MY FATHER was born in 1938, in a village in Sichuan, China, to an intelligent but poor and sickly father whose death left his impoverished mother to fend for herself. Fate was not kind to her, as the struggle of being poor and raising six children was compounded when she developed a severe infection from a dog bite. Treatment cost her what little she had, and my father was orphaned at the age of 6.
The life of an orphan in China was unforgiving, but thankfully my father’s uncle adopted him. As a man of little means, he needed my father to work on the farm; education was expensive and out of the question, but he could earn his keep as a farmhand. These experiences shaped my father into the man he would become: powerful, steadfast, and honorable — a true fighter. One that not even the local bullies would challenge.
As a teenager, he earned a reputation as a hard worker. During Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward campaign, my father was recruited to work for a vast state-owned steel enterprise in Chongqing. This was idyllic considering the fate suffered by some 40 million Chinese who starved as a result of central planning gone awry.
After several years he was transferred to Chengdu, where he met my mother and fell in love. They were married after obtaining their respective work unit leaders’ permission. I was their first child, one of three, born two years before the terror of the Cultural Revolution ensued.
My memories began in an employer-provided eight-family row house. Our family of five shared two small rooms with dirt floors and an outdoor kitchen. There was no plumbing or heating, and we had to share a single water pump and “bathroom” (a hole in the ground) with eight other families. My parents worked tirelessly, but their positions were lowly, and our food rations were limited as a result.
I always remember my father as a hard worker, waking early each morning to take the bus to work. Public transportation was crowded and the competition to obtain a seat was so fierce that fights would break out. One day, after nearly being run over in a scuffle to get a seat, my father refused to degrade himself any further and bought a used bike to ride to work.
Dad was a prodigious worker and popular amongst his colleagues. His Communist minders thought he was trouble, and he was. His pride denied him submission to their corrupt authoritarianism and he fought their tyranny at every turn. Honor, however, comes at a price. They conspired to get rid of him by relocating him to a work site 19 hours away. He refused to leave my mother — a sickly woman — and his three children, despite the commonality of family separations in communist China.
His refusal to relocate earned him a permanent “early retirement” in his late 40s. He refused to accept this. And so, he illegally served as a bicycle taxi at night. He had his bike confiscated by the police on multiple occasions and was robbed even more frequently. When seized, he would buy a new bike, and when robbed, he would fight back.
My father certainly could have made our lives easier, but it would have required obedience and submission to his immoral masters. Instead, he persevered honorably so that we could survive the brutality of communism. If he had chosen dishonor, perhaps I would not be the person I am today. Because of my father’s unwavering moral code, I fought back against a life of slavery in China.
After escaping communist China, I brought my parents to the United States, where my father worked in a local Chinese restaurant for a few years. He became a U.S. citizen in 2005 and was later baptized a Christian, something that would have never happened in China. Last year, he was afflicted with COVID at age of 82, yet he would not submit even to this, and he made a full recovery.
Dad, you are a man of integrity, honor, and dignity: a small man who cast a large shadow and stood defiantly against the evils of communism. You never asked for much, just the freedom to work and provide for us. I am thankful for your love, sacrifice, perseverance and hard work. You knew you were a man of little means and social status, but in the best way possible, you taught me how to live with dignity in defiance of evil. Despite the harsh lens through which you judge your achievements, you were and are my hero. I love you very much. Happy Father’s Day.