(At the park, age 32 or so)
Two days before Thanksgiving, my father passed away from cancer at the age of 60. It seems surreal to even type these words.
I’ve spent the past week trying to wrap my head around the whole situation, telling only a few close friends. I debated back and forth whether to write about it here. In the end, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do, given how big an influence he was on my life and career in cooking.
My dad taught me many things: how to walk, run, parallel park, adapt from culture to culture, make kick-ass scallion pancakes and even more kick-ass sushi. But maybe it was what he did day-to-day that made the most lasting impression. He made bold career choices dating back to the 1970s in China, taking baking and pastry classes in his spare time while working in a government-run factory, with dreams of opening his own bakery one day. Almost two decades later, he did just that. It lasted only two years, but he seemed to love the sense of freedom from running his own business, even for a short length of time. Although my dad’s first choice was probably that I became an engineer or something similarly stable, he inadvertently taught me to choose a career doing something I loved.
(Violin-playing, around age 15)
After my parents retired and moved back to China, he checked my blog regularly and never failed to comment on it every time we spoke on the phone. In late summer, after his prognosis took a turn for the worse, he called to give me a quick update but didn’t want to dwell on it. Instead, he wanted to talk about General Tso’s chicken. “You know that chicken you just posted? I’m getting hungry just looking at the photo. But what would be even better is if you toasted the sesame seeds before sprinkling them on top. Gives a great nutty aroma.”
In September, after undergoing a particularly painful surgery, he still managed to give my mom roses and chocolate for their 30th wedding anniversary.
(Dating, late 20s)
It feels very strange to write about him in the past tense. And at many moments it’s hard to even recognize he’s gone. I don’t know anyone else my age who has lost a parent. He was so excited when he heard about my book last year, and it’s heartbreaking to know that he won’t see it published next year.
But as they say, it’ll get easier over time. I was fortunate to be able to spend the last week with friends and relatives who never hesitated to lend an ear or offer a hug. And it helped to write this blog entry, a stepping stone on the road back to normalcy. At the very least, my dad would have been happy I posted photos of his younger days, when he was full of life and sported a great head of hair.