About the Piece
To My Unknown Father is a creative non-fiction piece first written in my Writing 25: Introduction to Creative Writing Course at UC Merced in 2013. The piece follows my story of not knowing my father and my journey into the unknown to find information about him. Since this was last written, some of the descriptions in this piece has changed. Enjoy the read!
To My Unknown Father
By Nick Lee
Have you ever sat down and listened to the unknown where all the secrets and answers lie in a safe haven unreachable by God himself? Have you ever sat down and listened to the story of how your mother met your father? Like the romantic evenings they spent together or the story of how your father sang outside your mother’s room in the frosty moonlit backyard with only a guitar covering his body? The long breathless stories your mother would tell which never seemed to end twisting your brains as you wanted to fall asleep but you couldn’t as the words she said kept you awake at the same time? The day never seemed to end and all you wanted to do was say, “Okay mom, just stop!”
As your mother tells the stories, you begin to remember the stories of your father. How your father held you on his shoulders while in public, or saying “good job” when you received an A on your test. The memories you shared with your father were endless. But what if I told you that you were lucky? Lucky to have fond memories of your father, and to have your mother tell you the story of how she met your father. Sit down and listen to the story of how your mother met your father, but sit down and listen to my story of how I never knew my father. Sit down and imagine just as I have tried to imagine my father. From the sound of his voice to the way he dresses, these are coming attractions that will never happen. Sit down and listen to my journey into the unknown.
How would you define a father? Sleeping on the couch, watching Sunday Night Football, with a beer in one hand, a controller in the other, and a bowl of chips on his chest? That’s not how I would define a father. I define a father as someone who can raise a child to excel and accomplish things he could never imagine himself excelling in. A father is someone who can lift his child’s spirits when it’s down. A role model is what a father should be, never taunting but always helping. I see fathers bite at their children for making random remarks, or leaving lashes invisible to one’s eyes. That’s not how I would define a father. I define them as the guiding spirit of a growing child. But what would I know? I never knew my father.
Before we dive into my journey, allow me some time to provide you history on my family. Although I was never sat down and told the history from beginning to end, I have heard bits and I like to tell myself the history to remind myself that I am never alone. When I imagine any type of family, the first person to come into my mind are the mothers. When I think about mothers, I think about my own mother who moved from Laos to the United States in the 1980s when she was still a teenager. I can imagine my mother telling me the story of how she dropped out of high school because she couldn’t understand English, while telling me to stay in school as I rolled my eyes. I can also imagine my siblings telling me their story. The story of how my mother met their father whom she married and had three children, two daughters and one son. My siblings would remind me that they were born a year after another, with one of my sisters as the eldest and my brother as the youngest. And the most important event in their childhood was when they told me about the death of their father, who accidentally shot himself while holding a rifle in their backyard. I was not born yet, but when I picture my siblings telling me the story of their father’s death, I can see their motionless and expressionless faces filled with grief. Yet, after the story of my siblings’ father I was never told the story of my childhood and my father.
But I can imagine the times where I would lean up against a door and listen to the stories being told of my childhood. And what I learned amazed me, as about two years after the death of my siblings’ father, five years after the birth of my brother, my mother met MY father. Not long after, my mother gave birth to handsome ole me. Shortly after my birth, my father disappeared but his disappearance was never explained to me. And to this day, I never had the courage to ask my mother about my father, nor has she sat me down and gave me the talk. Because my father disappeared when I was still young, my mother realized our family needed a father-figure, thus my mother met and married my stepfather.
My stepfather, where do I even begin? He was previously married until the death of his wife, and together they had two children, one girl and one boy. But my step-father was neither a father-figure to us nor to his own children. He was mean and nasty, lashing out at his own children and those around him. His heart was a block of ice—thicker than a tree’s stump which a blowtorch couldn’t melt. He was greedy, selfish, and a short-tempered man, but when he walked by I would burn a smile on my face. Even with my step-father there was never a significant father-figure in my family’s life. Fatherless, as I would say, corrupted my family.
I grew up, never knowing what my father’s voice sounded like, how he walked, or what he liked to do. But I possessed one picture of him which sticks to my mind like crazy glue. I can imagine my father right now, a tall, strong, and intelligent man. I’m not sure what he did for a living, but I imagined him knowledgeable about cars, which I’m not. I can imagine him outside in the sweltering heat on a summer’s day standing on our steaming concrete driveway. As his wrench set and engine oil on the ground, he has a bright blue funnel in one hand and a black rag tucked behind his jeans, he leans over the car adding oil and checking for leaks. I can imagine him replacing a depressed tire which had burst, as his car jack and tire iron are on the ground with an unscathed tire nearby. And as I walk by and make it past the driveway, he turns around and calls my name letting out a gentle smile, calmly asking if I want to help him. And I can imagine grinning, much like the Grinch when he stole Christmas, as I would drop my bags and scramble to his side. And I can say these imaginations would make me proud to have a father like him, proud enough to say that I was wrong and maybe the imaginations we create is the preview of what’s to come—maybe I will meet my father.
