Colin Schooling was funny, generous and fiercely loved his son

SINGAPORE – Colin Schooling couldn’t have gone, it’s not possible. He had too much life in him, too many things yet to say, too many golf shots still to hit, too many hugs left to give his son.

Colin, 73, always brought a smile to a room and his opinions to lunch. I had a deep affection for him because he possessed a great generosity of spirit and was a joy to debate with. He didn’t hold back, would say his piece, disagree with your position and then pay your bill at Samy’s.

He had a theory on everything, laughed loudly and had his own colourful dictionary of swearing. He was a man to hang out with. In this profession we meet parents all the time and he was easily one of my favourites. I never left a meeting without learning something. A race timing or a joke.

This was, behind the easy manner, a deeply serious man, who believed in his son’s talent and nothing would shake that idea. He could see a potential which not many could and if you did not believe in his mission he was unafraid of your doubt. Conviction was his armour. “I want you to stun the world” he said in a video addressed to Joseph before the 100m butterfly final in Rio and it told you he trusted his son was capable of this stunning.

He loved Joseph with a beautiful fierceness and you could hear it in his voice and see it in the clippings he kept. In February last year when Joseph went to America he texted me at 3.48am, commenting on an article but also writing plaintively: “Joseph just left at 0100hrs this morning and I guess I’m unable to sleep as I am missing him a great deal already!!”

On Thursday (Nov 18) I spoke to a few former reporters, all young men when they knew Colin, all upset now, one even unable to speak. Reporters aren’t like this with fathers of athletes but it said something about Colin. They liked that he never patronised them, that he was direct yet genuine, and as one of them, Chua Siang Yee, now a lawyer, said, it made for “meaningful” encounters.

Colin was old school and tough school. If you didn’t get your research right, you’d earn his contempt. When a reporter once wrote Joseph beat Michael Phelps in Rio “by a finger tip” – it was in fact a considerable margin – he was livid. But then he was a man of expectations, even of his son. “Officer and a gentleman” he’d keep saying and it meant he demanded a certain conduct from his son. Champion for him meant more than first place in a race.

We were not close friends but writer and parent and yet somehow he made everything personal. In the past year we’d texted about Michael Phelps and Naomi Osaka and occasionally his competitiveness surfaced and you’d grin because it suggested Joseph had taken some of this quality from him. One year when Joseph didn’t win The Straits Times Athlete of the Year award he barked down the phone at me and if he was unconvinced by any explanation it ended as usual with a laugh.

A late August afternoon this year at his home in Marine Parade was the last time we met. The room was dark but his mood was light. Chua and I had gone to his home, worried about his health, and yet he offered us no self-pity but only science.

He was worried about Joseph’s speed in the water after Tokyo and the issues his son has with his back. He brought out photographs and discussed the position of Joe’s body, comparing the past to the present. He wanted his son to be better and so he’d keep reading journals, keep understanding, keep trying to find some answer.

It was, to the end, a father fighting for the best of his son and it was beautiful to behold.

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