My Father

Zhang Sanjian  2022-03-21 12:00


In the article “My Mother” that I wrote before, I mentioned that I had never written anything about my mother. This is because, during my primary school years, I once wrote an essay titled “My Father.” You might be curious, as in the previous text, didn’t I mention that I grew up in a single-parent family? How come there suddenly appears a father? I believe kind-hearted readers may have guessed that there must be some untold story here. Every person, every family, has their own unspeakable secrets and pains. The topic of “father” involves the past my mother doesn’t wish to talk about and the scars she can’t bear to reveal. Therefore, I have never mentioned it in any public setting, and even between my mother and me, it’s a topic we try to avoid as much as possible.

But why do I suddenly want to write such an article? Perhaps it’s fate, or maybe the right opportunity has presented itself. Not long ago, at a gathering with a teacher, the teacher reminisced about the years with his father and lamented how his aging father is always in a state of self-reproach, feeling guilty for not having the ability to do more for his children. During the conversation, the teacher casually asked what I think of when I remember my father. My father? My biological father is a distant name in both my and my mother’s hearts, hardly leaving behind many memories. However, when I recall my stepfather (my mother’s second husband), the memories are warm and full of strength. Thinking of him, the floodgates of memory and emotion can no longer be held back.

The content of the essay I wrote twenty years ago, including the images lingering in my mind, is still vividly clear. Back then, my stepfather rode a lightweight motorcycle. I, a young child, sat in the front, and my brother (my stepfather’s biological son, with whom I have no blood relation) sat in the back. As we were crossing an intersection, suddenly a tractor charged towards us. I instinctively closed my eyes! Usually, in such critical moments, I close my eyes because I believe that when I open them again, the danger will have passed. Unexpectedly, this time was an exception. When I opened my eyes, I saw my brother lying aside, his arm run over by the tractor, a long gash on his arm from the sharp underside of the tractor, bleeding profusely. Turning around, I saw my stepfather also covered in blood, struggling to get up and looking at me. I quickly checked myself and found that I was completely unharmed. I found it unbelievable and for a moment thought everything was just an illusion. It wasn’t until my father struggled to grab the perpetrator, shouting my and my brother’s names, and desperately taking us to the nearby hospital, that I gradually recovered from the shock. I later learned that it was my father who had protected me with his body in the critical moment, which is why I was unscathed. At that moment, I experienced the most powerful fatherly love, a love that protected me with his life. Father’s love is like a mountain, shielding you from danger. Writing this, I feel the long-dormant fatherly love awakening around me, with a tinge of sadness in my nose, but my body filled with strength.

My father is about 175 cm tall, with short hair, always wearing a pair of framed glasses, a man of few words but with a deep and resonant voice. Why do I have such a father? Maybe it’s because the heavens heard my prayers. According to my mother’s recollection, life was very tough for her as a single mother during the years when I was 3 to 7 years old. She was studying in Shanghai while taking meticulous care of me. She was moved when she accidentally heard me secretly calling one of her male classmates “Dad.” This behavior touched her and made her realize my hidden childhood wish. Her classmate explained to her: To fulfill my wish,  he agreed with me to let me call him ‘Dad’ when no one else was around. He also told my mother, “If you decide to start a family again, make sure to choose someone who loves your child as the top priority. It’s not enough to just love you; he must love your child too.” Therefore, my mother always considered love for me as the primary condition for choosing a partner again. No matter who tried to approach or get close to her, she measured them against this standard. When I was seven, I accidentally fell from a height and was injured and bleeding in several places. Seeing this, my mother held me and wept. I cried out to her, “If only I had a dad! He would have protected me!” Hearing my heart-wrenching cry, my mother made up her mind to find me a father. I think the heavens favor me, as I “called” for a father like that, and he even brought along a brother.

Before, there were men introduced to my mother as potential boyfriends. My mother mentioned that when these men visited our home, they just looked around, which she found off-putting. However, when this ‘father’ first met us, he directly engaged with me and played with me. Just for this reason, my mother started to be willing to get to know him. My mother said it was I who first accepted him and called him Dad.

