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To the grandfather I never knew

by | 31 May 2018, 11:52 PM

I never got to know my grandfathers.

I don’t remember if I ever asked my parents about them, but for most of my early life, I didn’t know where they went. But I had some theories of why they weren’t at home based on what I overheard from the adults’ conversations.

I had an idea of what I wanted my grandfather to be like – someone dignified. I wanted him to be someone who carried himself well, someone who cared for others, someone who could be my role model.

Based on the clues I had overheard, it was likely that my grandfathers were never going to live up to the image I had created for them in their absence. So I decided that it was better that I didn’t know about them.

I was afraid that I would find nothing about them that was worth celebrating, so I summarised them simply as the grandfathers I never had.

But one day, I did get to meet one of my grandfathers again before he passed on.

Both our meetings happened at the hospital, where I seemed like little more than a stranger to him – just as he was to me. He remembered my nickname from when I was a toddler … but nothing more than that.

I managed to say ah gong (grandfather) with a smile. I tried to hold back the tears from feeling so unknown to my own grandfather.

By our second meeting, he had tubes inserted into his body and he was in a lot of pain. His strength was fading and it was evident that it might well be our last meeting.I spoke as much as I could to him, trying to remember the way he looked and the sound of his voice. He couldn’t say much anymore, and I never got to tell him about myself. Or ask him about the last 20 years.

But at the end of that encounter, I was glad that I did get to meet him. I am grateful now for those 30 or so minutes that we spent in the same room, and for what I witnessed that day.

Because that was the day I began to give up being mad at him. I began to think of him as human, too. Who knows if he also grew up without his grandfather? Or his parents?

As I listened to the sound of the ventilator breathing on my grandfather’s behalf, and to the warm tones of my mother telling him not to worry anymore, I left aside my pride and my ideals of a picture-perfect grandfather.

Forgiveness was taking place.

At the end of his life, he seemed flustered, as if he still had a lot to say and worry about.

But he calmed down as soon as he heard he could hand his burdens over to Jesus. He began to be at ease when he heard that Someone would take his hand, he wouldn’t need to be alone.

He was hearing the sound of forgiveness – perhaps for the first time – and it began to silence his fears because it was forgiveness from God Himself. Forgiveness with the power to redeem and cancel out years of hurt and pain.

His strength returned for a few minutes and I heard his voice clearly for the first time ever as he said the Sinner’s Prayer, slowly and carefully. I saw anxiety release its hold on him; he found peace with God.

Then his speech began to slur again, only this time he looked peaceful. At ease, my grandfather had let go of his past as he was about to pass into eternity.

Forgiveness with the power to redeem and cancel out years of hurt and pain.

I never heard much from him, but the last words I ever heard my grandfather say was a prayer, and it made all the difference.

Because He accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, I know that I’ll see him again one day. And we’ll have time then to talk about everything in a perfect world.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and deeply devoted to her dogs. She is also a strange introvert who loves good chats with strangers and anyone with a story. At other times, you'll find her watching nature in wonder, wherever the sunlight touches with gold.

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My parents don’t talk any more

by | 18 June 2018, 10:00 AM

“How are your parents?”

That was the question my friend asked me, as we sat in a ramen shop after wrapping up our worship training overseas. She had just shared with me about her family; she was raised by only her father after her mother passed away when she was young.

When that question left her lips, the noodles in my mouth started to lose their taste. I think my face must have twitched.

As she shared about her family dynamics, there were many things I resonated with. Wanting to escape from home, family tension, awkward Chinese New Year arrangements, loneliness, hopelessness for the future …

But my parents weren’t divorced or separated. They’re living together under one roof … mostly as strangers.

The last time my parents were on talking terms must’ve been in 2009.

My dad was suddenly hospitalised for a heart surgery in the middle of my O Level preliminary exams. As I clutched my social studies textbook, my family spent the night huddled in the ICU.

Some months later, I came home from school to find them in a heated argument about hospital bills and finances. In one moment of anger, some nasty words were said. My mom fled the room and slammed the door shut.

And ever since that moment, they’ve never had another conversation.

Refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama.

I became their middle man and official messenger.

Nowadays we only go for Chinese New Year visitations if I’m around. Everyone stocks up their own groceries in the pantry and prepares their own meals. It’s as though we are housemates.

It’s difficult living in such a complicated family situation. People assume that since my parents are still living together, my family must be more or less normal.

But we’re not. And my mum has become more dependent on me ever since the fallout. Her decades of being a housewife has probably cut off most – if not all of her social circle. She doesn’t like staying home alone with my dad, so I try to spend as much as time I can with her.

But my friends don’t understand.

Why you such a mummy’s girl? That was something someone in my cell group had once remarked in jest, after I said I had to leave early after service to have lunch with my mum.

Oh, you’re calling your mum again? Another comment from a friend, after I told her I had to FaceTime my mother to check in on her while we were overseas.

I also know that my dad isn’t entirely as bad as what he is described to be. He doesn’t say much to me unless needed, and he has his moments of anger. But he has worked without a break for decades, always pays the bills, and always makes sure I have enough.

Who could ever understand my family situation? I’ve always felt all alone. I turned to the Bible looking for some ray of hope, and was surprised to find messed up families just like mine in the Bible!

  • Adam and Eve: Messed up the entire world; one of their sons murdered his brother.
  • Sarah and Abraham: Got her husband to get their servant Hagar pregnant.
  • Lot: Seduced by one of his daughters to commit drunken incest.
  • Jacob: His sons conspired to kill their youngest brother Joseph, sold him into slavery.

And all the above happened in just the first book of the Bible. And as I read on, I learnt many lessons about how to live well in an imperfect family.

HONOUR THEM STILL

The Bible is clear about honouring our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). It is the fifth commandment, but the first that comes with a promise. It is the first commandment that governs a horizontal relationship – the only commandment that comes with a reward.

This also means that we refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama. There was one my mum was ranting to me about my dad, when I heard the Holy Spirit gently say: “Don’t dishonour your dad in the process of supporting your mum.”

My mum wanted me to agree with her about my dad’s faults. She wanted me to side with her. But I just quietly listened to her, and tried my best to explain the situation to her objectively. My dad had his faults, but if I had simply gone along with my mum emotionally, I would only be reinforcing negative ideas about him.

Honouring our parents requires us to submit to them as the parental authority God has placed over us (Ephesians 6:1). It means choosing to treat them as treasures, granting them a position of respect in our lives even when it seems like they don’t deserve it.

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

In every relationship, it is important to keep expectations in check. Unmanaged expectations will eventually lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

I don’t expect perfection from my parents because I know they aren’t perfect. I know that they, just like me, have their own issues and struggles that they don’t speak about. I raise and lower expectations according to how I’ve known them over the years.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess.

Another thing that is equally important is that we communicate our expectations … Telepathy isn’t a thing!

When I was in JC, I often came home late because my school was far away from home and my CCA usually ended in the evening. I never understood why my mum would get so upset about me coming home late, so I got equally upset at her apparently unreasonable behaviour.

After all, I was in school! It wasn’t like I was running around outside … Until I realised why she was so upset: She just wanted me to let her know if I was going to be back for dinner.

Uncommunicated expectations create more misunderstandings than needed.

KEEP ON PRAYING

But to be honest, even as I try my best to honour my parents and manage my expectations, it still feels really hard on many days.

It feels like something is amiss in my family, like there must be more. And many times I’m faced with a situation where I really just don’t know what to do … It’s usually at that point where this verse comforts me: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

And as I persevere in prayer, I know breakthroughs will happen. Situations will change. Hearts will move. None of our prayers are ever prayed in vain (Revelation 8:1-5). And if even Jesus prayed unceasingly (Hebrews 5:7), why shouldn’t we?

There is nothing else I can do but to pray and surrender my family situation to God. It is easy for us to give up on complicated family relations because humans are messy.

