By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Father’s Day is coming, and I am pondering how lucky I was to have two fathers. However, I never felt like I had a father when I was growing up.
My parents divorced when I was 5 or 6. Now with divorce rates as high as 40 to 50 percent in America, I empathize with children of divorced parents. Divorce can complicate family gatherings. Do you spend time with your biological dad or the dad who raised you on Father’s Day?
I never had that problem, even though my parents were divorced since I was little. Both my dad and stepdad are now deceased. But I often think about them on Father’s Day, reflecting on the father who had been absent in my childhood.
My mother simply forbade me to see my late father. Their conflicts ran so deep that I didn’t see my dad with her knowledge until I was in my 20s. (Yes, I did sneak out to see dad once or twice a year.)
My stepdad didn’t accept me until I graduated from high school. Part of the reason, I suspected, was I did well in the public exam for high school graduates. Most of the time, he worked in other Asian countries, trying to make a living.
When he was home, I would try to avoid him, hiding in other parts of the apartment. The exchanges we had usually lasted no more than five seconds. I said, “Pa.” He then nodded, acknowledging me. However, he was the one to convince my mom to let me study in America. He paid for my college education the first year and some of my second year, and I will be forever grateful. During my first year in America, he visited me from Hong Kong to make sure I was okay. It was freezing one December when he arrived and I remember his leather shoes were all soaked up in snow and mud. He was thrilled to see me, though.
I never had to choose between my dads, except when I got married. It almost ruined my wedding day decades ago.
The first wedding
“If he (your dad) is coming (to your wedding), I will not be there,” my mother said, who gave me an ultimatum.
My heart desired both fathers to be present on this important day of my life. And my dad wanted to be a part of it, too. When he heard about mom’s rage, he gave in. “Don’t worry, let her come to Seattle,” he said. I knew he was deeply hurt.
Eventually, my stepdad walked me down the aisle. I often wonder what other daughters would do to avoid hurting both fathers.
A few months ago, I read in the New York Times about a woman getting married, and she had two fathers like me. Who did she ask to walk her during the wedding, dad or stepdad who raised her most of her life? She asked her dad. Of course, the stepfather was immensely sad as he had loved her as his own.
The ending was incredibly moving. Both dads held the hand of the daughter on each side, walking down the aisle together. It wasn’t the daughter’s idea nor the stepfather’s.
At the last minute, it was the bride’s dad to invite the stepdad to join him in walking down the aisle. All these years, he had witnessed how much her daughter was being loved and cared for by another man. The stepdad was there for her all the way.
How could the birth dad deny the genuine love between the two and how much it would mean to the other father to share that moment?
What a beautiful solution! This approach could only be possible in this modern age.
Yet, to have both dads walking me down the aisle in the old days would reveal embarrassment — announcing to the world that my parents were divorced. It’s the part of the story I was unwilling to disclose, even to my good friends for years. It’s hard to talk about, and also hard not to talk about my parents’ divorce for a long time. In reality, my silence misled people around me. Subconsciously, I wanted people to believe that I was from a perfect family living in a perfect world. I lacked the courage to tell the truth.
Today, I have no problems talking about my parents’ divorce, but it’s still my least favorite subject. I wish I was as open-minded back then.
The second wedding
The scenario of which parent got to go to the wedding came up when my younger brother in Texas got married two years after I did.
When my family split up, I lived with my mother, and my dad had custody of my brother. My mother told my brother, “If your dad is coming, count me out.”
Again, my dad gave in. My mother and I went to Texas for my brother’s wedding. At that time, the bride’s side knew about my brother’s family situation.
My mom always got her way. I don’t know why I or my brother never spoke up. I wish I had been wiser and strong enough to stand up to my mother then. Why should the children be the ones to pay for their parents’ estrangement?
Dad, thank you for your understanding all these years and teaching us the meaning of generosity in spirit.
“I didn’t know you had a son,” a friend told my mother at the funeral of my stepdad in 2002 in Thailand. My brother from Texas attended the service to support mom, even though he had no blood relationship to my stepdad.
“I didn’t know he (stepdad) had other kids,” another friend commented. She was referring to my stepdad’s children in town.
“Well, we all have our own stories in the past,” my mom said, smiling with tears. There were no more secrets. The truth had set her free. I’ve lost track of how many lies she told in the past about her marriage. It affected my self-image — it became my shame and burden to bear as well. What’s ironic is that, her daughter is now a writer. I have no regrets about sharing the beautiful and ugly, black and white, lies and truth, real and unreal…Sorry, mom!
The third wedding
I helped my parents make peace with one another several years ago. I asked mom why she was angry with dad?
“He owes me money,” she said.
That’s easy, I thought. I told dad, and he repaid with interest. Since then, they were actually happy to see each other at family gatherings.
Seven years ago, my brother threw a wedding party for his daughter and son-in-law for all their Hong Kong relatives, and both mom and dad attended. They were talking happily to one another like they were old pals. The union they once had was not perfect, but the bond remained that she was the mother of his children and vice versa. No anger, resentment, or bitterness can change thats. And children should never bear the price of the divorce. Forgiveness will help all parties involved to move forward.
It took a funeral and three weddings for my family to finally open up, and appreciate the history they shared. No matter how bad the situation, it will pass and the sun will come out tomorrow.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.