These particular memories always come in fuzzy. A snippet here. A flash there. Images with no color. Outlines. It is always nighttime. My dad at my bedroom door, his head peeking through that small sliver of light. My eyelashes fluttering. The sound of his feet as he tries to quietly back into the hallway again.
How old was I? I couldn’t tell you. What time was it? Night. That’s all I’ve got. Sometimes he’d slip past the door and kiss me on my forehead, but maybe that was just a dream. The feeling I had, though? That I remember distinctly well. Resoundingly safe.
My father works hard. Nineteen days in a row. Twelve hours a day. Different shift every five weeks. Daytime. Afternoon. Middle of the night. Snowstorm. Holidays. You name it, he worked it. And for too many weeks to count, the only glimpse he got of his children was a quick peek into our rooms while we slept.
You know the story of how my parents came to America as refugees. People call that a sacrifice, but I forget sometimes that the story of my parents in America is also one of huge sacrifice.
In Vietnam, my mother would sometimes teach English. She had her siblings, her mother, her friends. My father was a math teacher, surrounded by his huge family—so big that they literally go by numbers. That guy in Iowa is Uncle Number 7. Really. No clue what his actual name is.
Both were pursuing a college education when the Vietnam War started, but they left it all behind for three little kids. The American Dream wasn’t for them. It was for us.
Since coming to America they’ve worked in factories. Honorable, honest jobs, but hard ones. A standing desk is an office perk for me. Up and down when I please. My parents had no choice but to stand all day. Breaks are for sitting. Snow day for the kids? Work from home in pjs for me. For my parents, it was a day unpaid or one of very few precious vacation days.
I know my dad used to play the guitar. He was pretty great from what my mother tells me. Then there was an accident in the factory. Some broken bones and stitches. He can’t play anymore, but more than a decade later, I still see his guitar propped up in the house. Every now and then I think I hear a strum of the strings.
My mom’s factory has closed and reopened numerous times. Talks of when the next paycheck will come. Stress. Worry. When I was in middle school, I left my new leather jacket at a track meet at another school. I told my mom to shut up when she yelled at me. I got smacked. Nothing hard, but tears sprang to my eyes. I stormed off, determined to leave York and my parents behind. Tears spring to my eyes now thinking about it not because of the smack but because of how selfish I was. A new leather jacket. That was hours upon hours of work for my mom.
As a parent, I think a lot about the sacrifices we make for our children—none for me, however, will ever compare to what my mom and dad made for us. The lost time with their kids because they had to work. Hard labor. Half a world away from their families. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s coming to an end.
This weekend I’m taking my family to York to celebrate my dad’s birthday, the lunar new year and most of all, the well deserved retirement of both my parents. They get to travel the world, enjoy life, their family and their grandkids (because we all know what it’s really about).
I don’t know how to thank them. Words are what I’m best at. So thank you. Thank you for giving up your dreams to let us live ours, for letting us live our lives unhindered by government or culture. We are free to love the people we love and say the things we want to say. You made a better world for us, and it’s your turn now. Sit back and relax, Mom and Dad. We’ll take you from here. I love you.