Tuesday, June 23, 2020

My Father, a Soldier in the Former Republic of South Vietnam-by Hải Lê

On this Father's Day and Ngày Quân Lc VNCH, I translate this from Hi Lê for the Vietnamese American young people who are not fluent in Vietnamese.


I have an old father, a disabled man, with one leg amputated.

When I was born my father was almost 50 years old. For a long time, my father played the role of a mother. Although he had difficulty moving, but because he was concerned I might not receive enough care, I might miss something that other kids had, he tried very hard.

My friends often called him the "homemakers" and complimented that although he was a male, he was very skillful in raising children.
When I was a kid, I couldn't understand why not my mother, but my father, who always stayed at home to look after me. Slowly I realized that, among my friends, I was the only one who always had a father by my side. Even though I lacked the love of a mother, I also felt comforted. I was a very lucky person, more than many children who lacked the love of both parents

Later I found out, my father was an ARVN soldier, wounded on the battlefield. He was sponsored by my mother to come to the United States to reunite, and she helped him fill out papers for his disability benefits. When I was more than 3 years old, my father and mother divorced, she married another man, leaving me to my father to care for. In my childhood, I remembered my mother's image, when she visited a few times. I had lukewarm and rather strange feelings because she was always accompanied by a man who looked at me with cold eyes.

I occasionally felt a little bit of embarrassment due to my father's status in society, when I compared him to other children 's fathers. But my father’s care for me was perfect. He took care of me from big to little things— I did not have to touch and do anything. During my time in elementary school, he had persuaded the bus driver to pick me up for school at my door, instead of at the bus stop, four blocks away from my house. When I got home, my father always had lunch ready: braised fish, simmered pork, vegetable dishes, and even soup. Occasionally there would be American food; sandwiches, hamburgers, peanut butter, and even seasonal changes: Christmas cake with green border in pine shape, Valentine in heart shape, etc.

When I was a little older and in my first year of high school, I liked to live a little more independently; I wanted to escape my father's gestures of love, for fear of being made fun of by my friends.

But he never let go of me. Sometimes I was very upset. In high school, I couldn't go home to eat anymore and had to start practicing to take care by myself. But my father woke up earlier than usual to prepare lunch for me. He carefully wrote my name on the food paper bag. He flipped the bottom of the paper bag; there were always some small drawings, sometimes the house, the stream, the mountain, the birds and the heart with the words "I Love You, Tammy!".

But that’s not all to my “embarrassment” to my friends: inside the paper towels or napkin were also the words of affection like "I love you very much". He always wrote, or made some jokes, to remind me that he loved me a lot, and wanted to make me happy.

I often sneaked to have lunch alone so no one could see the paper bags and napkins. But that did not work long. One day, a friend accidentally saw my napkin, he grabbed it, shouted and passed around the room for everyone to see.
My face turned hot, confused, embarrassed, and wanted to hide my head on the ground.

That day when I returned home, I was very upset at my father and "forbade" my papa to write, draw any “silly” things on paper towels, or napkins anymore, so that my friends do not treat me like a kid who always needs to be taken care of. That’s the first time I saw my father sad. He came into his room, closed the door, and quietly spent the evening.

The next day, I was surprised that all my friends were around me, waiting to see the napkin, but this time it was empty, with no words or pictures. Looking at their faces, seeing their disappointment, I suddenly realized that they had all wished for someone to show such sweet love to them. At that time, I felt secretly happy—surging in me was a sense of pride.

I rushed home that day to make up with my father, and the words and drawings of love continued.

In the remaining years in high school, I still had those special paper towels or napkins. And henceforth, I kept them, contained in a separate, hidden box.
And yet, when I went to college, I had to leave my father, I thought that his old message would end. But my friends and I were very happy because my dad's affectionate gestures continued in another form.

(…When I was in college, due to the cost of long-distance calls, my father started to write to me…)

Sometimes outside the envelope, the address was written in pencil and followed by letters with the picture of a cat and a dog; of my family, painted old towers, spanning bridges above the waves.

One summer, my father and I traveled to Vietnam, at that time I began to know about the One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa M t Ct), Thien Mu Pagoda, Trang Tien Bridge and so on.

