My Father, Bàba, in Proverbs

Remembering our roots

Jen Soong
Gay Mag
Published in
16 min readMar 30, 2020

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Illustration by Carmen Johns

1.

人不可忘本。
One should not forget one’s roots.

My father, Bàba 爸爸, is an electrical engineer by training, a precise man who wore neatly pressed suits and silk ties to work for thirty years at a phone company. He taught me, an only child, to be careful and methodical. Read manuals first and always, always follow rules. An immigrant who came to America from Taiwan in 1956, he took classes to reduce his accent. Like clockwork every few weeks, he tightened my glasses with a tiny screwdriver and polished my white Capezio shoes, a pungent scent, like gasoline tinged with chewing gum, filling our kitchen.

My memory flickers between two stations. There’s the father I want to remember. My dad taught me to ride a pink Strawberry Shortcake bike. On weekends, we would bike together through the neighborhood. To get up steep hills, he used to tow me with a rope tied between our bikes. He liked to take me to fly kites at the park and every Friday we would slurp down milkshakes after gymnastics. He heated up TV dinners and we ate off tray tables watching Jeopardy! while my mother worked late hours as a computer programmer. Even though he didn’t say “I love you” often, I knew it through his actions.

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Jen Soong
Gay Mag

NorCal writer. Tin House and VONA alum. Published in WaPo, The Audacity, Witness. Memoir-in-progress reckoning with migration and myth. www.jensoong.com