Track 77 — I Write the Songs

I remember writing a poem about six months after my brother and I had moved to Taiwan. I don’t know the words that were written, nor do I have a copy of the poem with which to refresh my aging memory; nevertheless, I do recall what the ode was about. My hands. I can also recollect why the poem was written. I had looked down at my hands one afternoon (Don’t ask me why.) and was stunned by what I saw. These were no longer the hands of the boy who had come to Taiwan a few months before. These were now the hands of a man. At some point during my first summer in the country, I had stepped away from the child that had always peered back at me from deep within gleaming mirrors and glossy photos. I had somehow transformed into the man that I was meant to become.

It was about time.

I was twenty-six years old after all. I had already finished both an undergrad and a law degree. I should have made the mental leap into manhood years before. You’d think. But, as with many things in my life, I was a bit slow to get things done. I know for certain that there is a story to be told explaining why it took so long for my self-perception to catch up to my years; however, that is for another time. Another post. Another revelation.

Or not.

As often as I have been writing recently, it is possible that I will never get around to hitting publish on that one. Then again, you never know. For now, however, I am quite content to just share a few words in dedication to the spark of man who helped me to realize that I was more than just a boy.

My dad.

His are the hands which held me when I needed to be held, carried me when I needed to be carried, and pushed me when I need to be pushed. His are the hands which led me through Beavers, Cubs and Scouts. They taught me to give, receive and more importantly to share. His are the hands which pushed record at every play, concert, or performance that I was ever in. They are also the hands that could be heard the loudest when the recording was done. His are the hands that built bunk-beds, toy tractors and go-karts for fun. They are also the hands that taught us how to play with his creations. Oh, how they loved to play. His are the hands that waved playfully in the air as he tried to convince me that he could fly. They moved with such childlike precision that I was sure he could. His are the hands that were never violent or full of spite. Instead they were always open, ready to embrace. His are the hands that I often reached for when in need. There was never a doubt that they would be there for help, support and guidance. His are the hands that picked me up when I was down and raised me even higher when I was up. They are the strongest I have ever known. His are the hands that have stayed locked within those of my mother, pampering, nurturing and loving. They do everything that a husband’s hands should do. His are the hands of a father, a friend and a husband. His are the hands of a man. His are the hands that I was finally starting to see as I looked down at my own

Ironically, it took me moving halfway around the earth to make this connection with my father. It was during my parents’ first visit to Taiwan as we were sitting at a restaurant counter eating teppanyaki when I first started to truly listen to what he had to say. It was the first time that I felt as though I was interacting with my father on an even level. It was the first time that I felt like a man.

And now, on his seventieth birthday (Actually his birthday was on April 26. As I said above, I am a bit slow to get things done.) I figured it was about time to thank my father for all that he has shown me, taught me, given me. His are the hands which I will continue to hold with love, pride and thanks. His are the hands which I hope to pass on to my own children as they continue to grow. His are the hands.

I Write the Songs, by Barry Manilow, is one of the many songs that has been with me for as long as I can remember. It has been on every playlist that my dad has ever made and it has been blasted in every car that he has ever driven. As much as I make fun of my father for his affinity towards Mr. Manilow, his songs bring with them the visions of my dad and more importantly, the warmth of his touch.

Happy birthday, Pops! I love ya!

I Write the Songs youtube link

Track 58 — Firework

Late Sunday morning I found myself sitting on a long, rounded bench bordering a small rollerblading park in Nanliao. I watched intently as Siaya slowly made her way around the cemented area, proud that she was becoming more comfortable with an activity she had only recently begun to enjoy. On about her fifth lap, she rolled up to me and said that she had something for me. Intrigued, I watched as she reached into her bag that was lying at my feet and pulled out a Chinese exercise book, a pencil and a sheet of paper.

“Write about me while I rollerblade. Or draw a picture of me. Whatever.”

Shocked, I looked at my daughter (She is seven, by the way.) and simply repeated her request. (Or was it a demand?) She reaffirmed the fact that she wanted me to record that moment on paper and pushed off towards the center of the track again. I looked down at the instruments she had just placed in my lap, back up at her, shook my head and just smiled.

I didn’t ask for any clarification and so I don’t know if she had thought that I was bored watching her do laps, if this had been her way of interacting with me while she was exercising by herself or if she had simply wanted to ensure that she remained at the center of my universe. (It was probably the latter of the three.) Nevertheless, I obediently picked up the pencil and began to scribble notes on the paper. I figured I hadn’t written a post in a while so that was as good a time as any to start my blog back up again. Actually, it was the perfect time. Siaya had just handed me that ever elusive spark of inspiration on a silver platter; or in this case on the Chinese book which she had so thoughtfully provided as a board on which to write.

As I started scribbling notes on the blank sheet of paper in front of me, my thoughts immediately drifted back to the reason why we were in Nanliao in the first place; why I had refused Siaya’s request to watch cartoons that morning; why I had insisted that we go outside immediately after breakfast; why I had felt the urgent need to get Siaya outside and exercising.

