Happy Father’s Day

Don Hong-Oai Spring, Bamboo Boat
“Spring, Bamboo Boat”
by Don Hong-Oai

“Nothing’s so beautiful as the memory of it
Gathering light as glass does,
As glass does when the sundown is on it
and darkness is still a thousand miles away.” ~ Charles Wright, from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox”

My father was almost 73 when he died on November 22, 2001. His birthday would have been on December 5.

Don Hong-Oai Lanters Light the Way, Guilin
“Lanterns Light the Way”
by Don Hong-Oai

I’ve been looking for a particular poem by Len Roberts, but the name escapes me. It’s a poem about his father. Anyway, I came across this one by David Budbill, and it reminded me of all the times my father came to my house to help me, all of the things he taught me: how to change a toilet’s working parts, how to replace an electrical socket, how to fix a leaky faucet, and far too many to recount.

And I remember all of the things that I learned from him just by watching: how to squat low and weed a garden, how to find the perfect patch of sunlight on the floor and take a nap, how to sit silently and pet a dog.

Mostly, I learned the art of being still from my father, a man who was mostly quiet, and then at times, explosive.

Father’s Day is still hard for me, especially when I go to buy cards. I still pause in front of the section of cards specifically for daughter. Occasionally I will pull one from the rack and read, but only if I have sufficiently steeled my heart before hand, which is almost never.

I have no great insights on what it is about fathers and daughters, only about my own relationship, which was alternately close and then not. I will never forget the time my father, almost in tears, asked me if I remembered the last time I had said hello to him, how in being silent myself I had not realized the cost.

My father was simultaneously generous and stingy, as am I—overly generous with love and stingy about never paying the full cost.

Don Hong-Oai Fishing Journey
“Fishing Journey”
by Don Hong-Oai

I still have not recovered the 1966 Ford Falcon that my father told me was to go to my sons, the car that my mother gave away after his death, as if this final punitive act would close that chapter once and for all. I will reclaim that car one day.

In the end my father was tiny, the extra six inches he claimed over five feet almost entirely withered with age and pain and illness. I would have gladly given him my inches were it possible.

In the end my father died alone and afraid, and I will never be able to let go of that, how when it mattered the most, I was not there to say hello and then goodbye.

All images by Chinese artist, Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004). There was nothing in the world that my father loved more than fishing.

Music by Billy Joel, one of my favorite oldies, “Lullabye”

                    

Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five

I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house
helping her expand their garden by at least ten times.
We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as
best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the
pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over
again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch
and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well
that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.

I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done
enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on
the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.

All this made me remember my father forty years ago
helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and
has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one
of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child,
who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching
and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.

So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation,
around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and
somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again.

~ David Budbill

Happy Father’s Day

mom, dad & me in England

Cherish them while you can . . .

                   

My father’s hands

are gnarled and time worn

Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,

leaving his hands weak and small.

They remind me of a monkey’s hands—

brown and leathery.

These hands that have tended to so many machines—

fixed so many moving parts

These same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads

and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.

With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,

patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.

He has cast lines into many waters,

unhooked his catch again and again,

alone under the moon on warm summer nights.

These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler—

blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,

before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,

and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel

from my skinned knees,

patched my wounds,

only to let me go again.

They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite,

taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood

and how to make a seam true.

I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net

with the same careful tenderness

as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.

And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman

from a deadly current

with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.

A world away in another lifetime,

my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete

in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind—

but never forgot.

Now, I watch his hands move back and forth

in morphine dreams,

sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.

I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets

and knit them to and fro, over and over.

In the few moments when they are still,

I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,

against my beating heart—

they are so diminished within my own.

These hands

that have labored and loved

harvested and hewn

These hands are the man he was

and the life he lived.

And now that his days are waning,

I want nothing more

than to be taken back to that one innocent moment

when everything was safe,

and nothing could harm me

because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,

taken back to that instant

when he held the fender of my bike

and guided me on the path.

touched me on the shoulder once

before setting me free to find my way.

L. Liwag

May 31, 2001

                   

Music by Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years”

Happy Father’s Day . . .

“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” ~ Confucius