Saturday, September 06, 2008

To the first man in my life...

Today is the birthday of a very special man.

He was born in a land far away. China. You may have heard of it.

Only the China that he knew wasn't the grandiose display we've seen just this past summer. He was poor. He lived with his mother and older brother in a small village; he worked in the rice fields. His father and much older adult brother were in Canada. But he wasn't allowed into this country for years because of the discriminatory immigration policies. He didn't even meet his father until he was 10 years old.

When the powers that be finally changed the rules to allow families to join the husbands in Canada, he boarded the huge ship with his mother. His older brother had fallen ill and didn't survive to make the trip. The youngest son doesn't talk about this older brother much, other than sharing tidbits of stories of the sacrifices that were made in order to keep the youngest fed and warm.

The trip across the ocean was liberating for the young boy. He had to remember that he was to tell people he was a year younger if asked. Or they couldn't have made the fare to cross the seas. His mother was seasick the entire time and spent much of the trip in her room. So the boy passed his days playing with a Japanese boy of similar age. They didn't speak each others' language, but the language of play is universal.

They settled in Montreal. As far as he remembers, he was the youngest Chinese boy in Chinatown so most adults in the small Chinese community knew him. He was also the oldest boy in kindergarten, but he didn't mind the attention that the teacher paid to him. He was a small, skinny thing.

He caught up quickly; he finished highschool at the appropriate age, and got into the prestigous university. The first of the family to do so. He worked all through school, in the family restaurant business. (To this day, he is the uber chef of the should see how he can serve it up with all the utensils. He makes a mean shrimp and black bean sauce.)

He had to continue to work. After all, he had to fend for the family. A little sister had come into the picture when he was about 14; but he lost his father to a stroke before the young man finished university.

The picture got rosier. He met a pretty young nurse, courted her (in English, as ironically they spoke different dialects of Cantonese at the time) and eventually they married. All the while he still took care of his mother and young sister; and became a much respected uncle to the growing number of nieces and nephews. And the couple started their own young family. By having me.


This was a huge birthday year for him, a day usually shared at a huge feast with all friends, family and associates. All would gather for a multi-course banquet to celebrate the milestone. For years we thought he'd want that. But when it came down to us planning it, he insisted that all he wanted a small, intimate celebration. So that is what we had, a lovely 10 course meal with his wife, his children and their spouses, his grandchildren, his sister and brother-in-law and wife.

From what I could tell, he enjoyed the evening. You never really know with him. He certainly loved having his grandkids around, even with the craziness of two 14-month olds, and an every-so-often bickering pair of siblings(courtesy of me). He is a bit of an enigma, this man. He's funny, witty, but often quiet and introspective. I've known him all my life, but there are still parts of him that I know I will never really understand.

But that's okay. Because the parts of himself that he does share with us, the love that he undoubtedly feels for all of his kids, and now is sharing so much more overtly with his beloved grandchildren. The advice, wisdom and support he has continually given each and every one of us. Well, those parts of him just shine.


Happy 70th Birthday Dad. I hope you know how loved you are.


C said...

Happy Birthday, Karen's Dad! :)

What a wonderful post, Karen! We'll have to sit down sometime and share stories of how our parents ended up in Canada :)

TTYS! xo

Karen said...

Awww, that was lovely. Happy birthday, Mr. Dad!

imbeingheldhostage said...

What a lovely birthday tribute! Happy 70th!!!! (why am I shouting?)

Melissa said...

That is a lovely story. Thanks for sharing with us. :)

Miss said...

Wow, this gave me chills! Happy birthday to your dad!

Savvy Mode SG said...

happy b-day. very touching story. you have a beautiful family.

Xbox4NappyRash said...

Fascinating story.

Lovely Post.

dkuroiwa said...

What a great post about an obviously really great man!!
Happy Birthday, Karen's Father!!
May you have many more birthdays, surrounded by your loved ones!!

April said...

Great tribute!

Maureen said...

Aw, KarenMeg, what a heartfelt lovely tribute! Happy belated birthday Karen's Dad!

maggie's mind said...

Awesome and beautiful. Your father sounds like quite a man with much to teach and much legacy to pass along to his family.

Beck said...

Oh, happy birthday to your dad! This was a beautiful post.
One of my uncle has many harrowing - but adventurous - stories of how he came from Hong Kong to Canada, back in the 50s. I should write them all down sometime.

Don Mills Diva said...

Awww - Happy birthday to your dad!

Kami said...

Oh Karen this was beautiful! He has truly triumphed. A wonderful tribute to your dad!

Kimmylyn said...

I am sorry I am so late.. this was beautiful!! Happy Belated Birthday to your Dad!!!

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