Conversations With My Father

We’re stand­ing in his garage in our paja­mas, with win­ter coats on. After a short dri­ve around the block to bring the oil up to tem­per­a­ture, he pulls out the bright orange dip­stick to teach me how to check the lev­el.

Even though he’s nev­er seen what’s under this hood before, he knows where every­thing is. Every noz­zle for every flu­id, every con­nec­tor to every part. A sixth sense that all dads seem to have, like when a steak is cooked medi­um rare, and when the TV is just big enough.

This is the first time we’ve ever done some­thing like this. A strange sort of bond­ing I rarely had in my child­hood.

Inside, I’m show­ing him how to use Photoshop, to take the wrin­kles out of his friend’s faces. Anything helps at this age, I sup­pose.

In my heart, I wish my dad had shown more inter­est in my pho­tog­ra­phy. I wish he want­ed one of the prints I brought, maybe to show oth­er peo­ple and say that he was proud of me. But he did­n’t. And I say noth­ing because it’s one of those things that should­n’t have to be said.

He keeps bring­ing up his dance part­ner. The per­son who called him to make sure I arrived safe­ly from the dri­ve. He wears two new ear­rings in pierc­ings that weren’t there the last time I saw him, a gift from her, and I won­der if “dance part­ner” is his euphemism for “mom­my”.

I’m too scared to ask.

There’s no rea­son for me to stay more than a night, because there’s noth­ing more to be said.


  1. Inside, I’m show­ing him how to use Photoshop, to take the wrin­kles out of his friend’s faces. Anything helps at this age, I sup­pose.”

    That’s gen­tly fun­ny, in a bit­ter­sweet man­ner.

  2. Hi Jeff. This post touched me great­ly.

    I could nev­er real­ly bond with my father who showed lit­tle inter­est in what I was doing. He could nev­er say the things I longed to hear (until it was too late!) I found out though when ill­ness began to over­take him just how much he did care and how proud he was of me from oth­ers to whom he had spo­ken about me. I found it strange that he could relate his feel­ings to friends out­side the fam­i­ly cir­cle when my moth­er and I were the ones who longed to know. That’s the way it is with some peo­ple, I guess.

    But some good came from it when I realised that I was begin­ning to show a ten­den­cy to tread the same path. So I vowed then and there that I would be more open with fam­i­ly and friends and show them how much I cared for them. Sometimes you only get back from life what you put in. I’m rich­er for the expe­ri­ence.

  3. My father out­right­ly scoffed at pret­ty much any­thing I did for years until I worked for the SF Opera. Then, even though it was not my best job since that time, I was sud­den­ly wor­thy of a “Hmmph! How about that.” Dads are wierd birds, expect lit­tle and enjoy what you get. I still want to punch him even now most­ly. But I just sigh and think he means well.

    BTW, two ear­rings on a Chinese dad of yours’ age? That’s not mom­my. Uh-uh.

  4. @Dennis — I think it’s real­ly sad that it takes some­thing like an ill­ness for true feel­ings to come out in some peo­ple. My father (and his father) are the exact same way with shar­ing things only to peo­ple out­side of the fam­i­ly, but just as you say, I know nev­er to make the same mis­takes with my friends and fam­i­ly.

    But it’s a bit­ter­sweet les­son, some­thing I don’t think any­one should have to go through. Like say­ing that sur­viv­ing some hor­ri­ble tragedy has giv­en some­one char­ac­ter.

    @Xibee — I don’t real­ly enjoy what I get, but I do need to learn to expect less.

  5. Jeff, it must be a Chinese dad thing :) (stereo­typ­i­cal­ly speak­ing of course).

    I love my dad, and I know he loves me too. However we nev­er dis­play any phys­i­cal affec­tion towards each oth­er. I don’t think he and his father did either.

    Sometimes I wish I can just give him a hug, but the con­cept seems so for­eign to the both of us. But I’m OK with it. I’m OK with this com­fort­able, silence dis­tance we have.

    I did­n’t feel close to my dad until I became a father myself. I began to under­stand why my dad did the things he did, from anoth­er father’s pov. I also think he tries to make up for the lack of dis­play of affec­tion towards me, by giv­ing his full atten­tion to my son.

    Even though my dad nev­er appraised me, hugged me or showed inter­est in what I do like my moth­er did, I feel his influence(positive) on me is enor­mous. It did­n’t occur to me until I was old­er. It kind just snuck up on me.

  6. I hear many Chinese fathers are like that too. But I’m not okay with it. I need more than what he gives me.

    It sur­pris­es me to hear that you start­ed to under­stand his point of view when you became a father your­self, when you’ve learned to give full atten­tion to your son. You’ve been able to break the cycle, some­thing your dad was­n’t able to do for you. I would have thought this would have the oppo­site effect; that you would under­stand even less why he was the way he was.

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