By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
I have very few fond memories about my father from my childhood. What do you expect when you come from a broken home?
Strange, but I have wonderful thoughts about my father now that I am an older woman who has experienced the world —after being a parent juggling having a family and career —struggling to find my passions while making a difference in the community.
My anger toward my father’s abandonment over me had dissolved in my 20s, when I found out that my mother had created many of the lies to drive me away from him. It has now changed to a horizon of empathy and forgiveness. And I have learned to love him more and more each day and accept who he was. I am grateful for his generosity, easy-going manner and wise advice. He died a few years ago at the age of 93.
This blog is dedicated to children who harbor bitterness and hostilities toward divorced parents, and would like to move on with their lives.
What is it like to have a father? I never really knew.
Sadly, in my childhood dreams I had yearned for my father to hold my hands, walk with me in a park, read bedtime stories, share ice cream, watch movies, or play games together.
I applaud parents who sit down with their children and explain why they decide to go separate ways. In my experience, that process was non-existent. There was no information about why they split, about living arrangements after their divorce, how they were going to divide the kids among them, or what schools we should attend. There was no discussion with us kids, period. It was one big mess filled with uncertainties, secrecy, and anxieties.
When I was five in China, a friend took me to the train station and we were in a Hong Kong hotel shortly, reuniting with my mother. Later, I found out that my father was living with another woman and family.
Actually, he had a family before he met my mom. Suddenly, my young brother turned into a rebellious monster and mom had to send him away to live with my dad. Meanwhile, mom met my stepfather who had let me stay because I was often perceived as the most obedient child in the family. That was my lesson then, stay quiet, fit in. I was so afraid that mom would say, “Go to your dad. I don’t want you.” Only years later, my aunt told me that initially, my step dad had tried to persuade mom to give me up like my brother. Instead, mom said decisively, “Absolutely no!”
What really happened in my family history became “she says” and “he says.” The remaining bits and pieces were half-truths, disbeliefs, and scandals as I only heard them from my relatives whispering among themselves, pretending that I wasn’t really listening. In reality, I heard everything. The adults wanted to hide from us because they feared that we kids couldn’t handle relationships and conflicts. Believe me, I was much more determined to stay with my mom even though many issues were beyond our grasp and maturity. More confusing, my mother’s family wanted us to believe that my dad was at fault and he was the enemy.
Once, I realized that my dad was not evil, and everyone makes mistakes, it opened doors for healing. It’s not just the healing for me, but closure for my parents.
How I brought my parents together took courage. I was scared to confront my mother until I was in my 30s. It needed to be done, though.
“Why are you upset with dad still after all these years?” I asked.
My mother told me the truth finally. I was surprised what it was that was troubling her all these years. It’s something that could be fixed.
Mom said after the breakup, dad had borrowed money from her as both were broke, and promised to pay back.
“I didn’t have any money either,” she said. “I gave him my only valuable diamond ring to take it to the pawn shop. Now, he pretends nothing happened.”
I told Dad.
“I can fix it,” he said. I was elated. And he did with a great deal of fanfare.
He treated my mother’s relatives to a shark-fin restaurant for dinner in Hong Kong.
“I am sorry,” dad said to mom before the dinner. Then, he put $5000 U.S. currency on the table. How he derived the number puzzled me. While mom was satisfied, I was so relieved as if all the thorns in my heart had disappeared.
We then toasted. Dad also ordered brandy and mom drank quite a bit. He was direct and sincere.
And 30 years of hate was wiped away through a clear communication process and my dad’s desire to make amends! Was it worth it for my mother to bury her rage intact for such a long time?
From then on, my parents had become friends again. We had many happy gatherings together whenever I was in Hong Kong. I was delighted to see them talking and joking, and allowed me to take photos of them together.
Those were some of the happy memories of my father.
Waking me up
“It’s their (parents’) fault, not yours.” If someone had told me that when I was a kid, it would have enlightened me immensely.
Was it fair for kids to be burdened with adults’ grudges after the divorce? I wish I had a friend, relative, counselor, or psychiatrist to help me sort through, lay on the table my dilemmas and tell me those were adults’ problems which had nothing to do with me. Many of their issues belonged in gray areas and I didn’t really have to take sides. I felt confused and torn as a child. I wish someone reassured me that things would be okay no matter how bad the day was, encouraged me to stand up for myself, or taught me how to release my pain.
Despite the fact I had none of those “angels” in my life, I have become resilient and survived numerous childhood nightmares. It has made me a better, stronger, and helpful person.
The key for my survival is, I don’t dwell on what I don’t have. The “blame game” is definitely not for me either.
People like to blame and not take responsibilities for their fate, and they don’t thrive very far either. I work hard for what I have, and earn what I need to have. As I age, I learn the importance of letting go and seeing the merits of human beings rather than their faults. Apparently, we can all learn something from our least favorable people.
If I view a glass as close to being full instead of being half empty, I am really blessed to have two fathers —biological and step. Both were proud of my accomplishments. What I am really proud of, is that I have succeeded in changing their traditional attitude towards women. My stepfather once said, “Women are very capable human beings too.” Amen!
On Father’s Day, I congratulate those of you who have fathers and are close to your dads—you don’t know what you have. Give a big hug to your dad and thank him for giving you life. I thank my biological dad for giving me life; and my stepfather for giving me a new life —coming to America for my university education. America has transformed my life!
My new friend Tak Lam said, “I like my sons to think of me as a spare tire. You can put the spare in your car trunk. When you need me, I’ll be there for you.”
And yes, my two dads were my spares for my life, and I cherish those lessons they gave before they passed away. Fathers, I love you both. (end)