I’m sad for Sim. Her dad passed away and it got me thinking about my own father who died when I was 13. In fact he died on March 1st. I remember I was in the bathroom when my sister told me the news through the door. I also remember that I felt nothing. Even at his funeral I didn’t know what to feel. I felt so bad that I tried to will some emotions out of me. Maybe it was because I didn’t see him much. That’s not true. When he got home late from work and exhausted, he would put on his tortoise shell glasses and that meant it was time to relax. He would go to his den and I would sit next to him. His favorite hobby was making stereo radios and speakers out of scratch from cannibalized stereo parts he found on Canal Street’s Radio Row. He did this while listening to John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High.” Mom said the song reminded them of China. He used to draw electronic schematics of his next Hi-Fidelity project and I would sit next to him drawing out my own secrets plans of Giant Robots, Monsters and scenes of mass destruction.
Maybe I felt emotionally reserved when he died because he was emotionally reserved. That’s not true either. I have memories of him laughing and having a great time with my older brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and Johnnie Walker Red. When he would leave for work, he would lift me up and I would put him in a headlock and kiss him goodbye. His rough beard would scratch my cheeks like sandpaper. I would say, “Yuck, too hard.” and he would laugh. I guess I was just younger than I thought I was and didn’t know what it all meant.
My dad was a workaholic. He worked as a waiter in two Chinese restaurants. On the day he died, he had just left his morning job in New Jersey and was going to his 2nd job on 95th and Broadway when he suffered a severe heart attack. He died while exiting the PATH train at 33rd street. He was only 56. There was a milk strike at the time so my dad was carrying a bottle of milk to bring to the restaurant. They said that when he collapsed, the glass shattered and his body laid in a pool of milk. I imagined the milk flowing away from his body like white blood. The restaurant called my Mom to say that he didn’t show up. No one knew where my dad was. Apparently his wallet was stolen while he was down. My Mom had a radio that received local Chinese language programs from Chinatown. They announced that an unidentified Chinese man had died and his body was taken to Bellevue Medical Center. My brother went down to see if it was him. He came back home with our Pastor to tell us that dad had died.
My family changed and not for the better, but you deal with life as it comes.
A couple of years ago a friend asked me how my father’s death affected me. Nothing was my first response. It didn’t affect me at all. And when prodded I just shrugged. Nothing. But she kept pushing and I thought some more and I guess what I feel is that my Dad left before I was becoming the person I am today. When my interest then was to be baseball player or to learn to play piano so I could then play piano. Before my drawing hobby became more than just about copying comic books. I guess what I miss is any firm sense of acceptance, acknowledgement, or approval. I never know when I’m there. Or feel good when I get there. I never know if it’s good enough. I guess we never really know. But he never got to know the person I would eventually become. Sad. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I think of him more and more and saddened that I won’t be able to share with him who I am. My Dad was a tough disciplinarian but looking back it makes me laugh. He once locked me in the dark basement when I was acting real bad and said that he hoped the rats didn’t bite me. HA! I pressed myself against the door in the dark petrified for a whole 30 seconds before he let me out. And when my oldest brother was a juvenile delinquent hippie, out all night every night. My Dad would lock the front door and my brother would wake us up, banging on the door to be let in. “You want to stay out all night?” My Dad barked back. He then threw out a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and said, “Good! Here’s your dinner!” HA! All I could think of was, “he’s going to starve without a can opener!”
When my brothers and sisters and I were recently going through some of the last of his remaining possession to finally dispose of, my sister Jene found some of his mini black appointment books. They were filled with short mundane entries. One read, “Buy shirt for Jene’s choir recital”. She kept that book. I found his glasses. I keep these on my table.