Yet, one question has stuck with me, how did my father disappear from my life? I remember when I was about seven years old playing with my Power Ranger action figures yelling out, “It’s Morphin Time,” like a wild chimpanzee. And along came my sisters. They stormed off with my action figures so I began yelling from the top of my lungs to give them back. And I remember, my sisters looked back, gave me a smile like the Joker from Batman and said, “You won’t get your toys back, just like how you won’t get your dad back.” I was shocked, because I thought my stepfather was my real father. I was confused and shouted back to them that my father was here. They threw my toy to the ground, and said, “No. We’re talking about your REAL dad. He left because he didn’t like you.” If you were in that room you probably heard the loud BOOM! That was my heart. It stopped and dropped to the ground. I don’t remember the rest of that day, but I do remember crying. I cried for my mother, for my father, and for answers. Since the incident with my sisters, they have grown to be nicer and have apologized and I have forgiven them. But that moment remained in my mind for the rest of my life, until I heard a new story from my mother.
The story of my father leaving seemed so real. But as I grew older I was finally exposed to the art of eavesdropping. When I was a freshman in high school, I remembered sitting in the living room, mindlessly playing online video games as my cousins and my parents’ friends came over. I was playing an action game which required a lot of clicking, so that was all I paid attention to. But my cousins gathered around in a circle, silently listening to my mother’s story of the day I cried to the point of exhaustion; the day my father died. I overheard the story as my mother described the day my father went to the hospital, and how she sat next to his death bed quietly whispering into his ears that he’ll come through. And I remember how she described the days where she would wait for my father to one day come home. But he never did. She described how at the hospital she would lean over, holding my father’s body, never wanting to let go. And I can still picture my mother telling that story, but she was calm as a tree swaying flawlessly in the wind. Yet her voice spoke sadness as it crackled and teared from her throat. She wanted to shout and cry, but couldn’t. And I remember my cousin asking, “Oh, how did he die?” With my mother’s response of, ‘cancer.’ At that moment all I heard was the same sound over and over again from my mouse. Click. Click. Click. My heart raced, faster and faster, matching the sounds from the clicking. I felt dizzy and began seeing two of my computers. I remember looking down, seeing my arms shaking as I thought to myself, “Is this true? Did my dad really die?” I didn’t know what to believe, and even to this day I have kept my life isolated from questions about my father, to avoid more stories and more emotion. To this day, I still don’t know.
As I neared the end of high school, I decided to brand my life as complicated. Lacking a father-figure in my life, I looked at things like television shows for father-figures. One particular television show that stood out was, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Watching reruns of the show when I was still young, I remember an episode where Will Smith’s father comes back into his life. But towards the end, his father decides to abandon Will again, leaving Will confused and heart-broken in front of his Uncle. In what was said to be non-scripted, Will provides the show with one of the most emotional speeches describing how he overcame the obstacle of not having a father, ending with him asking his Uncle, “How come he don’t want me man?” The last scene left me in tears and it still does to this day. This episode reminded me of not knowing my father, and wanting to know him; wanting answers but never receiving any. But even without a father, Will looked up to his Uncle, who prepared him for the hardships of life, which represented my definition of a father-figure. Many other shows provided father-figures who showed techniques on how to shave, throw a ball, or how to be a good father and husband. These shows helped me cope with my problem of never knowing my father.
But even as television shows provided me with father-figures, I still wanted to know about my father, so I began to use my religion of Taoism to help find answers about my father. In Taoism, shamans leave their bodies spiritually to connect with a family’s ancestors, and this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to connect my ancestors to guide me to my father. And I remember using my mother’s white noise maker to help me enter the spirit world. I would turn the machine to the waterfall noise as the sound of the waterfall plopped loudly but gently against the rocks at the bottom of the stream. The noise was able to drown out the noisy cars and the neighbors screaming at each other. As I closed my eyes, crossed my legs, and hummed to myself to the sound of the waterfall in the background, I imagined myself traveling into the spirit world seeing a long stream of light as they pointed in a particular direction as if they were guiding me. And I always followed the lights, hoping they were like a rainbow and at the end was a pot of gold, or something valuable. And every time I followed the lights, I was never able to finish my journey. I always ended up in dark corridors with several doors and the only light that shined were those reflecting from the door knobs. And each time I opened a door, I was led into different corridors with more doors. I began feeling trapped and overwhelmed that I lost faith and stopped entering the spirit world. And as I aged, I realized my journeys were nothing more than my imaginations.
Despite looking up to father-figures in television shows, journeying into the spirit world, and looking for a father-figure in my life, I began to realize that I already had father-figures like my sisters, brother, and mother. Even if they weren’t my father, I finally began to understand my life and its complications. I began to renew my faith. I began to accept the idea of never knowing. But even with my acceptance, I continued to imagine my father. I always whispered in my head, “maybe one day.” Maybe in my dreams or somewhere on Earth, I’ll see my father. And when I do, I’ll give out the biggest smile in the world, embracing him for the first time while bawling like a baby. When I see him, I know the last piece of my life will be completed because I know he’ll always be there for me. And I know that in order to reach this enlightenment, I need to continue to wander and open doors, always hoping the truth, the light will reveal itself. I will continue to wander the Earth endlessly trying to find answers. And today, the rift finally opened and a light is shining from one of the doors, yet my journey is not finished. As for now the discovery of the unknown, remains unknown.