But the story of Jesus – a Saviour coming from a lineage of messy and dysfunctional families – is a lasting reminder that love and goodness can come out of the deepest of wounds.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess. And the end of all of it, it points us to our need for a Saviour.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, 80% dark chocolate, beautiful typography and folk jazz. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Does my dad deserve a Father’s Day?

by Jenni Ho-Huan | 10 June 2018, 8:44 PM

When I was growing up, Father’s Day wasn’t even invented yet – not to me anyway. And I probably would have resisted the idea of it had I known about it then. Not much to celebrate, I would’ve said.

So dead wrong I was.

The mental picture I have of my dad is not a clear portrait, all gleaming and ready to be hung on a wall. In my mind, it’s more like bits of mosaic lining up unevenly and in unequal pieces.

He could do amazing things with his hands. I remember one time, he brought home timber wood, and after several hours of sawing and hammering, a double-decker bed emerged. 

Then there was the time he came home with an accordion. I had never seen such a thing before; I was fascinated by the way it folded and the sounds my father could make on it.

Quite a few times, Dad returned much later than expected because he had taken the wrong bus – getting lost seems to run in my blood!

I realised that God has chosen him and my mum to be the ones to birth and raise me.

I remember we watched three things repeatedly: Hindi movies, nature documentaries, and wrestling. Thanks to my dad, I am adept at eating with my hands, have never let skin colour bother me, and can recognise David Attenborough’s voice anywhere.

My father loved the thrill of a good gamble; but he made humble bets. Each time he won, the house would fill with something. He also enjoyed smoking. As a teen, I self-righteously berated and made him feel guilty for constantly inflicting us with second-hand smoke.

If I’d loved my dad as a child, I do not remember it. I wish I did. I would have made music with him, learnt to build a thing or two, maybe got lost together on those bus rides. 

Perhaps I did not love him because we were too busy getting by. Or because I saw my mother struggling with her deep disappointments in life: She’d vowed not to marry someone who gambled, but her mother set her up with my dad. And a mother’s shattered dreams are shards that are best avoided.

Perhaps I did not love him because there was a sorry need for love in my own little heart.

Thankfully, at the age of eight, God became a reality for me. Among the many things I would learn and discover about Him, I found the father I wanted and needed in my heavenly Father. 

When I was old enough, God turned my attention back to my earthly father. It began with the mission all followers of Jesus embark on: Saving souls. My dad needed saving, that wasn’t difficult to see.

But in time, God showed me that my father would once again be His instrument – I needed to be saved from my lovelessness, especially towards my dad. It is a great irony that Dad’s cold, indifferent, cavalier attitude about God called forth the love of Christ in me. 

Patiently, God waited for me to grow up. And when He finally said, “Be a friend to your dad”, I said yes through flowing tears; a whole new capacity opened up within me. I saw how he was a hurt, unloved person in so many ways, and appreciated how much it must have taken for him to even be who he was.

I realised that God has chosen him and my mum to be the ones to birth and raise me.

I cannot recall how many times I managed to wish him “Happy Father’s Day” in the end, but I’m glad I got to say it at least once. 

In Malachi 4:6, it talks about God turning the hearts of children to their fathers. And you know what? God is always doing that. He is love; it’s what he does. 

It took me a long time to say “Happy Father’s Day” because I could not see what a gift my dad was, stuck as I was in what the “model father” should be. I overlooked the fact that he didn’t have a father who showed him how to father, and without Father God in his life, how was he to ever know?

Yet, in my father, there was the valour of a good man.

When he saw my mother thumbed down and abused by his mum after they got married, he courageously took her, their two pots, one bag of clothes and left in the middle of the night. 

When the children started coming, he worked hard as a coolie with his changkol (shovel). It was backbreaking and tempted by faster gains, his gambling habit grew. But it was always to help us live a little better. Buy us a toy or two. Eventually, he became a clerk at the shipyard, until that job was unjustly lost.

Whenever he didn’t have proper work, he worked at home. He cleaned and cooked. I still miss his best dish – pig’s tongue stewed with soya beans and onions. Sometimes we came home to handwritten messages that the water had been boiled and was safe to drink. 

