By Natasha Sim | Parents Avenue’s Writer | All images courtesy of William Lee
During his infancy, William Lee’s mother heard about a family wishing to give away their newborn. The family in rural Keningau had already 9 or 10 mouths to feed—they could not possibly afford to raise another child. The year was 1992. Hearing this, his mother told his father, “I’d like to keep that child.”
William grew up never knowing anything about this. Until 27 years later, on the day before his wedding.
The 27-year-old startup founder shares with Parents Avenue his story, and how it has impacted his views on family and his life.
A series of unfortunate events
“When I found out, I wasn’t that shocked because I always felt different growing up. I did question whether or not I was adopted even before,” said William.
Of course, the ordeal was no less a nightmare, according to William. Simply because the revelation came after his mother died.
“On 25th March 2019, I received a phone call from my daddy telling me that my Ma had collapsed and was at the hospital,” he said.
By the time William reached the hospital, his mother was already dead.
The next day, William recalled feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Emotions were running high at his household because his wedding was due two days later.
“I wanted the wedding to go on and I worried about it being cancelled,” he said.
According to cultural superstition, a marriage will suffer if the wedding is held closely after the death of a family member.
But his wedding was allowed to happen anyway.
On 26th March, William’s suspicions that he was not a ‘blood son’ was confirmed by accident.
William had overheard his father saying into the phone that “I have three sons, two are blood and one is not.
When truth came out
One might think that because William’s mother chose to adopt him that he would have had a wonderful relationship with his mother.
On the contrary, William said he had a less than ideal upbringing.
Due to complicated family dynamics, he was eventually separated from his mother. Then sent to live with his father and his father’s first wife, a woman he fondly calls “Big Ma”.
William confronted his father a month after his wedding and the phone call incident.
His father was unwilling to admit the truth at first.
“I kept pressing and I told him that I overheard him telling someone over the phone that I was not his real son,” he said.
“I told my daddy that I don’t have bad intentions. I just want to know my real history.”
With that said, William’s father softened his stance and revealed everything.
It turns out, the phone call was to a sifu in Keningau and his father wanted to make sure that the wedding could go on so as not to break cultural prohibitions.
Adopted or not, family is still family
William felt like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. And he finally understood why he had felt out of place all his life amongst his peers.
“Growing up I was always closer to my non-Chinese friends. And now I know why la,” he said.
As it turns out, William was adopted from a Murut family.
This fact alone explains his tanner skin and curlier hair. And looking nothing like anyone else in his family.
Growing up in a traditional Chinese household also meant that his natural affinity and love for KadazanDusun Murut (KDM) music, art and culture was highly unusual.
“I used to get teased for listening to KDM folk songs,” he says with a laugh.
Despite the truth, William says nothing changes the deep love and appreciation he has towards his parents, especially his father and Big Ma.
William believes that his adoption is in fact a blessing in disguise. “My father really educated me well and I did grow up to have a good life,” he said.
“Who knows how would I have turned out if I wasn’t adopted.”
To Will, his adoption is really just a small matter because at the end of the day, his relationship with his family is still one borne out of love and respect.
Behind his desk is a plaque in Chinese that translates to mean “one should treat and respect everyone equally”, which William says is his father’s life philosophy.
“Those words are words that my father said all the time,” William said. He too lives by those words now.
Practice acceptance and gratitude
The biggest lesson William says he’s learnt through all of this is to be accepting of who we are and our circumstances.
“And to be thankful for everything we have. Appreciate all that our parents have done for us. Life is not easy, so don’t take it for granted,” he says.
These are lessons he hopes to be able to impart to his future child. “My wife is now two months pregnant,” he says.
William also said that it is unlikely that he will be reconnecting with his biological Murut family.
His parents, now in their 70s, have forgotten the name of the kampung he came from.
“But it doesn’t matter. Adopted or not, I never felt like I am not part of my family,” he said, referring to life with his dad, Big Ma and siblings from his father’s first marriage.
“My wife too initially had issues when I told her the truth about my identity,” he said. But they have found a way to move past it as a couple.
“Now, my in-laws love me,” he said.
William Lee is Founder and Managing Director of Vacazzee, a local travel platform. The app will be launched in September 2019.
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