Original Title: “In Death, Assumptions About Dad Melt Away”
Published in USA Today as a Father’s Day commentary on June 18, 2010
Author’s note: My father passed away in Hong Kong on March 23, 2010.
I didn't think my father cared about me. I left Hong Kong at age five when my mother divorced my father in 1968. My father never contacted me. I lived in America. He lived a world away. Then in 1996, at age thirty-three, I returned with my mom to Hong Kong and met my father. I spoke only English. He spoke only Cantonese. My mother needed to serve as interpreter.
After I married my wife, Quyen, in 1998, I visited Hong Kong again to introduce her to my father. When Quyen and I had kids, I heard through my mom that he wanted to see our children. So I invited him to the U.S., told him I would pay for his plane ticket and that he could stay with us. But I never received a response. I didn't think he cared. So I went about my life.
In March, my father suffered a stroke and died. It was my family's obligation to go to Hong Kong to take part in the funeral. I was his only child; my kids were his only grandchildren. Once there, an uncle brought my father's possessions to me. From a faded leather carrying bag, he took out a small, tarnished brass picture frame holding a photo of Quyen and me at our wedding reception. My uncle told me my father kept the picture on his nightstand beside his bed. It was his favorite.
Then my uncle handed me a worn, crusty plain brown packaging envelope that contained photographs and cards my mom had sent throughout the years. There were pictures of me in my college cap and gown, Quyen and me at a formal dinner while dating, the two of us beaming at our wedding reception, our son Kevin on his third birthday, a five-month-old Kristie cradled in my left arm on the couch. I found Christmas cards from my mother nestled between the photos, and a neatly folded paper with a hand-drawn heart and a message of love from Kristie.
I leafed through more pictures and discovered a group shot of my father, mother, and me next to a number of relatives and friends on a pier in Hong Kong. I must've been four at the time. I came upon another photo of me in elementary school, maybe eight years old and wearing a gaudy blue sweater. My father had kept every item relating to me and my family.
My uncle said my father never traveled. In his seventy-six years of life, my father had never been on an airplane.
For most of my life, I didn't think my father cared about me. As I looked at the pictures of my family with tears in my eyes, I knew I was wrong.