He didn’t have much going for him in life, really. But he had an optimistic, can-survive demeanour. We probably got that from him too. Not to mention his linguistic ability. He didn’t have many opportunities, but God did give him an amazing wife. Together, they had nine children, and I am glad to be one of them.

When a man has given life his best shot, it is worth celebrating. And for Mr Ho, he gave being a dad a real good shot. He wasn’t able to supply us with plenty, but he made sure that the rice urn, sugar and salt were always there.

He may not have known how to egg us on to success, but he never held us back from pursuing our dreams and we could see his quiet pride at every graduation.

He never verbally told us he loved us, but neither did he ever demand love from us in return. He accepted gifts reluctantly and I’ll always remember how his sanguine self would go very quiet when attention was turned to him.

But God knows, he tried being the best father he could. And I thank God for opening my eyes to see it before it was all too late.

Now, Dad’s having a well-deserved rest (and probably a really good time) in heaven, exactly how he would have liked it. He is home, safe and free at last.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


This was first seen on Jenni’s blog and has been republished with permission.

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My dad loved me in his own language, even when I couldn’t understand it

by Debra Wong | 10 June 2018, 7:16 PM

On my study table is an old postcard that was sent from Holland. It was addressed to me 25 years ago, when I had barely learned to talk and was left in the care of some relatives.

My mum and dad were in Holland at that time. My dad was there for a year for studies, and my mum was visiting him for a month. Mum said that my father survived on barely-cooked rice and whatever he could find on sale at the local farmer’s market.

In the postcard he’d sent me it says: “Papa is in Holland now. Be a good girl and listen to your grandmother. Love, Papa.”

That postcard is precious to me because it is one of the few pieces of written evidence where my dad has directly expressed his love for me because for the rest of my childhood, I don’t remember him saying it ever again.

They say I take after my dad in both strength and weakness alike. From him, I inherited a love for knowledge and a penchant for words, but also a trademark stubbornness, a short fuse, and a penchant for refusing to admit wrongs.

Seeing all these familiar traits show up in me probably startled my dad – from as early as I can remember he was always harsher with me than my sister. I was caned more, punished more, yelled at more.

So ever since I started going to school, I thought that my dad was on a life-long mission to make me miserable.

In kindergarten, my father made me write down the names of 10 boys and 10 girls that I’d talked to each month, all because I wasn’t socialising enough. He enrolled me in a Chinese primary school against my will because he wanted his children to be able to communicate with our grandparents.

When I eventually excelled in my studies, he showed little enthusiasm: “Character growth is more important, and you lack character,” he would always say.

As a teenager, I fought all the time with him. He had something to say about every aspect of my life – my lack of friends, my selfishness and pride, my lack of love towards God.

He was the epitome of the typical “Asian dad”, one who provided for my needs but was rarely affectionate. He never told me I was beautiful or treated me as “daddy’s little girl”, even though I craved his affirmation so badly.

And so I grew up resenting my dad. I promised myself as a young girl that when I was of age, I would marry someone who was the exact opposite of my dad – someone who showered me with affection and encouragement, who listened patiently instead of criticising.

It wasn’t only until much later in my young adulthood that I realised that my dad wasn’t out to get me. He loved me but just didn’t know how to express it in the ways I wanted him to express it.

My father grew up in a family where money was hard to come by. The idea of a loving mum and dad was alien to him – both his parents worked to support the family, leaving him and his siblings in the care of their strict grandfather.

As a result, my dad had no concept of affection, encouragement or love to model his parenting by. But what he did know was this: He spent his working life saving up mutual funds and insurance savings, in addition to his regular savings, to fund my sister and me through school and college.

Looking back, I realised how much he’d always cared for me – I just couldn’t understand his love language then. And despite his lack of outward affection, my dad reflected God’s love to me in three big ways:

3 HINTS OF THE FATHER’S HEART

1. He always provides for me

When I was about to enter university, Dad took it upon himself to help me ease into college life. First, he took me smartphone shopping, followed by laptop shopping. Then, he helped me apply for study loans and scholarships.

And after I graduated from university, he got me a second-hand car for me to get to my workplace, which was an hour away in traffic and not easily accessible by public transport. I’d actually been planning on saving up for one myself!

