I did not see or hear from my Dad for 10 years.
Before that, at least he showed up daily for supper, albeit late (after a stop, not at the pub, but at the other lady whom I was forced to call Auntie Lang).
When he did get home, it was a bit late for a restless young-man: my stomach couldn’t wait up. So I got an idea: I distracted myself by really really got into the zone by lashing out at my guitar with songs from an illegal Hit Parade reprint. Besides, “the stage” (our living room) would be reserved for my Dad and occasionally, my brother, right after supper.
So off I sang, like the guy you saw doing an opening act for a corporate event: you can sing but you can’t touch the hors d’oeuvres. At least, back then, I played for time: one more song perhaps would see my Dad appear at the door. Between 1975-185, when not a single piece of mail was exchanged between us: one in Vietnam, and the other traversed the world, I stopped the silly mind-game. Instead, I set out and sort out about learning, life, love, loss and liberty, on my own.
In short, by the time my Dad and I saw each other again, it was like two grown men battling for supremacy (not necessarily the space and schedule after dinner) – two strangers in post-Vietnam era sharing the same roof in a country where no one wanted to hear about damn Vietnam “where you call hell I call home”. The Cosby Show was on prime time and late night would be M*A*S*H on TV ( America could barely put Korea behind, much less Nam). I fantasized about living another life, anything but a college-and-corporate reject life on the couch. I thought about giving up on life, about seminary.
And that’s where I went, to get through a rough patch of life, catching a glimpse of Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal at the bookstore. I admired my older brother who grew up with my Dad BEFORE he took on another wife and kid. They apparently were in conversational terms: the exodus from the North, their love for music, clothing and I bet, girls. I, on the other hand, had been born at the wrong time just to find myself “born again” “You ‘ve got to serve somebody, yes indeed” and ended up along the Northeastern corridor with no prospect for a family. No wonder I kept praying like St Augustin to “Our Heavenly Father” – my decade-long substitute and surrogate Dad).
Today, you would get caught dead reading a hard-bound book on the plane much less Cosby’s Fatherhood, or The Art of the Deal. Times have changed. Tell that to Hanoi Jane. BTW back in 1973, a plane load of exchanged POW’s were in the air returning from Vietnam. I would love to juxtapose the two images of the napalm girl running naked toward Nick Ut’s camera, and the girl in the sweater running toward her POW’s father. Same decade, different drums.
OK. I was a 19-year-old Vietnam refugee separated from my part-time Dad for a decade and my Mom for 4 years ( while in college). In between, I managed to cope with homelessness, statelessness, joblessness, culture shock (city boy and cow college), future shock (Three-Mile Island) inter-religious conflict, loneliness, survivor’s guilt, exile and sexile.
Life has funny twists though. My speed adulthood (without proper guidance from my Dad throughout) qualifies me for three-time fatherhood. I learned all the curved balls of a vulnerable life without the benefits of foresights and hindsights. I made all the mistakes, often times, twice. Yet I have grown to become the very man I did not see for years, without assigning blames.
I am more American than most of my peers: I was, by the force of circumstances, to make a clean break with the past: no good luck or goodbye. I guess, on that count, you can say, I experience quite an ordinary childhood.