Dad’s first words to me were, “It’s been too long,” as he hugged me close. The first thing I noticed was his cologne. It was the same smell I remembered from my childhood. Looking up at him, my eyes widened at how much about the rest of him had changed. His gray, closely cropped hair contradicted the dark, wavy hair of my memory. He’d put on weight and seemed shorter somehow. His eyes were still the same ice blue and still reminded me of his mother but had mellowed and warmed a little with age. Or maybe I just viewed him differently, found him less intimidating. I really couldn’t say.
The conversations didn’t happen the way I’d pictured them. The confrontations weren’t nearly as volatile as I’d imagined. Dad and I work on almost completely different wave lengths. Is it possible that we’ve simply misunderstood each other all these years? That’s not to say we weren’t both guilty of one insensitive offense or another. We can both be held accountable for our own types of deception. Again, the silence between us seems to have done more damage than any outright lie. I might have been able to get past the lie if he’d only told me why.
Dad, however, is unapologetic and feels his conscious is clean. Part of me understands it’s just the way he is, but part is angry that he’s that way. I’m still trying to digest all that’s happened between us, but am slowly piecing together all the different elements that contribute to our strange relationship.
If only I could just let it all go and fall back into the illusion, things might go on the way he’d pictured all those years ago. I did try to purge some of it. If only I could selectively erase the hurt and the anger, things between us might go more smoothly. I knew better, but thought I might be more successful as an adult. To my surprise, I was even less so. The reminders were everywhere from the beginning.
“It cost me $______ to get her out of Vietnam,” he told my friend. What was I to say? Why does he always have to say it like that?
“Funny how I’m closer to you than my real sister,” joked my younger sister.
“What was it like to grow up with a white family?” asked a co-worker.
“Ahhh, you were one of those airlift babies,” said another co-worker, “all of you were so lucky.”
“You’re not Vietnamese,” said an acquaintance, ” you’re whiter than I am.”
“You love me long time?” said another, and another and another.
Adoption awareness in this little bubble seems pushed back 20 years.Validation is something nearly impossible to find here. Seeking it out will more than likely get you labeled as ungrateful, immature and bitter. I guess some things never change. Not surprising, but it’s still disappointing. So I don’t talk about adoption much and try to think about it even less. But again, the reminders are everywhere. The snide, sarcastic comments do bubble to the surface once in a while. I can’t help it.
My conscience pushes at me to do something, but my focus is forced elsewhere. Still, I know I can’t hide forever, so I continue to observe and take notes.
In the meantime, I continue to build my strange existence alone and yet not alone cradled in the arms of my family that is not my family as the white girl who is not white but is not quite Vietnamese enough to be called Vietnamese.