For My Father

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My Dad, Dr. Charles Quon

When you were just a boy,
the smallest and fastest
to chase the pig bladder ball
down the dust-covered streets
of Chien chun,

You saw the ones who had died
of starvation, swollen and ragged
in those same streets,
their ghosts drifting like dust
to join their ancestors at the temple.

But you, you didn’t believe in ghosts.
You believed in Mao, and the men
who followed him up and down the mountains
as you ran from the Japanese
into the dust-coloured hills.

You were hungry, and hungry
for knowledge. Your belly was empty
but your head was full of beautiful thing,
equations describing the universe,
A swirl of dust, how a radio works.

Later you wanted architecture
but settled for physics,
spoke loudly in order to sound tall
and married an English girl,
who kept a dusty house

You’re still making sacrifices
not like the first born son you are,
precious as an egg. You bow
in the dust, make me finish the rice,
try to pay for everything—

As if you haven’t already.
As if the years you spent
working off the debt
of your future, the dust of your past,
were not enough.

Anna Quon

 

It’s almost time to leave my attic in the sky and float down to the lake to spend a jobless summer at my Dad’s. I am not unhappy. There is no other place I’d rather spend the summer, really, and if he is willing to let me,  I will do my best to keep my bed made when I’m not in it. Leaving my bed unmade is about the only thing I habitually do that ticks him off, so I am very, very lucky.

It’s not really luck though, is it? My dad is one of those old-school Asian parents for whom sacrificing for the sake of their kids is  practically a religion … or a profession. Without my Dad and his steady support over the years, I might be dead. I certainly wouldn’t have the life I have today.

It’s a privileged life. Not  wealthy or stress-free one. but  one where the hallmark of my days is freedom.

I don’t have a job. Soon, i will not have my own place to live. But my biggest fear right now is not going hungry or homeless. My biggest fear is falling while rollerblading and breaking my knee caps.

I bought these roller blades from a friend second hand  with more money than people on assistance get for a week’s worth of groceries. I don’t have regular work, so I can get up and go to the Oval and skate, then swim, then meet a friend for coffee.  This is a ridiculous amount of freedom for a middle-aged woman with no income to speak of.  I was acutely aware walking home this morning that my situation is unusual, and some might say, outrageously irresponsible. Definitely privileged.

That said, part of my reason for living this way is to put my health first. Having spent a year of my life, all told, in the mental hospital, this is not irresponsible. If I can keep out of  the mental hospital for the rest of my life  I will save my parents and other people who care about me a lot of grief, and the powers that be thousands if not millions of dollars. More than I will ever earn, at my short-term part time gigs.

But I don’t give two figs about saving the government money. If i can save my brain from further trauma, my mind from disintegration and my heart and soul from the terrible pain of my acute illness phase, I will do what I can. The second last time I had an adult full-time job, I crashed and burned and ended up a guest of the Nova Scotia hospital for more than a month.

My last full-time job was amazing, because my boss was amazing. I loved, admired  and respected her (still do), felt appreciated by my colleagues, and  had a certain amount of autonomy, independence and, yes, freedom. But it was a very special job, not one that I will find again, one that was grant dependent ( the Nova Scotia government cut those grants this year), which was located in a town I have since moved from,  and administered by one very special person at one very special organization. And even at this very special job, which was more fun and more fulfilling and paid me better than any regular job I’d ever had,  basically ensuring that I had a carefree life financially, I couldn’t see myself staying longer than a year.

When I am mentally ill, I am the opposite of free. When I am well, I  guard my freedom with my life.  I don’t want to look at my life and know what I will be doing and where I will be in two years, let along five.  I don’t want to be able to see that far into the future, because it makes me panic and feel trapped.

I only have this luxury because of my father who studied and worked hard all his life,  is still willing to support me financially as need be and in any way he can. He often tells me not to worry, to enjoy life, not to let stress overtake me.  He often says, if you need money, it’s there. It will all be yours and your siblings’ one day anyway, he says.

My father enjoys his life. He paints, walks, cooks and eats well. He has even written his memoirs. My father might, however, be  a little lonely. I don’t spend as much time with him as I could, but living there this summer will of course change all that.

I was on my roller blades today for the second time since I got them. Before that I think the last time I skated was more than 15 years before. I’m out of practice. Today was better than day 1, when I fell three times and scraped my leg up.  Today I made it around the Oval four times and didn’t fall. I think today was different because I had managed to buy wrist guards,  and knee and elbow pads, which might have protected me if I fell and which made me feel so much more secure on my skates. I felt like I could loosen up a little, go faster.  I was free-er of fear

Not to say there was no fear. As I squinted into the sun at the broad, curving expanse of the concrete path I was on, I felt dread. But I knew if I could get past that fear, I would feel pleasure, even exhilaration. I would feel free.

A certain amount of security, cushion, protection, helps reduce the dread and uncertainty that comes with freedom. This is what my father has given me. It’s not so much that I will always need that security, cushion, protection or whatever you wan to call it. It’s just knowing that it’s there, that helps.

There are many other things my Dad has given me over the years. Time and space and theories about time and space. Delicious home-cooked Chinese food, walks, and a place to swim. A house full of books and a room of my own, whether or not I make my damn bed. Thanks, Dad, for everything.

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One thought on “For My Father

  1. Your story really moved me, Anna — I feel privileged to know more about your life reading this. Thanks for writing and teaching! It is so important.

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