I can’t believe eight years have passed since my father died. The death of Tim Russert, a week after his son graduated from college and just days before Father’s Day, reminded me how painful it is to lose a father way too early. My dad died a few months before I landed my internship at Sports Illustrated; I would’ve liked to have shared that experience with him.
My dad was a good man, a man with faults to be sure, but a man devoted to his family and his children. We were denied nothing. He provided a picturesque house in a fancy neighborhood, piano and violin lessons, tennis and swimming lessons, summers camps, vacations to Disneyland and to the Caribbean, more toys than the attic could hold, spending money, name-brand clothes, expensive shoes and crap that we didn’t need — the model of a upper-middle class lifestyle.
I never appreciated it, of course. I grew up in a sheltered cocoon. I enjoyed the good life without knowing how hard it had been to get the good life. Naturally, my parents would remind me of hard work and sacrifice. But I never really grasped its full meaning. I’d just nod my head, mumble something unintelligible and escape with the Volvo.
As I grow older — how many times have you heard this? — I appreciate more and more my father’s difficult journey, his work ethic and his devotion to his family. This was a man who was the definition of a self-made man. He started with virtually nothing — he was an orphan who had to fight and scrap for everything he had. After escaping Communist China for Hong Kong in the 50s, he lived at construction sites because of the free rent and put himself through night school. He would become an executive for a construction company in Hong Kong, where he made most of his money. This was a man who boldly moved his family to the United States, believing that his children’s futures were brighter across the Pacific. He went to night school again — to learn English.
I eulogized my father at his memorial. But looking back, I realize I knew him as my father, but little in the way of his life and him as a man. He had locked many of the details of his past in his heart. It wasn’t until I was older, a few years after his death, that I knew that he had two estranged brothers, two brothers whom he had ignored for decades. As the story goes, he blamed his two brothers who had joined the Communist Party for his mother’s death. She had committed suicide when my father was in his early teens.
Complex is a word I would have never used to describe my father when he was alive. But the layers of his life story are rich, deep and compelling. One of my stops in China will be Guangdong, where his sister still lives. She took care of him when their mother died and was the lone sibling he kept in contact with. I want to ask her about him, to fill in the details that have eluded me for all these years, to fill in the missing pixels of the picture I have of him.
His life story is my life story. I want to know more, to know the man who stood by his principles and faith his entire life. Perhaps that’s the ultimate goal of my trip to China.
This week I’m back home in Seattle, spending time with my mom and family. I’ll be taking a few moments Sunday to remember my father and all the moments — good and bad — that we shared.
I miss you, dad. I love you.