a shuffle at the door, and my siblings and I leap to unknot the lock, hungrily seizing the salamis and cheeses, aloe vera drinks and trending juice boxes with our favorite cartoon characters, boxes of organic peach-apple walnut multigrain cereal and bars of haagen-dazs coffee almond crunch ice-cream –
he totes them in gleefully, as we crowd around and lift the yummies from his arms
we hand-pick the bright packages out of plastic bags that we carelessly leave in a trail for him to slip on as his carries in the toast while we bury our faces in toys and books and facetime screens.
The morning of every exam meant a breakfast worth eating extra well;
He tickles us out of bed before stuffing his frigid fingers into gloves to warm up the car while we wake up to a breakfast table filled with steaming wontons and soups he awoke to cook.
Meanwhile, he folds the unwanted, neglected, stiff-as-a-bookend crust of last week’s toast.
He folds the unfoldable bread into halves, then massages it into bulgy quarters and dunks it in lukewarm milk (“eww! dad!! it’s soggy now!!”), too busy to mind our squeals before shuffling out the door to scrape the frost off the windows of our car, kept outside so our house can hold more of our toys and books and grand piano as we moved from house to house
He embodies calmness as he willingly steps into the horrifying discombobulated conundrums of the tick-tocking-urgency of a college application, clearing tears scattered onto my cluttered desk and replacing any angst-inducing objects with a bag of chocolate he was gifted but never ate. “Why would I eat it when I could give it to you instead?”
Every morning, a crisp black suit betrays the double digited years the seams have hung on his frame, a frame unimpressive but solid with strength and integrity no hardship could overtake…
…even when my house seems to topple along with its inhabitants at the sudden passing of my maternal grandfather, my ah gong;
even then, his eyes crinkle and twinkle with innocent laughter as he humors a burdened audience with light-hearted stories at my ah gong’s memorial service;
my father never cried, not even when he spoke of his own mother,
and yet he could bring an audience to warm gushes of tears with his simple but profound respect for his father-in-law, “he was the best man I had ever known, really;
we got along even better than my own father and I.
I will never forget rushing to his Shanghai home after work on a business trip, and just sitting in the kitchen, with our few, simple dishes.”
Who can find the patience to love and take on a family with frustrating and never-ending quarrels, and find the strength to humbly bear the burden of responsibility to love steadfastly in face of ridiculous and constant abuse?
No one but my father.
But there are things that my father doesn’t hide as well;
his grey hair that humorously concentrates itself noticeably in on the top of his head, as if to challenge his otherwise unfading youth;
his eyes, aged from the daily damage of unrelenting computer screens;
his hands, worn from wringing table cloths after dinner without a whimper of complaint.
They say you know a pastor is serious about his church if you see patches on his jeans from kneeling in prayer all the time
i’d say you know a father is serious about his family if his dress pants always look a little flattened at the knees from not just prayer, but from immediately peeling off his socks when he comes home from a long day to wipe the kitchen floor that is smattered with the snacks we so carelessly leave trails of . . . .
we joke that he’s getting old, but know that as his keen insight into life will outlive his deteriorating eyes, and his worn wedding ring — inevitably worn from all that he uses his hands for — will always juxtapose and ironically stand for how much he loves my mother and me and my brother and my sister and his dad and mom and brothers and sisters and my mom’s family too
any appearance of aging only further proving his years of sacrifice and patience as his kids are often too lazy and selfish to yet fully understand and reciprocate that sacrifice;
any indication of age counters his intellectual agility to combine a motley collection of ingredients in a soup most creativity, or aspiration to complete a marathon — both the 26.2 mile run —
and the never-ending task of holding a family of imperfect people together
He reaches for the other bookend of the toast, as the dinner table is filled with steaming wontons and soups he worked all day to buy
smiling politely as he eats the same old crust, the same old taiwan toast bread from the local supermarket that will bookend my memories of him.
One day, i hope to eat that crust; one day, i hope my sacrifices for those i love – not my wit or intelligence – will be the first and last things recalled with not a roaring laughter, but soft smiles of remembrance
He may not understand the abstractions i’ve used
but he understands the far-more-complicated angsts of growing up and the love it takes to raise a self-seeking, messy, hot-headed child like me to adulthood
and for that, I am eternally grateful.