(Published in The Rafu Shimpo on June 13, 2012.)
Like many Nisei #2 sons, I am an unabashed mama’s boy and have always observed Mother’s Day with a passion that almost makes Father’s Day an embarrassing afterthought. “Almost” because there will always be admiration and respect, but “embarrassing” because it seems criminal not to love each parent equally. I’ve always wondered if this was merely a personal shortcoming. I mean, geez, who goes around polling friends with the question: “Did you love your parents equally?” My gut feeling is others share this feeling but would hesitate to admit it. And now as grandparents, the question is moot.
Of course, there might have been exceptions wherein a second-generation son was a golfing and drinking partner with his father. Very few, I’m sure. It was a strict societal separation not to be bridged. There just weren’t many over-21 Nisei in pre-war days, let alone on a golf course imbibing with an elder. As pointed out in previous reviews, my father-son recollections are typically Japanesey. Without question. Or much warmth.
One of the most vivid Riverside childhood remembrances was when my father, sitting in his favorite leather rocking chair, asked me to bring him a “haizara.” I was like, what? Four years old. Maybe five. And I didn’t have the slightest idea of what a “haizara” was, let alone ever asked to deliver him one. My mother, bless her soul, saved the day (as always) by quickly handing me an ashtray to deliver to Otou-san.
A second unforgettable was when I arrived home (in a taxi — no one rode a cab in Riverside) from a four-year absence; an errant year bumming around the nation after Poston and three overseas in the service. After a long minute embracing a joyous, weeping Okaa-san, I turned to greet Otou-san. But how? I’m 20 years old and had never hugged him. Ah, hell, a right hand proffered in handshake found its way around his waist and a hesitant embrace resulted, at last; his familiar Prince Albert tobacco smell mingling with my beer odor. Appropriate.
Which is not to say Ujiro, the sire of four (with a daughter), was emotionless or without personality and accomplishment. He was 15 when he came to America and had the opportunity to go school and learn the language. He was “George” to (white) neighbors and customers and made sure we all read: The Riverside Daily Press, Sunday editions of the L.A. Times and Examiner, Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine.
As a family we gathered around the radio to listen to Fibber McGee & Molly, Fred Allen and Jack Benny, Don Dunphy’s description of Joe Louis boxing matches, news bulletins of Will Rogers’ death and Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, even the Melrose Games from New York. (Listening to a track and field meet, can you imagine? He followed all sports.)
Executive Order 9006 was the beginning of the end for him and evacuation completed the emasculation process of the Issei male. He never participated in after-dinner conversations or debates with rabble-rousers nor got involved in block politics. Since he held the job of night watchman at the Poston chicken farm, he brought home barbecue chicken (and homemade sake) to his wife’s chagrin. With daytime hours free, he regularly bicycled to the library. On game days he would sit unobtrusively along the left field foul line at Apache softball games (I played right) on a folding canvas chair, never rooting or commenting, win or lose.
Returning to Riverside to revive a dormant poultry ranch was a monumental task with no help from a prodigal son. Only two consolations later brightened his life: (a) when profligate offspring graduated from SC and then (b) married a carbon copy of his Fukuoka wife.
After Mom succumbed at an all-too-early age of 74, he became a defeated old man. Never a smiley-face back-slapper to begin with, he became a lost soul as so many old country males did after losing mates. So much for patriarchy. At the end I would bring him string, twine and cord. Here was a man who dug an artesian well for farm water, installed a septic tank, built a refrigerated storage unit; carpentry, plumbing and automotives were no problem. And he is reduced to making balls of string and rubber bands.
I did not cry when my father died. I completely lost it when my mother passed away.
No, there won’t be any heartwarming reflections or emotional paeans on this Father’s Day, 2012. Maybe a hesitant “I loved you, Pop” will tide me over until next year.
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.