The last conversation I had with my father was over the phone and very ordinary: about a lost glove that I thought I had left at my parents’ house; who would be coming for Thanksgiving dinner; what time we were planning to arrive. It was unremarkable really, except that it was unusual for my dad to answer the phone instead of my mom; but I’m glad he did that day, for a week later his heart gave out, and he was suddenly gone.
He hadn’t been feeling well—the flu, he thought—but in hindsight it may have been the heart valve that he’d had replaced a few years earlier. Whatever the exact cause, his loss was unexpected and enormous, and I felt as if my entire world had shifted on its axis. I remember wondering, how can everyone and everything else go on as normal?
I was too stunned even to think of writing a tribute for his funeral—I wasn’t used to funerals or to grief. But now years later, and since yesterday was Father’s Day, I thought I’d write In Memory of Dad to go with my earlier post In Memory of Mom. And just as in my mom’s tribute I found it easiest to allow her to speak in her own words, I find it easiest here to relate my dad’s words too.
Like my mom, my dad would tell me: “No education is ever wasted.” His own mother had been trained as a school teacher in China, at a time when the education of girls often took a back seat to the education of boys. But he himself was never able to finish high school—at the age of 17 he became the sole support of his mom and younger siblings, when his older brother who had been supporting the family died from tuberculosis.
My dad inherited his older brother’s fruit and vegetable stand along with all of his debts, but with ingenuity and a lot of hard work, he was able to turn it into a good living, moved into vegetable processing, and then into the snack food business. When I was a young child, I was often already in bed when he would come home from “the shop” as we called it, but whenever I would hear his footsteps, I would stand on my bed and call out to him, and he would come in and hug me and say, “hello my little chickadee.”
When I got good grades and made the honour roll in high school, my dad would say, “Is that good?” because for him what was “good” was not a grade on a report card or what a teacher or anyone else might think—“good” wasn’t an external standard, but an internal one. Whatever others might think, did I think it was good? From my dad I learned to develop my own sense of values and judgement.
On money and budgeting, my dad would say, “Don’t spend what you don’t have. Always pay cash.” “Even for a house?” I would ask. “Even for a house,” he would insist, quite unreasonably I thought—it was no longer possible to buy a house in Vancouver for $6000 as he had done. Still his general principle of spending within one’s means has been a good discipline over the years.
On making a living, he would say, “Do something you enjoy that lets you make a living at the same time.” As a young man—a teenager really—he didn’t have that luxury of choice; he had to work to support the rest of his family. But with his street smarts and entrepreneurial spirit, he was able to turn it into something that he also enjoyed, and as a father, he wanted to give his children opportunities that he never had.
There’s so much more, of course, but better kept to my personal journals instead I think. Still I thought I’d share at least this much here to balance out my earlier post, In Memory of Mom, and for W. who asked about my family growing up. Thanks for asking 🙂
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