Reflections II


ve never been sure about the stereotypical Japanese father. If movies and TV shows were indications, they usually were either never home because of work, or they were silent and let their fist do the talking. Either way, there was a distance between father and the rest of the family. My father didn’t seem to want to fit this mold, but he never seemed comfortable being the “American dad”. Perhaps he had too few models in his own life.


ko wo shikaru
koe ga nodo made
kite tsumaru

A voice that would scold a child
reaches the throat
and gets stuck

My father and I were never very close. Its not that we didn’t get along. We simply didn’t spend time together. My father left for work around 8 in the morning and came home at 7 in the evening Monday through Saturday. We kids usually ate dinner between 5 and 6 so we rarely ate together. When my father ate, we were either doing our homework or watching TV. After dinner, he would usually work on his poetry–composing, judging, planning the next salon–or work on his responsibilities as a leader of the Fukushima Kenjinkai–a social club for those who came from Fukushima prefecture–or he would go out to visit cutomers to sell photos he had taken at school or at weddings.

There is no doubt that he worked his butt off for us. But the consequence was that we spent little time with each other. On Sundays, he was usually busy as well. One Sunday a month was devoted to his Senryu club. Another Sunday to the Fukushima Kenjinkai. Another Sunday to the church club Kibei-kai–club for those born in the US but raised in Japan. Us kids would always go with the parents to these functions, but we were usually bored out of our brains: Three kids in a room full of adults, mostly between 40 and 70. All I remember is being told to be quiet or to play outside.

That left one Sunday a month for family. But my memories are vague. My father liked to garden and he created a faux Japanese garden in our front yard. I remember going to local mountains–mostly Mt. Whitney–to gather rocks and boulders to put in the garden. On other occasions, we would go with the church group to see the California golden poppies in Lancaster. And of course, any work on the house from painting to cleaning out the garage took place on these Sundays. During these trips or jobs, I used to want to do things like other families, like maybe having a BBQ, until I finally figured out that I was the one who was always cleaning off the burnt crud on the grill. Yeah, I guess, the main thing I wanted to do was play baseball or watch a football game. But my father was not into sports. My mother would laugh and say that my father would hit the ball and run to third… IF he hit the ball…

Anyway, the point is that we were not very close. There was never any problems between us; indeed, there was very little between us, and I guess that was the problem. I remember getting into a can of lime green house paint when I was six and painted my red wagon, my sisters tricycle, and my sister. My mother was furious. But I don’t remember my father saying anything, let alone raising a hand. Indeed, in my whole life, my father raised a hand at me only once.

I was an active kid, which is my way of saying that I was a rascal of sorts. I wasn’t really a malicious trouble maker, but I made enough trouble to make my mother anxious. When I learned a new word at school, I would always try it out at home and in the neighborhood. One evening when I was 12 or 13, after my father came home, he told me to clean off my homework from the dining table so he could eat dinner.

“Ah, shit.” I cussed.

He looked at with furious eyes, grabbed my textbook and slammed it on my head as hard as he could. It didn’t really hurt. As I mentioned yesterday, he had a rather serious illness in his 20s and so was not very strong. But I was shocked. He had never shown this kind of emotion, let alone show anger in a physical way, or anyway now that I think about it.

I first read the senryu above about 10 years ago, but he composed it 46 years ago in 1958, when I was about four. It gives me a different perspective. I guess he was watching us kids and perhaps wanted to say something to scold us, but as the poem says, it got stuck in this throat. Repressing emotions is not a good thing, but at least I know that he did have emotions, even though he only showed it to me once.