Tag Archives: daddy

Conversation with Dad

He held me by my shoulders and looked me in the eye. “Baby.”

I braced for impact. He calls me baby to lace his hard words with sweetness.

“You need to slow down. If you don’t slow down, no one can catch you and no one can fall in love with you.”

Happy Birthday, Daddy!


It’s my dad’s birthday today. My parents rarely let me take photos of them but I managed to get this one right before heading back up to Austin. I asked them to hug each other after this shot and they huffed and went back inside. Then I decided I actually love this shot with the crossed arms and matching amused close-lipped smiles.

Dreams of Miami Beach

I thought I’d share more excerpts from my dad’s journal, now that I’m newly resolved to transcribe the journal in its entirety.

This passage is actually near the end of the journal and is about his escaping Vietnam. He organized an escape of about 60 people. My dad still had the original paper roster of the people on his boat and also a list of coordinates for navigating his modest fishing boat. It’s now framed in my bedroom. The plan was to stick almost all of his people underneath the deck of the boat and he and a few would feign being fishermen. They would then take the boat to Indonesia. They picked Indonesia because rumor had it that they were welcoming of refugees. They heard that Thailand was refusing refugees and driving displaced Vietnamese people to burn the very boats they were, a desperate last resort to elicit help.

People from underneath asked to get out and we let them do that. So people were everywhere on top of our boat. The hull was dark and stunk of vomit and we felt that the danger of being caught by the Vietnamese coast guards must be over. Everyone looked tired after a rough night and a long day before that. They looked worried but happy. The sea was clear and blue and all around us to the horizon. I didn’t see anything but the blue sky and the blue sea. _____ boiled some sweet potatoes for everyone with some water. We felt safer. People were sitting on the deck and talking and laughing.

I sat on the front tip of the boat, which was jumping up and down while we were cutting the waves. I wrapped my hand around the rope (used to anchor the boat) to be sure I would not fall into the ocean. In my jacket pocket I had some coins which I took out one by one and tossed out into the sea, praying for a safe trip and a steady boat. I was a little worried since whenever the boat dropped back onto the sea, after being lifted up by the wave, I heard a big thud under it. I prayed that the boat would stay intact and would be good enough for our trip. The engine was running and we had a lot of fuel but we didn’t know how long we had to be on the ocean. The horizon was on every direction.

Using the compass we kept our direction at 120 degrees southeast, hoping to go further from Vietnam and closer to Malaysia or Indonesia…

…People stayed quiet and looked out the ocean. They seemed to be in some kind of meditation. Besides worrying about the safety of the trip, the sea worthiness of the boat, and the danger of encountering the Thai pirates, did we really leave Vietnam behind? Would we ever see Vietnam again? What about the loved ones that we left behind? What will be waiting for us when we come to our destination? I dreamed of being on Miami Beach, laying on the sand, doing nothing for at least a month, of going back to college, studying more, rebuilding my life!!

That last paragraph killed me. My dad never made it to Miami Beach or started school up again. He still hasn’t been back to Vietnam. My mom took me twice but my dad stayed behind.

Update 9/19/2016: I took my parents to Miami in April 2016 for dad’s birthday. Read about our weekend in Miami here.

Missing that Noodle

There’s this journal that I gave my dad a few years ago. I asked him to record his story for me since I knew it was an important one and I had a hard time piecing together the vignettes he had shared. He finished the journal in 2008 and I retrieved it from him so I could transcribe it. He needs it back so he could write the second volume. It’s the only copy and it serves as references and triggers for his memories. I have to shamefully admit to you that I started to transcribe but had forgotten about the project all together for years now. It proved to be harder than I anticipated because though, Vietnamese uses script lettering, I cannot read my dad’s handwriting. I can read his English well because I know the language but not knowing how to read Vietnamese makes it next to impossible to decipher his squiggles.

I am making the complete transcription of this first volume (with highlighted marks and post-its bookmarking the words I can’t decipher) a resolution in 2013. I’m sharing a small snippet of what little I already had archived.

For a little background on my dad’s life story, you can read this post about his necklace.

My dad was worried about Viet Minh (Vietnamese Communist). At night after the French army retreated to their base, the Viet Minh guerrillas would come to whoever could speak French or had served the former government. They would tie the victim and lead him away mostly to a river to “mo tom” (shrimping). The victim was tied to a rock covered with a cloth bag and thrown into the river. Every night, after pulling some bamboo trees to barricade the front entry, my dad stood inside the house peering through the crack of the window and planned to run through the back if the guerrillas ever came.

We escaped from our village one day to go to Thai Binh, the main district under the protection of French Army and Vietnamese non-communist government. I remembered my dad carried me and my sister followed behind. I was wearing my mom’s light sweater and the clay road was zigzagged with deep trenches that the communists had dug to slow down the French tanks.

