June 19, 2016: Father’s Day
About a month ago, I went fishing on a small pier just under the Golden Gate Bridge with my dad. He’s 61 now, newly retired, and has finally picked up a hobby for himself — fishing. My entire life, all I remember my dad taking interest in were two things: his research, and sports on TV. The former was an obsession that banged about in his mind day and night. You could literally see the gears turning in his head as he mulled over one complex problem or another, stewing on the couch, sitting around waiting for my mother and me to finish shopping. Other times, he would bring his work home, spread it out on our small dining table, and tinker around prototyping the world’s next breakthrough biotech or material science device. The sheer amount of focus, ingenuity, and creativity that lives in this man’s head and hands is something that eludes the world, and even me. As for the sports, there was not a single man vs. man game that my father would not watch. Our house was a place where the TV was always tuned to some basketball, football, golf, baseball, or billiards game. Sometimes, I thought I could see ESPN in my dad’s eyes even when the TV was off. To this day, when I miss home, or miss my dad, I turn on some football. The familiar sounds of NFL Monday Night football jingles, sportscaster’s drawls, and green grass on screen will always connect me to him.
But the fishing, that was new. For one, it required that my dad spend some amount of money on himself, which was something I have never once in my life see him do. Even food was not something he indulged in. His clothes were from Costco and his physical possessions minimal. But to fish, you need gear. You need a rod or two, bait, a bucket, some tools, and know how. I remember buying him a gift certificate at a local store a few years ago for Father’s Day, intending for him to take a fly fishing class, but instead he used the value on gear. It was something, at least. Now, finally, years later, he was indulging himself a tiny bit, and taking up the sport.
So I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. That afternoon was quiet, foggy, warm and windy, just the kind of confusing humid-cold weather day the Bay Area is littered with. We set out simply, and found a spot a few yards in on the little pier. There were other fishermen out there that day as well, and I was soon witness to the camaraderie that formed amongst these lone wolves, each there to enjoy their solitude, but occasionally sharing intel on good spots and good bait choices. I let my dad lead, and just watched, and helped where I could. Fishing is a waiting game; I tried not to be bored. I observed him, trying to feel the joy he felt at practicing this new skill. I could tell he was going to hack and engineer fishing like he did his research — one hypothesis at a time, testing, patient, ambitious, calculated, precise. I could sense his pride when he showed me his catches, and his delight at doing something with his hands, as this connected him back to his childhood. I could see that he liked that nobody was watching, and even if they were, that he could show how little he cared. He could do whatever he want. My dad was in a place where he is most comfortable — in this simple act, he was free.
We waited. We talked. We didn’t talk and let the silence sit between us. We sat in each other’s presence. I observed our interactions in a new light since having moved far from home, and compared it to the other types of people I had in my life. I can be a quiet soul myself, shy and reserved, introverted and introspective, and sometimes new friends find this hard to understand in the midst of my wacky extroverted exuberance. But this quiet was a part of my dad in me. And here we were, talking to each other in the same language, saying nothing.
In one of those moments, as I watched the gentle tides swell up and down our fishing line, I realized that here I was, age 32, and still experiencing the acute, overwhelming sensation of what it means to be a daughter. And realizing, there are probably only a limited number of times left in this world where I’ll get to feel this feeling. The preciousness of it struck me in the chest, as its uniqueness dawned on me as well. There is no other feeling like it in the world.
It is the knowing that another human being will love you no matter what, and is constantly trying to care for you and provide for you. That the love you are receiving comes with infinite patience and goodwill; paternal, just because. There was nothing that you did to deserve this protection, this stewardship. He is always looking after you, and he’s always got your back. He’s had it since the day you were conceived, and perhaps even before, when he dreamt that he may be a father one day. He’s watched over you and picked up your scrappy knees when you fell, and disciplined you when you went astray, because it was his job to keep you straight. To give you the tools you needed to find your own happiness, and to love you no matter what uncertainty you chose. This is what it means to be a daughter, and to have a father.
On the dock that day, I learned to cherish this feeling, for like all things in life, it will no longer be mine one day.
To say I love my father would be the simplest way to put it. To him I owe my big bulbous heart, my every lesson, my wisdom, my morals; to him, I owe the whole of myself. I owe every good thing and every ounce of me that is capable of love and forgiveness, devotion and integrity. I owe my kindness, my capacity for sacrifice, my patience, my compassion. Most of all, I owe to him my ability to love myself, and the feeling of safety and optimism I have for the world. It is upon his shoulders and out of the garden of his heart that I grew these roots and sprouted these leaves. I have been so lucky.
We didn’t catch anything in those few hours, but we certainly didn’t go home empty handed. I helped my father load up the car, I got in the passenger seat, and I looked out the window as the first and best man of my life let me fiddle with the radio, find some silly pop song, and drove me home.