He even arranged an appointment with a trusted friend for me to buy my first life insurance policy. If it weren’t for my father, I wouldn’t have any life insurance, no knowledge of investments, and would probably be broke because I didn’t know how to maintain a budget.

Similarly, the same God who provided manna from heaven to the starving Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16:4) and keeps lowly ravens from hunger (Luke 12:24) also knows exactly what my needs are and graciously provides them according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).

2. He is always protective of me

In primary school, I was bullied by two boys. They hit me with plastic bottles and called me names. Without telling me, my father privately went to the school and highlighted the matter to the principal, who promptly took action.

I got upset at my dad after that incident because some other classmates gave me the stink eye for ‘embarrassing’ them – if only I knew then that he was trying to protect me!

Today, Dad still bugs me about retirement savings, investing my money wisely, and travel expenditure. He also periodically sends me articles about coping in the workplace, reading the Bible, and living a meaningful single life.

My dad, in his finite wisdom, offers advice to me in many practical aspects of life: Career planning, budgeting and investing, and coping with responsibilities at different life stages.

How much more my Father God, who offers timeless advice and instruction on how I should live life, both through the illuminating wisdom in His Word (Psalm 119:105) and also through His Spirit living in us (1 Corinthians 3:16).

3. He always perseveres in fathering me

My dad’s knowledge of my character as his daughter led him to reach out to me in personal ways. In secondary school, I was anxious and withdrawn, willing to do anything to get my peers’ approval.

Noticing my social difficulties, Dad printed out a letter called “God’s Love Letter” that had over 30 Bible verses about my identity in Christ, which he made me recite every morning before he dropped me off at school.

Likewise, God knows me intimately – He knows every hair on my head (Matthew 10:30) and is familiar with all my ways (Psalm 139:3). Based on His personal knowledge of me, He has reached out to me in ways more incredible than my earthly father.

Talking to my friends, I realise that many of them have unaffectionate “Asian dads” too – fathers who faithfully provided for the family but were slow to proclaim their affection or affirmation.

If you can relate to my story, here’s what you can do to relate to your dad better:

3 WAYS TO LOVE DAD BACK

1. Understand that how your dad was raised shaped the way he treats his kids

Many “Asian dads” like mine didn’t have affectionate parents themselves. We can strive to be more encouraging to our future children, but it helps to be more understanding of where dad come from.

2. Appreciate him when he shows his love in his own way

When he gets you something you really need or offers advice and practical help, be slow to protest and quick to acknowledge his act of love. One of my dad’s love languages is quality time, and although it can be stressful, we make it a point to go on a family trip every year because it is important to him.

3. Ask God for the grace to help you accept your father just as he is

Of course, also honestly pour out your needs to God, for example: “God, I really want to be encouraged/hugged.” You may just be surprised at how God works – during my birthday last year, my dad gave me an awkward 15-second hug, telling me that that was my “hug quota of the year”.

This caught me by surprise, as I was amazed that my dad was willing to forego his discomfort around hugging to bless me on my birthday!

All these years, I thought my dad hated me, and I resented him for it. But what I didn’t know then was that his imperfect love was really pointing to something bigger – God’s perfect love for me.

Due to the fallen state of human nature and the limitations of our upbringing, I’ve come to learn that people – including my parents – will never be able to meet all my relational needs.

So for all the affection and affirmation I still desire, I know perfect love comes only from my Father in heaven. And I’m that much more grateful for everything my earthly father has given me.

Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful fathers! ❤

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For many years, I thought my dad didn’t love me

by Pauline Wong | 8 June 2018, 11:14 AM

My dad held out his hand. “Give me your hand,” he told me.

I clasped my hands behind my back and shook my head. “Give me your hand or it will be even more painful for you,” he repeated.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I reluctantly brought my hands forward. My dad took my left hand and turned my palm upwards. He held a cane in his other hand.

“No, Papa! No!” I cried and tried to retract my hand. He held on tight. “So why did you steal?” he reprimanded. The cane struck swiftly on my palm.

Nothing was quite the same after that.

