I’ve started and stopped writing this post about five times since last week. I don’t know what it is, just hemming and hawing between whether I want to expose so much emotion or keep things carefree. With so much that has gone on in the world it’s hard to keep things light all the time. Plus, I know what some people would say after reading this, that there’s an easy answer to my problem…
I read a compelling Time Magazine article recently about the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that ravaged Japan. Although the descriptions of destruction stirred up sadness and hope all at once, it was the author’s description of the people that gripped me. It kind of slapped me in the face. People were literally washed away. Thousands remain missing and homeless. Homes lay flattened. It could have happened anywhere and I am lucky that my family in Taiwan wasn’t affected. Yet I am sad.
Having spent a chunk of my youth living in Taiwan, I have seen and can understand the Japanese culture. Though different, the Chinese and Japanese aren’t completely alien to each other in manners and temperament. On a whole, they are peaceful, pragmatic and reverent. There is also a quiet strength about them, orderly and polite, not overly wrought with emotion. I don’t mean for it to sound like a negative, it is just what it is and it is that last characteristic to which I most relate.
The difference is I have lived in the US now for almost 20 years. My father still lives in Taiwan. I ache a little every time I think about him. It’s not as if I don’t see him or have contact with him, I ache because I miss the friendship and relationship we could have had had we not been separated by an ocean. My parents separated when I was young and a move to the States was my mother’s decision. I knew very little about the circumstances, both physical and emotional. I just knew at the time I wanted to stay with my mom and took on the move like it was an adventure, which, at 11 years old, it was. I couldn’t, and didn’t, fathom the future.
And yet every single time I have seen him since our move, years in between, I was probably a different person to him. Years would go by and I wouldn’t think anything of it. But the moment I would see him again emotions would flood and I would always want to say something. Anything. Something that could capture the enormity of our relationship. Instead, we’d sit in each other’s presence after years of absence and harbor an understanding, exchange silent glances. Yet the Americanized part of me would always scream, “Say something! Talk to him about more than just trivialities! Tell him all the important stuff you’ve wanted to say for…ever.” But instead the words would get stuck in my throat as I sometimes choked back tears. And rather than subject us both to what I envision as blubbering, I usually changed the topic and focused on something easy. I wonder if he’s ever felt the same. I think he has, but, of course, I don’t know for sure.
So with so much pain that has been dealt a nation of people, I’m reminded that I have an opportunity to change things. I can say what I want to say without waiting until it’s too late. Yet I don’t. And I don’t want to be a coward, but I think I am. All because I feel too foolish to say:
Dad, I love you. I know we don’t say it out loud, but there it is. Over the years we’ve spent apart, I don’t harbor any ill will or weird feelings or whatever other negative emotion someone might suspect. I have always only respected you, trusted you, admired you. I’ve never taken sides, and whatever it is you and mom went through that is something personal between the two of you, not between the two of us. And I’m sorry that I never said that, expressly that. Because as adults I hope you know I only want you to be happy, healthy and free to be my father…not some man you think I think I want you to be.