I cried for the man that I am to become. I cried because I was not as gentle to him on his last week as I needed to be. He left alone in the house, in the kitchen and in the middle off his lunch. He left quietly, soon after his birthday. No fuss no mess. My mom found him sitting up right in his chair as though he has fallen asleep, head back eyes closed. I spoke to him that morning; he wanted my brother Phong’s email address. I cried because I did not call to apologize for not being the best person to him that I could. I cried over the last email he wrote to me five hours before he was found: “Thank Hai for your e-mail”. He was thinking about my brother and me. I wrote back to know if we could Skype each other. He had wanted to get Skype on a new computer so that he could see his sisters in France.
I spend almost a month around Christmas time tearing up my parents’ thirty -years old kitchen in Houston, renovating and installing new appliances. It was something that needed to be done long ago, but the inertia and the consensus between all of us in the family to make some changes only seemed apparent then. We stirred up dust and excitement in that tired home. It was the first time all of us, in laws included pitched in for a project. My Dad wanted to help, but he was too weak and slow, so when he can he would watched and coached us as we struggle with our work. I thought the excitement was good for my Dad it gave him something to look forward to. I did as much as I could to before I had to leave for Hawaii. There was still plenty that my Dad could do to finish the project. I felt having projects for my Dad to do will keep him busy although he was often exhausted from dialysis regiment three times week.
I made it back to my place in Hawaii only two days when the phone call came from my distressed sister; soon afterward I heard the doctor’s conversation with my mom and knew that his he does not have much of a chance. January 17, 1927 to January 20, 2008, is long enough for many lives.
He was remembered at his funeral by several former South Vietnamese Air Force cadres who braved the podium to speak of him as a punctual person. Aside from other details of my Dad’s that emerged, the most notables were that South Vietnamese Air force, SVNAF, was formed soon after he graduated with one other cadet. He was the first Vietnamese military pilot. He flew transport planes. The men remembered him as one who held a high position of Lieutenant Colonel, but never allowed his status to treat those under him with anything but kindness. He was their teacher. Details of that life of his will remain a mystery to his children. He rarely talked about what he did. I am sure he had reason to not dredge up the past, but feel that those years were the happiest for him. He was another person, well regarded and respected. His life in the US was of a family man, who had to start all over again. He had “made it” already, a comfortable life, retirement at forty eight before the fall of Saigon, 1975. Starting over as a laborer, then as a telecommunication technician with a windowless office for the majority of the of his working hours way pass his retirement age. He often regretted that he could not give us, his children, all that he could. I think he felt that somehow he had failed. He gradually became more pessimistic. At any family discussion of any new venture, he often cautioned us about the prospect of failure. I believed that he was mildly depressed for so long that he had gradually withdrawn and suffering quietly. Aging I supposed.
I have been thinking about my Dad a great deal lately. After his death, my mind processed so much consciously and sub consciously that I often woke up in the middle of the night confused not only about where I was, but also foggy about when I was. I woke up once and thought I was living in the 70s. His death changed certain aspects of my life, I felt un-moored and floating. As a family we were always whole until now. There is an empty place, a dark chunk missing.
I had a conversation with my Dad about my life as a rolling stone, free and without worries, in his way he confided in me that I am living the life that we wanted to live. Just remembering this brought up my tears again. I live my life for him I supposed.
It has been hard to even write about him. I tried a month ago and could not pull myself together enough to sit and write. As I finished this, the rest of my family in Houston is putting my Dad’s ashes in a niche. I wanted to scatter his ashes over the blue water of Hawaii, but the matter is not up to me.