We lived like familiar strangers under the same roof throughout my adolescence.

Growing up, my dad wasn’t very expressive.

He never told me he loved me, never asked how my school was. He rarely chided me for anything. How could he when he was so often missing in action? My dad simply immersed himself in work, and got lost in games whenever he was free.

But the punishment really came as a blow to me. I knew I was at fault: I had stolen money from my dad … And it wasn’t the first time. So someone had to mete out the punishment.

I didn’t know how to relate to him after that. My mistake felt like a wine stain on a white dress – a permanent blotch. Guilt hung over my head even long after the incident and I thought I was a failure in my father’s eyes. It didn’t help that my dad was a man of few words so we didn’t speak much thereafter.

I didn’t realise it back then, but I had begun believing that my dad stopped loving me from that fateful day.

Like an old TV screen, my memories of my dad remained a fuzzy vision for more than a decade. We lived like familiar strangers under the same roof throughout my adolescence.

But somehow, my heart softened towards my dad after I received Christ. It wasn’t like I prayed about the situation or that anyone counselled me specifically on this issue. I didn’t even think it was a big deal since I’d been so accustomed to the distance.

But as I began to know God as my Father, I caught a glimpse of a father’s heart. I started to understand that a father loves their child no matter the mistakes made.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18-19)

And as I read chapters like Hosea 2, or of how the Israelites disobeyed God time and time again, I saw that God’s forgiveness was always available as long as they repented. Because He loves them.

… To him, love wasn’t about tenderness. It was about putting food on the table.

Love means discipline – so that we grow and learn from our mistakes. But love also means forgiveness. The more time I spent with God, the more I began to understand that just because I failed once doesn’t mean I’m a failure in my father’s eyes.

It was only then that I started to notice how my dad loves me.

Everyone knows love is important. But not everyone knows how to show it. We learn to love from the generation before us. We often love the way we’ve received it.

My dad learnt it through his father. In the post-war years, everyone was in survival mode. There was no room for tender loving care.

My dad grew up under a hard man. So to him, love wasn’t about tenderness. It was about putting food on the table. But while my dad was a man of few words, he was a man of his word. He did everything he could to provide for the family. He did everything he could to provide for me.

A few years ago, my dad asked me if I wanted Hokkien mee for dinner.

I insisted on roasted meat rice from my usual, favourite stall. Unfortunately, the stall was closed for the day and my dad came back with roasted meat rice from another place.

I made a face and took my first bite anyway. I could already tell the difference. I looked over to my father’s dinner. Suddenly his Hokkien mee looked infinitely tastier. My chopsticks began to sneak over to his plate occasionally.

“I went rock-climbing today,” I told my dad. The noodles tasted sour. He hadn’t properly mixed the lime. “Mmm,” he replied gruffly. He started mixing the noodles.

“I got some baluku (bruises),” I raised my knees to show him my glorious battle wounds. “But it was very fun!”

“Hmph.”

While my dad was a man of few words, he was a man of his word.

In between mouthfuls of my own dinner, I continued to steal his noodles.

“Have you rock-climbed before?” I tried again. No, he answered. And then silence once more. By this time, I had already finished most of the roasted meat rice – only some rice was left.

Seeing that the conversation was going nowhere and I had finished the nice portions of my dinner, I decided to take my leave.

“You don’t want the rice?” My father asked. “Don’t want. Cause not nice,” I replied. Wordlessly, he took my packet and pushed his plate of noodles toward me.

“But Papa! No more meat. I finished it all.”

He waved me aside me with his free hand and began eating the rice. Then, he gestured me to finish his plate of noodles.

For most of my life, my relationship with my father was characterised by the question “Does he love me?”

But at that moment, his actions rang louder than all the words I ever wanted.

When I finally stopped expecting my dad to love me on my terms, I could finally see and appreciate that he had been loving me this whole time.

Thank you, Papa. I love you, too.

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To the grandfather I never knew

My parents don’t talk any more

Daddy’s Home

Does my dad deserve a Father’s Day?

My dad loved me in his own language, even when I couldn’t understand it

For many years, I thought my dad didn’t love me