by Van Nguyen
I was raised without a father, I think. It’s hard to say. I mean I physically have a father, on paper it says I do. My Stepfather. .. and I’m incredibly thankful and eternally indebted to him; who after all these years never thought of me as “step-son” but rather just “son.” So I’ve learned to do the same… but I’m still ever cognizant when I do so. It doesn’t come natural, no matter how hard I wish it to. For all the things he’s given me: my Mom’s happiness, an awesome collection of vintage ties, education, economic stability, a chance to see the world- a real chance at life; it all came with a cost… which is his job. I can see him spending long hours alone in a different city during the week while I was growing up. He worked in China but because there were no English schools in the once rural city Suzhou, he found a place for us in Shanghai. His time was his sacrifice for the family.
My biological father passed away when I was nine or ten. His time was stolen. He died before I could grasp at more than a handful of memories of him or us or what the family used to be like. Stress. High blood pressure. Stroke. Loneliness. As a child I felt it. At twenty-two I feel it even more. My friends told me I was lucky. Their parents had gotten divorces and they never saw their fathers again. At least I knew my father loved me. At least I knew he wasn’t off somewhere with a different family. At least I had a good reason why my father never came around. I could taste the bitterness in their tongues… even back then before I understood what the taste meant. For a long time I thought they were right. I put it all in the back of my head, buried it under the thick layers and folds that have been my life since then.
What’s in a father? What’s in a man? I don’t know. In my teen years I flirted with the borders of androgyny. Long hair, make-up, and girl’s clothing. Vestiges of the lifestyle are still present even now as I’m finishing up my last few months of college. The real world looms ahead.
What’s in a father? In the three films that I’ve seen so far this year apart of the film festival, Lee Yoon-ki’s MY DEAR ENEMY, Sarba Das’ KARMA CALLING, and Ed Radtke’s THE SPEED OF LIFE, that question gnaws at me. My insides, retching. An invisible, depressed father . A desperate father that can’t provide for his family. Fathers who are strangers to their sons and lovers. What does any of this mean? On one hand it’s comforting, as I remember with my friends, to know that I am not the only one that has these thoughts and questions; but at the same time it’s also incredibly sad… the thought that other people have to share these same feelings of estrangement.
What’s in a man?
I… I don’t know. The solitary image of the Asian man in media is problematic as it is without even delving into the family sphere… and conversely, without the Asian prefix, fathers in the media have also had their fair share of negative portrayals. So where one even begin unraveling the meanings in these identities?
I really don’t know.
I’m not a child without a father.