If your dad is supposed to be your first hero, he is the one who let me down. He was cheating on my mom while she was pregnant, and they separated when I was only six months old. We moved to my grandparents’ house in MD for a few years then to VA where I grew up. My dad stayed in Ithaca, NY working at Cornell University. He was hard working and accomplished, but he didn’t visit us often (maybe once a year?) and didn’t make much of an effort to call or be part of our daily lives.
I remember crying about missing him and wondering why he didn’t call for my birthday and why he paid my brother more than me to be his golf caddy. My mom explained to me that Koreans favor the first born son, and she tried to reassure me he loved me but wasn’t good at showing it. He took my brother to Korea and didn’t invite me. I never met my family there and probably never will.
The last time I saw him was at my brother’s wedding in 1997, and he left for the airport in the morning without saying goodbye. Six weeks later, I got a call from my brother telling me our dad died from surgery complications for liver cancer. We didn’t know he was going into surgery, and he never came out of it.
Heartbroken, I went to his funeral with my then four year old daughter. The service was all in Korean so I’m not sure exactly what they said, but we paid our respects and said goodbye to him. In the reception line, people kept asking his wife who I was. “Daughter” she said, pointing to me as I awkwardly shook hands and accepted condolences from people who never knew I existed. He left nothing for me in his will. It’s like he never wanted me in the first place.
I have a hole in my heart from all the ways he let me down. I mourn the father daughter relationship that I never got to have. But, I’m glad I’m here, and I honor his spirit alive in me. It meant a lot to me that he asked me to edit his manuscript during my visit to Ithaca for Christmas 1997. He finished it just a few weeks before he died, so I edited it and self-published it for him. It meant the world to me to help bring his project to fruition and to share his story with the world.