when “get well soon” doesn’t seem good enough

This weekend, I cried.

It was four years ago when my father was first diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma. I wrote a song, visited him once in the hospital during my Christmas break, and applied to Johns Hopkins for nursing school. All seemingly practical responses at the time, but in reality, I did nothing. I spent most of my life detached from him, and I did not care to care.

He was very understanding about my mother’s requests for him not to attend my college graduation or come to my wedding. Instead, he went with Noah and me to the courthouse to get legally married. I saw him two years later at my sister’s graduation and the following year when he visited us for a weekend in Florida.

We never had a great relationship, but as a whole, it has gotten better over the years. I have matured and received healing from past hurts. He has grown, too, in wanting to avoid conflict and pursue a peaceful life. There are many frustrations and cultural differences, but I know my father means well and does the best he can, and I am thankful for him.

Last week, we found out my father’s cancer came back.

He started chemo again. It’s stronger than last time. He is sad my sister and I have not spent a lot of time with him or his family. He is sad he does not have more pictures and videos of us from when we were younger. But he considers himself lucky because most of his classmates in China only have one child, and he has four, and he is very proud of us.

I am the eldest child and the oldest of my cousins. As far as Chinese standards go, I am not successful in the least. I don’t speak Chinese, I never went to grad school, and I don’t have a career. He worries about my future, about my financial stability and job prospects. He disagrees with many of my decisions.

But my father says he is very proud of me.

At 37 weeks pregnant, I am unable to fly to NY where he lives. My sister is abroad in Turkey until May. I looked through both of our baby albums, and found only one photo with my father in it. I wish there were more.  It seems like not too long ago that we were little girls, obligated to see our father on visitations, complaining the whole time.

Now we are grown and though we want to see him, we can’t.

I hope my father will get to hold his grandson. His first grandchild. I did not know my Chinese name until college, but my father will give my son a Chinese name, and I will make sure he learns it. And though I do not know much about Chinese culture, I will teach my son to be proud of it. Because it’s part of his story, and we choose how we remember and share our stories.

I’m glad my father is part of mine.

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