I started jotting down notes about how I feared my daughter might be lazy and unmotivated to exercise. I continued by writing about how much she had complained the day before about the soreness in her legs and how she had pleaded with us to allow her to sit and rest after having had to endure a long and arduous forty-five minute walk. I began to fill the page with notes about how other kids had been running around the park beside us laughing and playing with their parents while Siaya grumbled and complained about too much exercise. I noted how we scolded her for being so whiny and told her to suck it up. My words rambled on to the bottom part of the paper about my own childhood and how I used to be outside running, riding my bike and playing with my friends every afternoon, never once complaining about sore, aching legs.

And then, before going any further with my wordy rant, I looked up. I’m glad I did. What I saw made me put down my pencil and put a little more thought into what I was attempting to write. At least twenty minutes had gone by since I had begun writing and Siaya was still at it, persistently trying to find a way to get a bit more roll into her steps. The same little girl who had whined for at least twenty minutes the day before about her sore legs had circled that track an endless amount of times with not so much as a peep. Not even to ask for some water. It didn’t take long for me to realize that although the words I had written were not words wasted, they were anything but an accurate representation of the truth.

And so I started to contemplate things without the aide of Siaya’s pencil. I drifted back once again to the day before only this time I focused more specifically on the reason why we had been walking the streets of Hsinchu. Siaya had been tagging along as Rachel and I searched for a new location in which to base our school. For about two and a half hours we had looked for red rental signs stuck to vacant windows, called realtors and landlords and checked out the inside of buildings. Of course, Siaya’s achy soreness had had nothing to do with her being lazy. She had simply been bored. The pain she had been feeling was the same ache that seems to possess my legs every time I go shopping with my wife. I am more fatigued after walking twenty minutes in a mall than I am after jogging twelve kilometers through the city. The only difference between my daughter and I is that I am not seven. I have enough experience to know and understand the repercussions of complaining while my wife is shopping. (See Track 41 – She Will Be Loved.) Siaya obviously needs to learn and master the skills of quiet discontentment.

As I continued to think about what I had written, I soon recognized how unfair and unreasonable it had also been for me to compare my childhood to Siaya’s. Siaya is growing up living in an apartment building on a busy road in Hsinchu. I could write a post on the dangers of allowing a seven year old to roam the streets of Taiwan alone. Needless to say her stepping out by herself to ride her bike or play with her friends isn’t an option right now. Compounded upon that is the sad fact that she doesn’t have any friends living close by and we aren’t in walking distance from a park. Even if I had time to take her to the park after school (Which I unfortunately don’t.), most of her friends have afternoon classes and thus have no time to hang out. Siaya’s only real chance to get out and enjoy the sun is when Rachel and I are able to take her out on the weekends. And when we take her out, she plays.

“And so,” I thought to myself as she finally skated over to me ready to call it quits for the day, “What was my point?” I didn’t have an answer. At the time, I had nothing left to write. I simply helped my daughter out of her blades, picked up the ball we had brought with us and started to play catch with her. We followed that with a small walk to the nearby fish market where we shared a barbecued squid and some orange juice. From there we made our way over to the park where we climbed trees and played on the exercise equipment. She showed off how flexible she was and I proved how stiff I had become. We finished off the morning with a long ride in a paddle boat complimented with an easy conversation about nothing in particular and everything in general.

And what is my point now? To be honest, I am still a little unsure. What I do know is that I need to be a little more empathetic to my daughter at times. I need to do my best to look for and tackle the reasons behind her inappropriate behaviors and look for ways to stop them before they start. I am also positive that my daughter is not lazy. Stubborn: yes. Precocious: yes. Vociferous: yes. A blast to be with: absolutely and positively, yes.

Firework, by Katy Perry, is one of the many songs that Siaya has learned vicariously through my wife and me. She has heard it in the car, on our i-pods or on the radio often enough so that she knows most of the words by heart. It has obviously made an impact on her as I often hear her singing it to herself as she is getting dressed, playing with her toys or just bumming around the house. I just hope that she is listening to the lyrics she is singing and understands how true they are of her. Then again, the mere fact that she pretty well instructed me to write this post shows me that she is well aware of the fact that she is and always will be a firework.

Firework youtube link:

Track 39 – Forever Young

I cringe every time Siaya tells me that she can’t wait to grow up. This seems a little hypocritical since I know for a fact that I was the same when I was younger. I can remember wishing for two or three years to instantly pass me by so I could receive the same privileges as my older brother. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to empathize with her feelings. The pictures that cover our walls and fill our computers are a constant reminder of how fast time seems to slip away. To me there is no reason to justify quickening its pace. So I simply explain to her that she won’t have as much time to play when she gets older. This is usually all it takes for her to change her mind and agree that staying young is the best course. At least it is until the next time there is a reason to suddenly grow up.

