Ode to Dad

My father cooks for me. He has been cooking for me ever since I started working. One time, I told him that he didn’t have to cook for me everyday, but he said that it would save money. It has to be more than money. He must love me very much.

Why would anyone wake up at five o’clock in the morning to cook a well-balanced meal unless he cared very much for the other person’s health? Why would anyone do that everyday without complaint, always with a smile, unless he really loves that person?

I want to express to my father how much I appreciate what he does every morning. In the very least, I say thank you when I leave each morning. But, that isn’t enough. I want to do more, but I’m hesitant. Our family has never been very affectionate.

The love that I now have for my dad is the exact opposite of what I felt when I was a kid. I despised him as a child. He would always come home after work grumpy. My mom was usually upset with him because he either left a bunch of clutter for her to clean up or wouldn’t help her with the chores. This was before I knew how hard he worked when he wasn’t home.

Before my father retired, he was a repairman for single-family houses and investment properties. When real estate investment books refer to knowing and hiring a trusted, dependable handyman, my daddy was that guy. He could do roofs, floors, walls, electrical – he could build a whole house by himself. The man was a genius and is still a genius. He was so good that he only worked on referrals. And, during his prime, the combined household income was a little over $50,000 a year.

He worked long hours and put in hard labor just to get $50k. He would crawl through cobwebs, carry huge water heaters, and haul heavy plyboards all by himself. He would buy the materials and install them himself. His craftsmanship was superb not because he wanted to impress his clients, but because of his work ethic and pride in his ability. If my father had a contractor’s license, he would make three times as much. Unfortunately, his formal education back in Vietnam ended after high school. Everything he has learned since then has been on-the-job. Back then, he believed that to make money in life, one has to learn a trade – like construction. A person could not learn a trade without actually doing it. Since the Vietnamese government did not subsidize post-secondary education, my dad chose to work instead.

He has learned that education is more important. Being good with one’s hands will put food on the table, but being able to use one’s brain and to communicate well is better – and less strenuous. In less than a year on my first job after college, I was set to gross $49k. It almost seemed unfair. But, I couldn’t have done it without either of my parents. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to afford my education at Humboldt. Without them, I wouldn’t have the emotional tenacity to survive college a thousand miles away from home. Without them, I wouldn’t have the confidence to take on life.

My dad, in particular, has high hopes for me. What normal father wouldn’t? He did name me jian dong. The two Chinese characters for jian dong mean “pillars/foundation of a dynasty”. His intention has always been for me to continue the Ziang family line. With my brother gone and my dad reaching old age, I am now wholly responsible. Only recently did I find out that my namesake was only a part a long and continuing ancestral story. My great-grandfather’s name was Guo. My grandfather’s name was Jia. My dad’s name is Fu. When the first characters of our given name are put in ancestral order, it would read “guo jia fu zian…“, which means “a country’s strength and wealth is founded upon…”. I need to learn Chinese so that our lineage wouldn’t end (“A country’s strength and wealth is founded upon… kindness” or “…intelligence”). It needs to be something brilliant. So far, my dad has guo jia fu zian man min che le, “a country’s strength and wealth is founded upon the happiness of all its peoples.” If I fail in learning scholarly Chinese, at least my family line will have enough characters for four more generations.

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