My father loved me very much, and my mother intentionally let him handle some of my daily life affairs to foster a bond between us. My father never hit me, partly because he couldn’t bear to and partly because he was afraid I would resent him in our blended family. There was only one exception when he did ‘lay his hands on me,’ symbolically hitting me a few times over my thick down jacket. It happened because I, stubborn in my youth, had an argument with my mother and refused to admit any wrongdoing, no matter what. I hoped my father would stand up for me, but he sided with my mother, leading to that rare moment of discipline, during which he said something I’ll never forget: ‘I love you, son. But I love your mother more!’ I couldn’t understand the meaning of this at the time, and it didn’t quell my anger. Only as I grew older did I realize the profound impact of his words. My father respected my mother and was guiding my young self toward the right values. His love for me was rarely expressed in words; it was shown through his thoughtful actions in daily life. He treated me as his own, caring deeply for every aspect of my life. My mother was also good to my brother, and to create a connection with me, my brother even changed his name to be related to mine. In managing family matters, my mother was very strategic. To blend our family, she assigned my needs to my father and took care of my brother’s herself. When my brother struggled academically, my mother arranged tutors for him in every subject for one-on-one lessons. To outsiders unaware of our situation, our blended family appeared just like a natural one. My parents have lived together for over ten years without ever fighting or arguing. They respected and loved each other deeply, complementing each other well in daily life: my father did the laundry, my mother cooked, and though my father was frugal, he never hesitated to buy anything my mother needed. My mother told me how my father would bite off the hard outer skin of sugarcane before giving it to her. My brother and I were close and harmonious; he liked to take me wherever he went. When he left for university, I missed him dearly. I remember my mother often tricked me into getting up by saying he was home, and I would jump out of bed immediately, as excited as if it were a holiday.

I studied art, and it was my father who often rode his bike to take me to lessons. When I grew up, he watched me take the green train to Nanchang to learn from a professional teacher. I remember that he was also the one who drove me to and from the college entrance exams. On the day the exam results were published, my father took me downtown to buy new clothes. We ran into one of his colleagues on the bus, and my father introduced me, saying, “This is my son, he just got into a top university!” I could hear the pride in his voice; making a father proud of his son is a truly gratifying achievement. My whole family, including my brother and his girlfriend, accompanied me to university. They helped me buy things from the supermarket and make my bed. I basked in this full sense of happiness. That was one of the most beautiful memories given to me by my once-complete family.

After starting university, the colorful life of the big city made me lose myself. The new environment and new classmates left me no time to think of anything else, and I gradually started to drift away from my father psychologically. One night in the dormitory, I watched a movie, if I remember correctly, it was called ‘Blood Diamond,’ which mentioned fatherly love. After watching the movie, I thought of my father. It was past midnight and just happened to be Father’s Day, so I picked up the phone and dialed that long-uncontacted number. On the other end, I heard my father’s voice, groggily awoken from sleep, but he asked with immense concern, ‘Son, what’s wrong? Calling so late, did something happen? How are you? Are you okay?’ A string of greetings expressed his care. Hearing my father’s anxious and caring words, my tears instantly overflowed. I tried to control my trembling voice and replied, ‘It’s nothing, Dad, just missed you. Happy Father’s Day! Go back to sleep… Goodnight.’ ‘It’s good that you’re fine, it’s good. Tell your dad if there’s anything you want to say. You should also rest early, goodnight.’ Little did I know that would be the last time we heard each other’s voice. It was many years later before we spoke again.

In the four years I studied in Shanghai, my mother took my brother to Shenzhen to strive for a better life, while my father stayed in our hometown continuing his usual work. Due to long-term separation and an empty home, some changes occurred, and the home that had given my mother a sense of security and brought me happiness gradually fell apart… And because I felt sorry for my mother and worried she harbored grudges, I voluntarily distanced myself from this father who had once been selflessly warm to me. It wasn’t until my conversation with this teacher that I recalled those warm and powerful moments from the past. Ten years without a meeting, ten years without hearing his voice, he remains an irreplaceable part of my family. Unable to restrain myself any longer, I decided to visit this ‘father’ of mine. Before going, I informed my mother, who has always been open-minded and kind-hearted. With time having passed, the memories she held were all of the good times with my father, so she readily agreed.

The voice was the same, and he still wore the familiar framed glasses on his nose, but he had become a nearly 70-year-old ‘old man’ with graying hair. My brother told me that in these past ten-plus years, my father missed me immensely but never disturbed my life. It was as if he disappeared as long as I didn’t think of him. My brother also said that after I suffered an unexpected calamity last year, ‘Father’ often mistakenly called his daughter-in-law and granddaughter by my childhood nickname. Hearing this, a surge of guilt and love for my father welled up in my heart, and I immediately felt the weight of paternal love like a mountain! I thought that with the end of your relationship with my mother, this non-blood-related love would dissipate like the wind. But seeing you again ten years later — Father — only your appearance and graying hair have changed. Your mountain-like fatherly love, whether I care or not, whether I remember or not, has always been watching over me. I believe as long as life endures, the fatherly love you’ve given me will forever remain in my heart, never fading!

Father, you raised me, giving me a complete and happy youth, allowing me to grow up healthy in the embrace of unregretted love. Now that you’re old, just like my brother, I will fulfill my duty as a son while you’re still alive, and I will visit you often!

Dad, I love you!


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