Questions for Our Fathers
Here is another essay in our series of student writings about parents. Dan Vy, a senior at McMain, is in our Advanced Placement English and creative writing classes.
This essay is also part of a book entitled Men We Love, Men We Hate that SAC will publish soon.
A Question Never Answered
Dan Vy Tran
How was your life back in Vietnam? That question was always on my mind every time I talked to my dad. Every moment he sat down to rest, I would be there, waiting to pop the question. But at my every attempt, he would always stare straight at me and tell me to go complete homework or a chore. That was some years ago.
I remember my last attempt to ask that question and the answer I received. Except the answer wasn’t from dad. It was from something else. It was like the usual times. My 51-year-old dad sat on the couch, reading his Vietnamese magazine that comes in the mail every month. My 12-year-old self was on the computer, playing pinball and working my way to first place. So absorbed into the game, I wasn’t aware of my dad behind me. When the game was over, I noticed and asked my usual question.
“Dad,” I began, “what was your life back in Vietnam?”
“What do you mean?”
“How were your childhood and your teenage life in Vietnam?” I replied. “You know, your past.”
He stared at me. “Don’t you have homework or chores to do?”
His head turned away, and his eyes stared into space. I could tell he was remembering something, though what it was I didn’t know. Dad finally stood up with a sigh and left.
Dismayed, I turned my attention to the computer desk. I saw my dad’s stack of pictures and rummaged through the photos. For the first time I saw a faded, black and white picture of a 5-year-old boy. It was 1956. It was Dad. I never paid attention to it before. Curious, I kept flipping through the photos. Pictures of teenager Dad working in an orphanage and participating in Boy Scouts came up. It was odd. I had looked in this stack of photos before. Why didn’t I see these pictures before? At the end I saw a military man with his platoon. It seemed like the photo took place at a South Vietnamese army base. Nineteen-year-old Dad was standing in a row with his fellow soldiers. His face wasn’t happy or full of smiles like the pictures before. It was grim and determined. I looked at that picture carefully, and realization dawned on me. Dad had fought in the Vietnam War.
I still remember how shocked I was during that moment. But that moment sprung more questions. Did the war affect him that much not to talk about his past? Is he remembering what happened back then but too hurt to tell? Those new questions will never be asked nor answered. Why? I have asked myself that question many times. My answer is even though I am curious, I don’t want to stir any dark memories that may lay hidden his mind. War is something no one should go through. People shouldn’t experience the memories of death in the battlefield, or the first time they were ordered to shoot just to kill. If he doesn’t want to talk about his past, I won’t push him to answer my questions anymore.