I just happen to be one of those folks who draws people towards me… people I had never met before will start chatting it up with me and telling me their stories. Some stories are funny, some stories are sad and most are incredibly heart-warming…
I went to my local nail salon last weekend and had a new technician who came to our country from Viet Nam about 20 years ago. He gave me a history lesson about the Viet Cong, the differences between being “a Laos” versus “a Hmong” but the greatest lesson he shared with me was his story of being a young man in California – the night a young woman “made me get drunk…because I was ‘cute Vietnamese boy’…I woke up next morning, opened my eyes looked around…oh Granmomma…please help me… oh Granmomma…”
The young woman was a student from Japan so she went back to Japan and he did not see her for a few years. When she returned to California for a visit three years later, she had a little girl with her. He asked how old the little girl was and “I started counting backwards, putting two and two together”. He said he tried to get a strand of hair…he took the popsicle stick when she was done eating her treat…”and her momma say ‘what are you doing!’ so I tell her I am just throwing away in garbage…and she asks ‘why you put in plastic bag to throw in garbage?’.” He looked across the table at me and said “I just had that feeling you know…that connection…” He was so determined to find out if this was his child that he was willing to grab a hold of anything to see if his DNA flowed into hers. He did not have to resort to shady tactics and the testing was done – “it was 99.9% positive!”, exclaimed to me with a huge smile.
He said he offered to marry this woman for “my little girl”, even though they never had what one would call a relationship in the past. He wanted to be a part of this little girl’s life so badly because he was her Daddy. He ultimately signed papers to allow both mother and daughter to move to the U.S. from Japan and today his little girl is seventeen years old. He is teaching her the value of working hard (she works at his mother’s salon for free while he pays her a weekly allowance and works off the cost of her new Mac laptop he just bought her), he teaches her about behaving responsibly: “you go to party, have one drink…count to 100, have second drink…count to 200, then no more want to drink so go home”, and most of all, he teaches her about what love really is… the deep love from which a parent will do anything to be a part of their child’s life.
On Sunday, it will be the twenty-third anniversary of my Dad’s passing and his spirit has surrounded me all week. My Dad was an incredible and charismatic man in his younger days. He was an Army Captain during WW II, marching down the streets of France after Hitler and his troops were defeated. He was the mayor of his hometown, President of his Toastmasters club, President of the local VFW and the American Legion. He shook hands with Hubert H. Humphrey, and two of his closest friends were Archbishops within the Catholic church. My Dad was personable. My Dad was smart. My Dad was fun and energetic. He played softball, he golfed, he played bridge. My Dad love to play…
However, his life was not all laughter, socializing and playing games. He lost a baby child… he lost some political elections, he lost some jobs, he lost his health and he lost his ability to verbally communicate after having several strokes. Yet, he continued to persevere as he walked the several street blocks downtown every day. He had coffee every morning at the bakery as he smiled and listened to his old buddies chat it up. He still marched in the parades, always a proud soldier standing tall (all 5 feet 3 inches). He died a few months shy of his 69th birthday…
My Dad never had a eulogy at his funeral. If the Priest had not forgotten to make that time available, my Dad would have had an amazing eulogy by his best friend (another great man). So I am dedicating this post in honor of the man who was always bigger than life to me, a man who gave to his country and his community without asking for anything in return. A man whose eyes always twinkled as soon as he saw me.
The following is taken from a letter I had written to him a few days before he died:
As I sit and ponder our lives, I remember all the good times. The happy smiles, the pride in your eyes. I could walk in the room and your face would radiate of the love you had for me.
As we both got older, we changed. You could no longer speak – I could no longer hear you. There were times our tempers flared but amends were soon made. We were probably both too frustrated to see clearly…, frustration born of you not being the man you were, frustration born of me starting to lose the man I always adored.
As I watch you fade, I weep. You gave me life and you gave me unconditional love. The pride and love I have for you make me ache to realize you will soon be gone. Daddy, I love you more than I can ever express and the memories will always be ones of fondness, not sorrow.
This dreamer finally realized that we are all only humans who are on this earth with faults… but with our mistakes we learn what the Lord has taught us… love and caring for others is of greatest importance and mistakes can always be forgiven. You always cared and gave to those in need and that is the legacy left in the hearts of those you helped.
You will soon be on your journey to the Lord… I shall miss you deeply but solace comes from knowing that you will be the shining star in the heavens always watching over me. I love you Dad…
Did my Dad make mistakes? He sure did. Did he live life with great abandon at times? He sure did. Did he love his Country? Absolutely. Did he love his Community? You bet. Did he love his family unconditionally? There is no doubt about it. Was he a great Teacher? The best. He taught me to give freely to others, to care for my community, to persevere during times of adversity and to always hold my head up high and not allow my self-confidence to diminish.
What did your Dad teach you?