And the fact is, Siaya will grow up. The past seven years have sailed by in a flurry and I am sure that the next few years will zip by just as fast. (Too fast for me.) She will continue to grow and become more independent. Dolls and crayons will be replaced with more mature games and toys. She will stop wanting to crawl into our bed at night and spend more time on her own. As she moves into her teens her attention will start to focus on things away from our family life. All I can hope is that she will strive to maintain her youthful demeanor and not feel the need to grow up beyond her years.

If Siaya is anything like her father, (God Forbid!) she will hit her stride during her late teens and feel as if time is standing still. She will suddenly have the freedom to make most of her own decisions without having the pressures of adulthood to weigh her down. I pray that she will have the strength and courage to make the ‘right’ decisions and hold on to a small piece of the child that she is today. As the world pushes her to grow and change she needs to struggle against the current and preserve a piece of her youthful purity.

Seasons will come and go and I know in my heart that Siaya will become the woman that she is meant to be. I trust that she will grow into herself with an insight and understanding of who she is and how she fits into the world around her. I am optimistic that she will be happy with the beauty that she embodies inside and out because she will have grown up staying young.

Fortunately, however, my little girl is still seven. Siaya continues to ask me to read to her, play with her and tuck her in at night. She looks at me with the same eyes that gaze back upon her, full of a love that is pure and infinite.  And as I encourage my little sweet pea to blossom and become more independent, in my heart she will remain beside me holding my hand, knocking on our door at night and remaining forever young.

(Forever Young, by Rod Stewart, brings me back to grade twelve, the beginning of a chapter in my life that I call, ‘Being Stupid’. (But that is another story.) This song marks a period when I felt as if time were standing still. I was wrong; however, I never lost my sense of youth. And now, fatherhood has given these lyrics a whole new depth of meaning that truly is forever!)

Forever Young youtube link

Track 17 – Father to Son

I have never been one to talk about my feelings especially when they involve sadness. I’m all for the hugs, but spoken words just seem to get in the way of my emotion. Recently, life has thrown my family a bit of an unfair curveball that has left the three of us having to deal with a lot of pain and confusion. Unable to talk about my pain, I have decided to take a leap of faith and put it out there in writing. A recent blog posting by XENOGIRL called A letter from my future self (A great read if you are so inclined.) gave me the inspiration to write this post. So…

 My child,

We saw your heartbeat the other day. I remember being engulfed in a warm rush of excitement as I sat listening to the rhythmic sound of you. There you were, alive and well in your mother’s womb. I squeezed your mother’s leg, looked into her eyes and smiled. You were real. The doctor pointed to a second sac and informed us that you were originally a twin. Like me, I thought, you must have been the stronger of the two. The doctor then printed out an ultrasound picture and handed it to me. I stroked the glossy image and felt the blood rush back to my head as I touched you for the first time. You never have to fear, my baby – you were loved.

We left the doctor’s office and headed straight for the temple. Mommy wanted to say a prayer for you. I followed her lead as we lit sweetly scented incense, bowed and asked the Gods for nothing more than your health and happiness. We threw small packs of spirit money into a small pagoda outside the temple and briefly watched the flames engulf our offerings. Your mother pressed her hands together in a final prayer and we drove straight to your A-ma’s house eager to surprise your sister. You never have to fear, my baby – you were in our prayers.

More than anything, Siaya had wanted a baby brother or sister. You were hidden in the smoke of every birthday candle she ever blew out and in the twinkle of every star she wished upon. You can imagine then the squeals of delight, excitement and happiness that poured out of her and filled the house when she found out about you. You never have to fear, my baby – you were wanted.

Although, your mommy and I didn’t really start preparing for your arrival, your sis went on a rampage. She removed her old baby books from her bookshelf and began wrapping them as presents for you. (A small pile still sits untouched underneath the bar.) We had to convince her that wrapping a present a day for seven months might not be a prudent thing to do considering the size of our apartment. We negotiated to a gift a week. You never have to fear, my baby – you were in our thoughts.

You must have heard our voices as we read you stories. You must have felt our love as we kissed every day. You must have understood our excitement as we began telling people of our news. You must have sensed our impatience as we waited for seven months to come and go. You never have to fear, my baby – you were ours.

Until the doctor showed us you were gone. You had to have felt our hearts break in unison as we looked upon the dark screen. The same screen that was pulsating with life only a few weeks before. You had to have heard the sorrow erupting from your sister as I held her tightly in my arms trying desperately to ease her pain. You must feel the vacancy and ache that you have left in our hearts. And you must see the tears I am shedding as I write you this. You never have to fear, my baby – you are and forever will be ours.

Love,

Dad

Siaya always thought our baby would be a boy. And so track 17, Father to Son, by Phil Collins is in memory of…

Father to Son youtube link

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDX41GcA1PA