Remembering my late father on Father’s Day

My father passed away almost 20 years ago. We had only spent about eleven years living together as a family. Regrettably, I never gave him the respect he deserved, because he was a member of the Chinese Communist Party and I liked to criticize the party in front of him when I was a teenager. After I left China in my early twenties, seeing each other was not easy when we were separated by the pacific ocean.

He was regarded by his coworkers and friends as one of the kindest persons they ever met. His funeral was attended by many who mourned him sincerely decades after his retirement. His kindness was his strong suit but also his disadvantage in a society ruled by the CCP.

He won my mom’s heart because of his kindness. My late mother said many times that she was lucky to have married my father who put up with her temper and sheltered her and her family from persecutions from the communist party. They met in the communist army and got married at the height of her career as a musician. My father was not so glamourous as her other suitors from the music circle, but she was touched by his gentle heart, generosity, and perseverance.

When they were dating, my mom was under lots of financial and emotional stress after the communists took away her family’s property. My father comforted and helped her. Their marriage did not get the blessing from my maternal grandma, who thought her daughter was marrying below her station. But years later, my father became her favorite son-in-law after he rescued her from a prison where she was about to be charged as a spy. My parents had been financially assisting my widowed maternal grandma for over four decades until she passed away.

My father married for love and paid a price for it. My late mother said her family background as landowners deprived my father of many promotions. My father’s career suffered because his marriage was between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat according to CCP’s class definition. He was sent to work in remote places where he could not raise his family in comfort. My mom gave up her career to be with him, but it was too difficult for the whole family to stay together during the first 20 years of their marriage. My parents wrote letters to each other every week when they lived apart, which I loved to read out loud as a kid with no knowledge of respecting their privacy. Those letters were full of love but still within the boundary set by the communist party. Under communist rule, anything written could become incriminating evidence.

A picture from the Web showing people pledging their loyalty to Chairman Mao in front of his portrait waiving the little red books.

It is hard to imagine how my parents survived those days living apart from their children and each other. In addition to work, they had to attend communists’ brainwash sessions every day, one in the morning and one in the evening pledging their loyalty to Chairman Mao in front of his portrait leaving them with little time to care for their children.

The CCP’s ambitions to challenge superpowers like the Soviet Union (then) and the US (now) at the expense of the Chinese people have caused lots of human suffering. in 2013, one in five children in China were “left behind”, living apart from one or both parents. My sisters and I were the early versions of the “left behind” kids growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. My eldest sister was sent to live with my paternal grandma and almost died of meningitis at age two. Being neglected as a child, she had low self-esteem and was often bullied in schools. My second sister was sent to live with my maternal grandma but died of food poisoning at age one during the Cultural Revolution. I was born as a “replacement” for my second sister to help my mother recover from her grief, and my parents decided to keep me with them no matter what. But unfortunately, an escalated tension with the former Soviet Union forced all women and children to evacuate, and we had to live apart once again.

My sister and I were the less unfortunate “left behind” kids, because my father showered us with love and gifts. My parents spent almost their entire income on food, trips (to visit each other), and gifts. I remember getting a toy from my dad that cost a quarter of an average person’s monthly salary. But every visit was too short and saying goodbye was heartbreaking. I always remember a bloody scene at a train station when he cut his hand while opening a can for me with a small knife. Somehow I told him I was hungry minutes before our train was about to leave, so my dad rushed to open a can and hurt himself.

I saw videos of “left behind” kids trying to stop their parents from leaving home, dragging suitcases in tears. I never recall stopping my dad from leaving, so I wonder if he left home secretly at the end of his visits.

He was not only generous to his family, but he was also generous to others. He gave food or money to the less privileged whenever he saw them. Everyone seemed to like him. Sometimes he was so eager to help others, we even became jealous. When my parents were allowed to relocate to Beijing, my mom had to find a job by herself without getting much help from my dad, because he was busy finding jobs for his former subordinates.

My dad liked to serve others to a degree that he was often taken for granted or even taken advantage of. But he did not care about how he was treated. Maybe he was too nice, and some people including me did not give him the respect he deserved. He loved to cook for us despite his busy work schedule, but we seldom praised his cooking or showed enough appreciation when we finally lived together as a family. He learned to cook at an early age after his eldest brother took him in and turned my dad into a semi-servant after their parents died. I guess he joined the communist army as an escape and he served us and others without complaint like he served his eldest brother. Our relatives liked to visit us in Beijing because of my father’s cooking and hospitality.

His only bad habit was smoking as a stress relief. He went through many wrongful accusations at work, because the CCP like to agitate people to fight each other for political gains. He was cleared of the false accusations every time except for the last one. His kindness to help others caused his position. Then came the forced retirement when Deng Xiaoping downsized the army.

My dad transitioned well into retirement without getting depression. Fishing and watching NBA games became his new hobbies. His finishing skill got so good that he became an expert and started to teach fishing classes.

I never heard him criticizing the CCP out loud. His first “defiant” of the CCP that I know of was listening to songs by Teresa Teng banned by the regime in the ’80s. He went out late at night in civilian clothes just to buy her cassette tapes smuggled from Hong Kong. We used to tease him about his “risky” music taste because it was a crime punishable by the CCP-law.

His second “defiant” of the CCP was to go to Tiananmen Square with me during the pro-democracy protests in 1989. We sent a watermelon to the students protesting on the square. He never stopped me from going to the square.

I liked to debate with my father about politics in my rebellious teenage years until I left China in my early twenties. I always thought of him as pro-CCP and it was like a gap between us. But Miles Guo said that 99.9% of the CCP members were good. It was the CCP kleptocrats who kidnapped the country.

My father went to church with me when he visited the US. Someone gave him a Bible, which is in my possession now. After both my parents passed away, I brought back their old pictures.

My father retired long before the army got extremely corrupted. Sometimes I wonder what he would say about the CCP if he were still alive. Sometimes I regret having those debates with him.

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