Papa’s shoes


When you karaoke in Vietnam, you are likely to hear Papa along with Hotel California and Casablanca.

Something ends with an “a”.

I have blogged about Mom’s Ao Dai. So to be fair, here is “Papa‘s shoes“.

At lunch, I was joined by a boy and his Dad (it’s common in Asia at peak hours to sit at the same table with complete strangers).

The attention that boy got from his Dad brought me to tears.

I had to turn away, pretending that red peppers were too hot for me.

Papa struggled all his life: French domination, migration to South Vietnam after the Paris Accord 54, and later, in 1985 to Virginia.

He was a flamboyant but family man at the same time.

Taller than most, he wore US large size. I shined his shoes after his siesta to send him on his “sales” route.

He was the only man still fought his turn at karaoke at the age of 80.

Most memorable was when I finally heard that I had passed the Baccalaureate exam (French lycee equivalent of SAT) in flying color, he pulled out his wallet for my friends and I to buy beer (we would have sneaked out to do it anyway). Rite of passage.

He stood up to defend us against robbers by night and bully by day.

And he got teary after I had suggested that he should take a trip to visit his other woman who was

still living in the old country (he was too old to make the trip out of the nursing home then).

Every kid I talked to whose dad had died during the war had similar regrets.

That every time they had a nice meal etc.. they wished they could share it with the old man.

That kid who joined me at my table had something precious going without realizing it.

His dad urged him for the third time to try a dish. I guessed he finally relented.

With every passing day, we are replaying the same old script: ignoring the moment to chase the shadow.

A line in Papa “…keep shoes on my feet” says it all.

Kids need shoes and their daddies.

To deny a worker his rightful way to earn a living is to deny another generation a shot at life.

Yes, my Dad lived the only life he had known how: machismo (punching out a cocky supervisor) and romantic (wallet with girl friends’ pictures) at the same time. His life reflected his time, often upheaval and fleeting.

He was younger in his larger extended family. He did what he could with the help of my mother (see Mom’s Ao Dai) to put shoes on our feet.

But in countries like Vietnam, a man is still viewed as a cedar, to fend off the enemy and dispense favors around.

I only look back to those warm moments e.g. beef noodles and book-browsing.

I hate it when parents try to put their kids in a jury box.

When they were both gone, kids, like me, are left with only half of each.

I guess that’s where selective memory comes in: when you viewed something or someone as favorable, you only see those traits that reinforce your preconception. In my tapestry and collage, I only saw my Dad’s shoes from a teen vantage point. And how large were his shirts and pants. For him, I did cry twice: one was cry-wolf when he slipped and fell down the stairs, rolling head-down  many turns yet emerged unharmed.

And the second time  was at his funeral. My parents are now resting in peace at the Serenity section in Alexandria cemetery. They had a rhythm of separation due to migration (war) and reunion. Both lived to be in their early 90’s.

Today, at lunch, it was about to be the third time. But I managed to hold back. I didn’t want that kid to see a complete stranger got all teary over a piece of hot pepper. Enjoy it kiddo, while the ride lasts.

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