I didn’t remember where we stayed in Thai Binh, and for how long. Must be a short time, two or three weeks. First time I ate fried noodle in a restaurant! And loved it so much. Unfortunately, one time we were eating there, and one young man came to our table and cleared some dishes away. That made my dad angry and we never came back. I missed that noodle.

Question: Do you know your parents’ stories?

Being First

My dad likes to teach me stuff. There are a few lessons that he has persistently instilled in me and hasn’t stopped. I’m starting to realize that he only repeats the lessons if he sees that I’m not learning them. Two lessons that come to mind are, “put your keys in just one place at home,” and “take care of yourself first.”

The “taking care of yourself first” lesson fell on deaf ear most of the time. It was just something dads tell their daughters. Also, he didn’t really lead by example. Both my dad and mom have always put themselves second or third. In recent years, it has started to click. Even if I wanted others to come before me, the best way to serve them is to make sure I’m at a good place myself. It’s airplane safety rules! You put on your oxygen mask before you assist others.

In previous years, my dad would tell me I need to take care of myself foremost because everybody else is taking care of themselves first. (As they should!) Which means, if I don’t make myself my first priority, I’ll never be first.

It’s starting to sink in, dad.

Our current bit:

Who do you take care of first?


Who do you take care of second?





Don’t tell mom.

P.S. I’m working on putting my keys on only the kitchen counter.

25 Life Lessons From Dad

I celebrated Father’s Day by having dim sum with my dad yesterday morning. I thought I’d pay public tribute to him with this list of 25 life lessons he has taught me.

  1. If you don’t know something, don’t be shy to ask questions.
  2. You’re extremely lucky if you have one true friend to last you through life.
  3. Nothing lasts. Spouses will die.
  4. Don’t cry about people who don’t cry about you.
  5. People are not their jobs.
  6. There’s a lot to learn. Don’t be smug.
  7. Don’t fixate on the things that are out of your control.
  8. Books are friends.
  9. The human spirit is resilient, capable of withstanding war and loss.
  10. Persistence solves problems.
  11. Improvising solves problems.
  12. When you lose everything, start over.
  13. When you fail, start over.
  14. Pay your credit card bill in full every month.
  15. Don’t rush. Walk at a leisurely pace. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
  16. Sometimes we forget to breathe. Breathe.
  17. Don’t take for granted your mother’s love. Endure the nagging. It’s evidence of motherly love. (He grew up without a mom.)
  18. Protect your family.
  19. People’s perception of you doesn’t change who you are.
  20. Not everyone will feel and think the same way as you. Remember this when you’re angry or hurt.

  21. Marvel at small things.
  22. A good education should be prioritized over having your own room, having a nice car, going on nice vacations, having awesome toys, having a nice house, and many other things.
  23. Things can always be a lot worse. Be grateful for what you have.
  24. Be fearless. (He’s pushed for me to be fearless numerously in regards to bugs and snakes and toxic relationships.)
  25. Take care of and pride in what you have.

Happy Father’s Day to all the loving fathers and father figures out there!

“He’s going to die!”

I was 22 years old and had just gotten my heart broken by my first boyfriend of four years. My parents had taken to blowing up my phone because I was MIA for three days. I usually talked to them every day but couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone. My dad left a voice mail threatening to come up to Austin if I didn’t call him back. Not wanting to deal with hovering parents while I grieved, I reluctantly called them back.


(In between cries and hiccups) Hi. Daddy. We. Broke. Up.

Is he crying right now?


Is he crying to his daddy?


Don’t you cry to your daddy.

Fine but you called me first!

That was our conversation in totality. Note how he didn’t even ask the whys and whens of the split. He didn’t need to know. It was enough that we were over. It was enough that I was crying and my ex was not.

The next day he called to apologize. He told me he was sorry to be so rough with me the day before but he just wanted me to see this break-up as practice. I remember being so perplexed on what he could possibly mean by “practice.”

“You know, when you meet that someone who is perfect for you and get married and have kids and live your life, what do you think will happen?”

I remember being afraid to let him finish this thought but I braced for it anyway.

“He’s going to die!”

My dad had tried to make me feel better about my first break-up by likening it to practice for when my future spouse dies. It’s so awful that the memory of this still makes me laugh 5 years later and this story still gets requested by my friends at gatherings.

Brutality aside, I think I get what he was trying to tell me. We are on borrowed time. Nothing and no one is really ours. Everything and everyone gets given back. A break-up is just one way things get taken from us and at the time, my break-up was just a small introduction to the greater losses life will bring me. No wonder I’m so scared of losing my loved ones. I can’t imagine how unbearable the pain will be when the losses become bigger.

