My father is a man of few words. Because we live in different cities now, our interactions have been reduced to short, simple sentences flung back and forth through cyberspace.
“ How are you?”
“ Still kicking”
“ Anything new?”
“ Same old, same old.”
I remember getting early morning car rides with my father to the inner city train station. He was heading to work, and I to the university. The rides were blanketed in that familiar silence. Some days I would try to spice things up with a question.
“ When did Grandpa first come to Canada?”
“ I don’t remember.”
“ What was it like when you came to Canada?
“ It wasn’t easy.”
Over the years, I’ve managed to draw out more of my family’s story from my father. But his silence has worked its strength as a barrier against unpleasant memories and painful losses. Downstream, life continued with adult children leaving home, grandchildren, and retirement. Why open the dam when there’s still plenty of fishing on a calm, tranquil lake?
When I was younger I had interpreted my father’s lack of words as rejection. He rarely said anything harsh, but neither did he say anything encouraging. Surprisingly, I never acted out to gain his attention. I had two older brothers to watch over me. However, brothers are a poor substitute for a father. So too, as I later discovered, are boyfriends.
But my father, with all his limitations as a fallible human being, also carries kindness. When my pet budgie suddenly died, my young heart broke. Unable to bear the sobbing of his eight-year-old daughter, he immediately purchased another budgie without saying a single word. His kindness also looked like working long shifts to feed the family, fixing up an old tricycle for my first bike, and teaching me how to use power tools.
I may have longed for a different father. A father that looked more like an 80s sitcom dad: white, funny, and physically affectionate. Instead I was given a sullen, Chinese man who never knew how to fully express himself and who never seemed fully content except when holding a fishing rod in one hand and a freshly-caught trout in the other. I may have used the Heavenly Father as an alternative for my earthly father…. but I am too much like my Baba to deny the resemblance.
When I had decided to go into ministry I told myself I didn’t need my father’s blessing. I braced for his anger. While I didn’t get the verbal acceptance I secretly wanted, he helped load my possessions into his van and a rented trailer. He and my mother drove it for several days to set up their daughter in a new city, a city where she would eventually stay to work for the Church that he has distrusted all his life.
I can now say I never needed another father. He was there and he never left. Though I may still desire his approval for the work that I do, I no longer fear losing his love. I fear losing against time. In the years that I’ve been away from home, my father goes fishing a little less and moves a little slower. I think of that time in the near future when there will be no more fish to catch and no water to float on. Will that dam finally crumble? Or will we sit in silence with all the things we wish we could say?
This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.