On August 17th we say Happy Birthday, Papa 🎈

I was a sobbing, inconsolable mess. I texted my oldest brother.

Do you think Dad can hear me from anywhere?

Yes, I really do.

Thank you love you.

I found a Bhuddist temple in Vegas. A golden, red-draped oasis in the middle of a bright summer heat.

My girlfriend took me, her steps echoing behind me on the rough gravel.

It was a plot in someone’s backyard; the red banner still shone with a display of luck and well-wishes for the New Year in Vietnamese.

It was simple, calming, littered with incense sticks and persimmons holding dreams, wishes, despair; fruitfulness and rot. Desperation paralleled by profound hope.

I touched the incense packet sitting at Bhudda’s feet.

This is so cool. How do you do this? My girlfriend looked at me and smiled.

I don’t really know. I smiled back, remembering my father’s instructions from my first funeral, my first altar. You light it, think of a prayer, and bow in respect.

The white lighter gleamed with sunlight near the incense tray. I picked it up, hasty, rushing. My fingertips burned on the scorching metal.

My girlfriend smiled again, reaching for the lighter in her purse.

I had come to temple on Father’s Day: desolate, filled with regret and despair at the choices of my mid-twenties. Lost, forlorn, angry at unknown gods and vengeful towards my own faith.

I lit my incense stick, the embers flared orange-golden. If this was a telephone to my father, what would I possibly want to say?

In the drive over I thought of all the things I wished for. All the things I wanted, and kept wanting. In the drive over I remembered the due diligence my father had for my wishes. The seriousness of completion for the most mundane list of ten-year-old things. A Sanrio notebook, stationary, pens. A day off, a trip to Costco; Cháo Gà at the place in San Jose one-and-half hours away, equal computer time to my brothers, a Hershey’s white chocolate and Oreo bar. The newest demin jacket from Kimora Lee Simmons’ Baby Phat, a matching Eckō Red tee. A forehead kiss, a goodnight story. For Superbowl Sundays to not be done on my birthday weekend and my father’s special nước-mắm-five-minute Prego spaghetti with a side of his Costco steaks.

I thought about him in his last year of life: the rapidly multiplying grays, the prolonged sighs, the slower shuffle of his feet and the violent snores in his sleep. I think about his tired, cold, stiff hands and valleys of forehead wrinkles, crows’ feet and smile lines.

I thought about the bliss he extended, the happiness he proudly shone to simple child-like eyes. His exuding gratefulness to the world for my existence. I thought about the joints that creaked in his back and his uneven legs when he picked me up. The way he smiled so widely walking me down the stairs, the excitement in the way he asked me about my sleep, my dreams, my thoughts. The absence of complaint.

I am twenty-seven now and exhausted. Burnt out, checked out, sobbing from 10-, 12-, 15 hour days. The tiredness sinks into my own skin, threatening forehead wrinkles, crows’ feet and smile lines. It will be 9 years of this for me. I remember my father when he died; 53 years of multiplied exhaustion for him. A duitiful first born son in a family of 8. A fascinated teenage scholar using textbooks as shrapnel and debris helmets. An emaciated almost-highschool graduate, a refugee-turned-Hong-Kong-prisoner. A fresh immigrant in America, alone and starving and charming; burdened and determined. A newly minted husband in the projects, bruised, bleeding, sore, strawberry-farming hands.

A newly minted father with an expectant, extravagant, wanting housewife and mounting debt. A forty-year old girl dad obsessed with her mother’s whims and selfish whines.

I sat in the drive there, thinking about him now: fifteen-years free, painless, happy. Light.

I held the incense clapped against my fingers. I bowed in prayer. The anxiety lifted, the incense flashed a montage of my father’s mirthful, teasing face. What if the bow isn’t from respect? But a natural, wishful hope for an incense-stick-shaped microphone to the ethereal.

My mind cleared. The warmth of the sun cradled my back, my neck, my arms. The warmth of my tears cradled my cheek, my lips, my chin. The words were easy.

Hi Papa. Happy Father’s Day. I love you so so so much. I miss you today.

I just wanted to say thank you so much. Thank you for the boys. Thank you for your love. Thank you for my Mom. Thank you for always watching us. I wish I could take you to the Steakhouse in the woods, but I still miss your instant-noodle-tom-yum-lettuce-and-flank-steak.

I’m going to be okay this year, I promise. Your little girl will be okay today.

I love you always.

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