Find Your Ants

Photo Credit

I was eating my lunch yesterday at work when a colleague asked me why I was eating inside when I could be enjoying the change of weather outside. It was a warm 84 degrees which is 20 degrees cooler than what we’ve been used to in Austin, Texas. Since I thought she had something going, I went outside, found a bench and called my dad for lunch time conversation as I ate. As I chewed the fat with my dad, I found out he was sipping on a beer while at work. He’s a store owner in Houston. I laughed at him and reminded him it was a work day and it was noon, why is he drinking on the job? He casually explained that it was a concealed cup; he doesn’t stand close enough to his customers for them to smell it. He told me that it’s important to take what small joys he can when he can.

I gave him that. He is a hard worker. Sipping on a beer is the least that he deserves.

So this got him to tell me a short story. A story he’s told me once before. I interrupted him to tell him the ending of the story I already know. If I had just let him finish the story, I would have seen that he was focusing on another matter entirely.

The story: He was just released from a reeducation camp in Vietnam after being imprisoned a harrowing 2-3 years. He had a friend who was conspiring to escape Vietnam (as most South Vietnamese people were during the time). His friend drew attention from the Viet Cong so they detained my dad’s friend and then for good measure they detained my dad for questioning as well. This is where I interrupted my dad’s story and told him I know how it ends. That he was worried that his story wouldn’t match up with his friend’s and he was terrified of going back to the camp. In the end, his friend was detained and he was released. My dad confirmed that that’s how the story unfolded but he wanted to tell me about when he was actually in the cell, awaiting his verdict. He was so distraught and devastated by the idea of leaving my mom again after already being separated for more than 2 years. The idea of leaving my mom again after already being separated for more than 2 years was overwhelming him when he found some ants. Marching, hauling tiny specks of food, and their antennas wiggling. He marveled at their tiny beauty and really observed them. He focused on the grace of their small existence and it took his mind away from the cell and the prospect of his return to the reeducation camp.

He tied up his short story with a neat moral. “Find your ants, baby. We all need to find our ants.”

On this day, for him, the ants manifested as a beer, sipped in secret from his wife and customers. For me it was enjoying the weather on a park bench and listening to my dad talk.

Question: What are your ants today?

7 Quick Takes (1)

  1. A plane crashed into an IRS building here in Austin yesterday morning, killing two people. I just read the pilot’s 6 paged suicide note. I’m really sad for the innocent man who showed up for work and never came home because some sad twisted man could not take rein of his life and own responsibility for his unhappiness.
  2. Yesterday, during my lunch and on my own, I went to the Blanton Museum to see their exhibit on desire, aptly named On Desire.

    No photos were allowed at this exhibit but if you’re in Austin, I recommend it. It highlights a great span of desire, touching on heartbreak, confusion, sex, love… I sometimes find art hard to relate to but a lot of the pieces on display in On Desire really touched me and spoke to me. Very.. human.

    I’ve always loved the Blanton’s peaceful grandeur.

  3. Lately, I have a lot of mind chatter that is self-deprecating. I’m starting to worry that it’s excessively self-deprecating and I can’t seem to find my way out of it. Yet, anyway. I’m toying with the idea of talking to a counselor. My insurance covers it after a deductible.
  4. This video of a three year old sobbing over Justin Bieber is heartbreakingly CUTE. Such anguish for a little one.

  5. In the last week I finished the first three books of 2010: Fup, The Shack, Bonk, and am almost done with 50th Law. I think it’s amusing that when you read a handful of books all at once, there’s a lag in finishing books but then you start to finish them at the same time. Book reviews to come of all three (four?) books soon.
  6. My mom had my fortune told by this Asian dude who records his take on your life on tape. According to him, per my mom, the funnest years of my life is from age 24-34. She said according to him, I’ll get married and start a family at around 34/35. Interesting. Everything that has happened in my life, my mom claims she already knew was going to happen to me. My dad, a skeptic of fortunes, was gleeful to report that the fortune teller thinks that any degree of charismatic magnetism I possess comes from his side of the family. Ha! My parents crack me up.
  7. I’m most hungry for reassurance right now. Cuddles. Chicken soup. Hugs. Murmurs that everything will pan out. For now, I settle for still wearing Valentine’s day socks and knickers, and chocolate chip cookies.

I sketched today.

Drawn without training, a no 2. pencil and Crayola colored penciles.

I’d like to formally explore drawing “rules” and techniques one day. You can tell I’m very untrained. Proportions are off. Look at her boots. Sigh, so many things to explore in this life and not enough time.

My dad drew. I remember as a child, I snooped through his letters and paperwork, wishing I knew how to read Vietnamese. I wanted to read the letters he used to write to my maternal grandfather. I liked the stationary and running my fingers over the ridges of imprinted words. (I also like running my fingers over the ridges of completed jigsaw puzzles.) While snooping one day, I found some drawings he drew while in a reeducation camp in Vietnam. They were drawn on pieces of cardboard and they were BEAUTIFUL. I think that’s painfully romantic. Drawing pictures of your wife while imprisioned. I can imagine him admiring his drawings with deep longing every night before bed. I should write myself a reminder to ask him if he’s tucked these drawings anywhere…