After that trip, I learned more about Vietnam, especially the war before 75. I began to feel a different kind of love for my father’s sorrow, who was a defeated soldier. But that army(of South Vietnam) had fought bravely for freedom, for the welfare, safety of the people in the South for 20 years. If the ally had not sold us of the South out, who could have been sure of an outcome ; who could have won ?

Letters to me arrived and were delivered daily after lunch. I often walked out to receive mail and take it with me when I went out for coffee.
I realized there was no need to hide anything anymore, because my roommates were friends in high school. They knew very well about the paper bags and napkins.
And then it became like a custom: I read the letters; the envelopes and drawings were passed around. My father’s letters became the joy of the whole room.

During my last year in college, my father suffered from cancer. Every time I didn't receive a letter on Friday, I knew he was seriously ill, unable to write. He often woke up at 4 am so that he could sit in a quiet home and write letters. If he did not make it in time for the mail delivery on Friday, then after a day or two, the mail would arrive.

My friends voted him "the most loving father in the world!" . On a Father's Day, they sent a card that gave him that title, and they all signed on the card. I believe that he taught all of us about paternity, and my friends started to get napkins like mine from their families…

I stayed with my father for a few days in the hospital before he died. A few hours before he died, he held my hand and said, "I need a favor. Go home and get the wooden box on the top of the closet. I want to look at it once. ”

I drove home, and found the box— dusty of time. What's inside?

I opened the lid curiously. Tears started to well up in my eyes when I saw pictures of my father— so young, in nice military uniforms.
There were pictures of men holding guns; behind were battlefields that still smelled of smoke. At back were the names of them, in the old days, the years of 68, 70, 71, 72 ... with strange places: An Loc, Binh Long, Dong Xoai, Khe Sanh ...

At the bottom of the box was the military id, discharge paper ; the medals, insignia on collar when he was wearing the military uniform.
Now I understood all, and no longer felt embarrassed of having a disabled father whose job was only taking care of the "housewife" duty. On the contrary, my father was once a manful, tough soldier, who had shed blood, and gave a part of his body for a just war— to protect our homeland.

It is so clear and apparent to me now: my father looked after me, happy doing the things of a woman for many years, only out of his love for the child.

What a wonderful father! I hugged the box, rushed to the hospital, and was about to say apologies to my dear father, but it was late!

The nurse on duty said that my father had just taken his last breath. Then the nurse handed me a hospital paper towel, with the last trembling words of a father for me. “Tammy, I love you so much! Farewell! ”

My tears poured down like a stream. As I held the tissue in my hand against my chest, the last tissue, which my life would never receive again, tears fell and fell.

When it was time to shroud my father’s body, I put his soldier's memory box with him. I kept the paper towels, the napkins. I would keep them beside me my whole life. Now the paper towels have turned yellow, but my love for my father is more and more intense, immortal, forever unchanged.

Happy Father's Day! Celebrating Military Day of old South Vietnam.

Hi Lê


Original in Vietnamese :

Tôi có mt người cha già, li tàn tt, ct mt chân.

Khi tôi sinh ra đi b tôi cũng đã gn 50 tui. Trong mt thi gian dài, b tôi đóng vai trò ca mt người m, tuy di chuyn khó khăn, nhưng ông lo lng cho tôi không còn thiếu mt th gì. Bn bè thường gi là “Ông ni tr và khen là đàn ông mà b tôi có đy đ các đc tính ca người ph n Á đông “công, dung, ngôn, hnh”, nuôi con khéo léo không ai bng.

Hi còn bé, tôi không hiu được, vì sao không phi m tôi, mà b tôi luôn luôn nhà chăm sóc cho tôi. T t tôi mi nhn ra, trong đám bn bè, tôi là người duy nht luôn luôn có người b bên cnh. Thiếu tình m, tuy nhiên, tôi cũng cm thy an i, mình là người rt may mn, còn hơn nhiu đa tr thiếu c tình thương ca cha ln m.
Sau này tìm hiu thì tôi biết, b tôi là mt lính VNCH, b thương trên chiến trường, được m tôi bo lãnh đến M theo din đoàn t, bà lo cho ông hưởng tin tr cp tàn phế.

