I can summarize the things I know about my dad’s father, my “yeye” as I would have called him if I had known him, on one hand:
- Yeye died of pancreatic cancer, I think, in 1985. At the time, my dad wasn’t a dad just yet. He was 23.
- Yeye was a military man. After the Chinese Communist Party defeated the Kuomintang, he fled along with 2 million other troops (according to Wikipedia) to Taiwan. He was not yet 23.
- Grandpa wasn’t a soldier. He worked in the internal news arm. I imagine that as a euphemism for “propaganda bureau,” brainwashing the troops about why they were fighting with honor, while the enemy was evil incarnate. But maybe, he was dedicated to the truth, reporting on the mundane, the controversial, the self-indicting, and the motivational.
- By the time he retired, yeye was a General, meaning he personally knew Jiang Jin Guo, the son of Chiang Kai Shek, and upon retirement he was entrusted with running a civilian newspaper in Taiwan.
- Grandpa was a busy man, but a kind man. Like his sons, my father, and my uncle, he expressed his love through action rather than words.
You don’t know my grandpa, so why should you care about all this? To be honest, I didn’t know him either, so why should I care?
The answer to these questions didn’t really hit me until one month ago, when I was bowing in front of his grave for Qingming Jie, otherwise known as Tomb-Sweeping Festival.
The purpose of this festival is to honor the dead. If you’ve seen Coco, it is like that, except with Chinese people instead of Mexican people. Our tribes are more alike than different, I think, most of the time.
So anyways, there I was. Standing in front of this massive marble tombstone. A string of Chinese characters that seemed significant, but were out of reach, honoring this man. A picture of him in his youth was etched in the stone. As I gazed into his eyes, trying to reach into myself to pay my respects, I realized something: I felt nothing. He might as well have been a face in a history textbook.
But as I tried to force myself to feel something, a sadness washed over me. This was a man who played a large role in my dad becoming the man he is. I wish I could have known him. I wish my father would tell me more about who he was, what he was like at the end of a long day, who his favorite singer was, what he taught him about life, and living.
It made me realize what I want for my hypothetical children, if I eventually find some success on Tinder. That they will know their grandfather, the man he was and is, the way he has shaped how I live. And that they will know me:
That when I was 23, I did not flee a war, or lose a father. That I was fresh off a year of moderated binge-drinking and learning, with little idea about what I wanted to do in life. That it would be a long time before I figured that out (not there yet). That it took me a long time to know and accept my roots. To come to terms with the person I am.
But more generally, it reminded me of how and why stories mean so much to me. I am thankful for my parents: they are loving, kind, and generous. But stories were something that did not live in our home. It’s stories though that mark our place in this world, that remind us of our humanness.
It’s the stories that choose us that will tell our future generations from whence they came.
And it is stories that I hope to pursue. In the lives of the people around me: friends, family, strangers. The moments that make life what it is.
This is all to say: I’m try to overcome my fear (of failure/of cliche/of rejection/of being a hypocrite/etc.) and I’m diving in. To this blog and whatever it will evolve into. Part journal, part journalism, simple moments with.
I hope you will join me in this journey, and perhaps share your story with me along the way.
Thank you for reading, and see you again soon.