening essentials for her expanding collection of plants. And even though my father-in-law had no interest in gardening, he would often follow his wife around as she trimmed, watered, and fertilised her plants. He wanted to make sure that she didn’t lose her balance and also wanted to be around for her in case she needed an extra pair of hands.

When it came to his birthday celebration, my father-in-law always preferred to celebrate the occasion at home partly because it would cost less money. But when it came to celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday, he would suggest celebrating in a restaurant because he knew his wife would enjoy that.

I found one small detail amusing when my parents first met my parents-in-law over a meal.

My father-in-law was being his usual attentive self and served food and tea to my mother-in-law. My father must have been thrown off by my father-in-law’s behaviours because he started copying my father-in-law and began pouring tea for my mother.

That move was completely out of character for my father. He was used to being served by my mother — that’s typical couple dynamics in Chinese families — and I’m willing to bet that was the first time he saw a Chinese man from his generation serve food and tea to his own wife.

My father-in-law’s gentleness and consideration towards his wife also didn’t escape casual observers. Several years ago, when my father-in-law was still fit enough to drive, he enjoyed picking up my son from kindergarten together with his wife every now and then. My son’s teacher was awe-struck by how this senior couple would wait “lovingly and patiently” for their grandson to be dismissed from kindergarten.

My parents-in-law were a rare senior couple — at least in Singapore — who often held hands when they went out together to catch a movie at the cinema. And whenever they travelled overseas, they would walk hand in hand as they went about their sightseeing.

It was always a sweet sight to behold.

A loving grandfather

My father-in-law held traditional Chinese values but he wasn’t the stereotypically reserved and detached Chinese grandfather.

He was happiest whenever all his children and grandchildren were gathered under one roof to celebrate a birthday or a special occasion. He loved going around to engage his children and grandchildren whenever they visited.

My father-in-law may not have been much of a talker in his advancing years but whenever he communicated with his children and grandchildren, they would only hear words of care and encouragement. In all the time I’d known him, I’d never heard him speak harshly to any of his children or grandchildren.

And when he was still fit enough to drive, he made sure to send his visiting children and grandchildren home in his car no matter where they stayed or how late it was. He intentionally bought an 8-seater car to make sure he could fit everyone in. And again, in spite of his frugality, he was often willing to splurge on treats, Christmas gifts, and generous red packets for his children and grandchildren.

I also found it heartening to observe all these years how my father-in-law loved his granddaughters as much as his grandsons despite his traditional Chinese values.

In Chinese culture, there is a strong bias for male offspring and that was something I struggled with as a girl in my birth family and extended families. So I’m very glad that my nieces from this side of the family never experienced gender discrimination from my father-in-law as far as his affections were concerned. He was a rare Chinese man of his generation that way.

It’s a blessing to have my father-in-law as a grandfather because his love for his grandchildren was unconditional. His grandchildren didn’t need to do anything or be anyone to gain his admiration and adoration. They just needed to be themselves.

For instance, he noticed that my toddler son walked on his toes a lot and he commented on that to my husband and me once, suggesting that something could be out of the ordinary. As it turned out, he correctly picked up one of the early symptoms of autism. His active and hands-on grand-parenting with his other grandchildren must have honed his instincts for such things. However, autistic or not, my father-in-law never adored my son any less.

To their immense credit, both my parents-in-law allowed my son to be his quirky self all these years without needing him to change a single thing about himself. It was grand-parenting at its finest.

A healthy role model

My father-in-law was a licensed wedding solemniser for many years.

His distinguished appearance, geniality, and warm baritone voice made him a popular wedding solemniser. He also had one of the most radiant smiles — which he flashed often — I’d ever seen in anyone.

He typically wouldn’t stay back for the wedding dinner after solemnising a marriage but would choose to drive home to have dinner with his family. I noticed he always returned home from marriage solemnisations with a buzz about him. He would walk with an extra spring in his step and would also have a better appetite for dinner.

I remember noting to myself that contributing to the community seemed to be reward in itself.

While writing this tribute to my father-in-law, I realised that he was the first role model in my life who actively engaged in community service. I later became involved in community service myself in a different capacity — writing wills for terminally-ill cancer patients — and now I believe my father-in-law’s active involvement in community service may have planted seeds of community service in me.

My husband is also an excellent family man. As far as I can tell, he’s been a thoughtful and caring son, brother, uncle, husband, and an absolutely amazing father. And I daresay that my father-in-law’s role-modelling was very significant in shaping how his own son learnt to be a good family man.

One of my father-in-law’s grandchildren wrote a moving memorial message during my father-in-law’s wake last week. The grandson expressed that growing up, he’d always wanted to become a man like my father-in-law because he admired how my father-in-law always put family first. I felt gratified for my father-in-law that his acts of service — his most fluent love language — never went unnoticed by his grandchildren.

I’ve not told that nephew yet but his heartfelt message moved me to tears when I read it.

A kind and considerate father-in-law

When my husband and I were dating, he told me he only had one deal-breaker — he needed his wife to be willing to live with his parents after marriage. He didn’t want his parents to live by themselves in their old age because his other siblings had already moved out.

I understood his sentiments in the context of Chinese culture and appreciated his thoughtfulness towards his parents. And so I agreed.

Before I moved into my parents-in-law’s home, my husband and I did some renovation works to his attic bedroom which included erecting a new dividing wall to carve out a separate area.

On his own initiative, my father-in-law asked the bricklayer to insert a horizontal strip of wood in the dividing wall at the 2-metre mark off the ground. He later explained to my husband and me that this way, if we wanted to hang paintings on that dividing wall, we could safely hammer in nails at the 2-metre mark without damaging the wall. (If you’ve made it this far, you are welcome to this life hack, courtesy of my father-in-law.)

I was astounded by my father-in-law’s forethought and consideration for something as remote as our aesthetic pleasure while living under his roof.

If I had ever displeased my father-in-law in all the years I lived with him, I’ve never heard him say a word about it. His forbearance from saying harsh words to his children and grandchildren was kindly extended to this daughter-in-law as well.

Looking back, my father-in-law did feel like another father to me.

Dad tended to be more expressive in his text messages than in person. Here are examples of the text messages he had sent me:

Thanks. Have a nice day ahead.

Many thanks again. Take good care.

Good morning. Thank you very much for [minor task I helped him with]. Take good care.

Good morning. Happy Mother’s Day. Be blessed with lots of good health and happiness. Have a wonderful nice day.

Dad was a man who was ever generous with well-wishes and blessings for others and was ever ready to express his gratitude.

Dad took nothing for granted — this attitude lay at the heart of everything he did for his family.

When travelling overseas, Dad tended to be more adventurous in his diet and choice of activities. He would express this refrain with a smile when explaining his surprising choice:

Something different.

Dad passed away peacefully last week on Leap Day.

I believe he would have been fine with Leap Day being his day of passing from this physical existence. Because it was something different.

This article was originally published at Medium. Republished with permission from the author.