Lúc tôi được hơn 3 tui, b tôi và m tôi ly d, bà đã lp gia đình vi mt người đàn ông khác, nhường tôi li cho b tôi nuôi. Trong ký c tr thơ, tôi có hình dung được hình nh ca m tôi mt vài ln, khi bà đến thăm, nhưng rt xa l, vì luôn luôn bà đi chung vi mt người đàn ông nhìn tôi vi ánh mt lnh lùng.

Tôi có tí mc cm v đa v b tôi ngoài xã hi, so vi b ca nhng đa tr khác, tuy nhiên vic chăm sóc tôi thì hoàn ho, ông chăm lo cho tôi t vic ln đến vic nh, không phi đng tay vào bt c th.

Trong sut thi gian tôi hc tiu hc, ông còn thuyết phc ông tài xế xe bus đón tôi đi hc ngay ti ca nhà, thay vì trm xe , cách xa nhà tôi 4 dãy ph. Khi tôi bước vào nhà, lúc nào b tôi cũng chun b sn thc ăn trưa, nào cá kho, tht kho, rau xào và có c canh na. Lâu lâu cũng có thc ăn M, sandwich, hamburger, bơ đu phng, và còn thay đi theo mùa. Giáng Sinh bánh có vin xanh hình cây thông, Valentine có hình trái tim..vv

Khi tôi ln hơn mt chút, vào năm đu tiên trung hc, tôi li thích sng đc lp, tôi mun thoát ra nhng c ch yêu thương dành cho con nít ca b, vì s chúng bn trêu chc.
Nhưng chng bao gi b buông tha tôi c, mt đôi khi tôi rt bc mình.

Cp trung hc, tôi không th v nhà ăn cơm được na, phi bt đu tp t lo cho mình. Nhưng b tôi li thc dy sm hơn thường l đ chun b ba ăn trưa cho tôi. Ông cn thn ghi c tên tôi bên ngoài túi giy đng đ ăn. Lt dưới đít bao giy, luôn luôn có mt vài hình v nh, khi thì căn nhà, khi thì dòng sui, ngn núi, chim cá và hình trái tim vi dòng ch “I Love You Tammy!”

Nào hết đâu, bên trong nhng chiếc khăn giy cũng có nhng dòng ch triu mến “B thương con nhiu”.

Ông luôn viết, hay có nhng câu nói bông đùa như thế đ nhc nh là ông yêu thương tôi nhiu, và mun làm cho tôi vui.
Tôi thường lén ăn trưa mt mình đ không ai thy được cái túi giy và khăn ăn. Nhưng cũng chng giu được lâu.

Mt hôm, mt đa bn tình c thy khăn ăn ca tôi, nó chp ly la lên và chuyn đi khp căn phòng cho mi người xem.
Mt tôi nóng bng, bi ri, mc c mun chui đu xung đt.

Ba hôm đó tôi v, đã làm mt gin vi b tôi và “cm” ông y không được viết, v “by b” trên khăn giy na, đ bn bè không coi tôi như đa con nít lúc nào cũng cn người ln chăm sóc.

Ln đu tiên tôi thy b tôi bun, lng l vào phòng đóng ca.

Ngày hôm sau, tôi vô cùng ngc nhiên vì tt c bn bè bu chung quanh tôi, ch đ được xem chiếc khăn ăn, nhưng ln này thì trng trơn, không có dòng ch hay hình v gì c. Nhìn mt bn chúng tht vng, ht hng, tôi mi hiu ra, tt c chúng nó đu mong ước có mt ai đó biu l tình thương yêu ngt ngào ging vy đi vi chúng.

Lúc đó lòng tôi len lén cm thy vui vui, dâng lên nim t hào v b.
Tôi v
i v làm lành vi b, và nhng giòng ch, nhng hình v yêu thương li tiếp tc.

Nhng năm còn li trong trường trung hc, tôi vn đu đu có nhng chiếc khăn đc bit y. Và t đó, tôi gi li, cha trong mt cái hp riêng, giu kín.
Chưa hết, khi vào đi hc, tôi phi ri xa b, tôi nghĩ thông đip xưa kia ca b s phi chm dt.

Nhưng tôi và bn bè rt vui sướng vì nhng c ch biu l tình cm ca b tôi vn tiếp tc qua hình thc khác.

No comments:

Post a Comment