Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
The Campfire for the Heart project is a collection of true, international stories of human resilience.
Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have a resilience story to share, or know someone who does,
please contact Natalie Stockdale through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
"If someone came to me, I would just listen,
listen with my whole body and soul."
I was born in Malaysia into a traditional Chinese-Malaysian family. We immigrated to Australia when I was three years old. Characteristics of my family life were discipline and working almighty hard as compensation for being a migrant.
My parents were very focused that my brother and I studied hard, with very little focus on the relational or emotional side of life. This meant that in my early twenties as a young man, I didn’t have the required social skills and thus I found it difficult to set boundaries with people around me.
At the time, I was competitive, angry, cynical and sarcastic. I was constantly worried that people would see me as the fraud that I thought I was and I was constantly trying too hard to compensate for my lack of self-worth.
When I was a 26, my dad was working in remote Borneo. The helicopter that he was in crashed and was missing. We waited for 3 weeks in rural Borneo with 5 other families, hoping each day for positive news. It felt like life had stopped for us, but somehow life went on around us.
In the end, all the men died and I helped identify the remains. I remember the awful smell and the presence of maggots on the clothing that they found. In that 2- month period, I attended a total of 8 memorial services or funerals. I wasn’t close to my dad and I didn’t feel that I loved him at the time, but I remember very clearly the feeling of physical pain in my chest due to the emotional loss. It was my first experience of deep, deep pain.
I worked through this pain slowly through the years, without really knowing what I was doing. Curiosity and the desire to learn was one of my strongest assets. The painstaking task of finding friends who would listen deeply to me was essential. Opening up and being vulnerable about my journey helped me find these people.
Men’s support groups and gatherings have been a revelation for me. At times, I’ve felt so much shame about being a man in our society. The number of negative male models there are, the negative perception about men in the media and by people I knew, created a poor view of myself as a man. In men’s gatherings, it was so refreshing to be around men who were good men, men who were vulnerable and willing to share their brokenness with each other. Finally, I had the role models and the permission to be the sort of man I wanted to be and to be proud to call myself a man and to be one.
I’ve learnt to surround myself with people who will support me and vice versa. People who are willing to listen deeply to me create clarity on my journey. I’ve learnt that I need to be clear about my needs and I need make very clear requests about what I need so others have a chance to fulfil my needs. I’ve learnt what real pain feels like which has given me the ability to hear others when they are in pain. I’ve learnt to listen deeply to others with every fibre of my body, to listen in a way that can create a new way of being.
I now have a very busy life with family, work, friends and community around me. The word that describes my life is rich. A richness which is best described by the richness of experience of my daily life. A life where I contribute to my family, my work, my community on a daily basis and try to bring the best Thomas to every interaction that I have. A life where the conscious choices I make are what creates the beauty and the richness. A life where I am trying to live as close to my edge as possible to continue my life of growth, but still with enough buffer that I am looking after myself throughout the buffering of life. I learn so much by being in a relationship with my wife and even more so, by being a father. Being a parent is the hardest, but most rewarding journey in my life.
I wouldn’t give advice to someone unless it was requested, as when I was at my lowest, advice was the last thing I needed. If someone came to me, I would just listen, listen with my whole body and soul. Maybe this could save the life of this person.