My father often indulged me, to the chagrin of my mother. This included seeing movies years before I was able to appreciate the story or the subtext. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, along with Cool Hand Luke, are the movies that stick with me to this day. If you've seen either of those films you already know why they would resonate with a boy who misses his father.

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After we escaped from Laos* the days blended together like summer vacation when, as kids, you were allowed to roam the neighborhood on your bike — as long as you were in earshot of the call for lunch/dinner. This was not my existence. Mine was spent on a balcony of a Bangkok apartment calling out to people as they walked by. My only distractions were my younger brother Guillaume,** poorly crafted LEGO™ knockoffs and a Spiderman™ action-figure. It was on one of these sweltering summer*** days that my dad indulged me, in more ways than I knew at the time, in an escape from the heat and our current state of mind. 

[ See links at the end of this post for a tribute video]

It was after the fall of Saigon and the Vietnam War was coming to an abrupt close. We were in limbo. A family without a country and no immediate plans for immigration. Even at nine years old I could tell from the hushed conversations between my parents that all was not right with the world. We had traded a life of privilege for one of survival. We essentially depended on the kindness of strangers. My father would work the streets of Bangkok looking up contacts and calling in favors, in an effort to acquire the paperwork and sponsorship required to relocate us to France. Towards the end of this process, there was a day when he came home in great spirits. He told me during dinner that he had a great surprise for me. My father was so excited he couldn't contain himself. It had been months since I'd seen him this happy. During his street travels he had come across a theater showing an animated feature of my favorite super-hero: Spiderman. This was a treat just for the two of us. My mother was staying behind to care for my brother who was too young to tag along. 

The next day we walked the city of Bangkok as my father tended to his affairs. I can only imagine the difficulty of accomplishing this task with a nine year old, ADD-afflicted boy in tow. As the day drew to a close, we were hot, sweaty, and covered with the dust of the streets. It was then that my father unveiled his surprise. Imagine his disappointment when I bluntly informed him that the movie he thought showcased my favorite superhero instead starred the Thai equivalent of Mighty-Mouse. When my dad asked if I was still interested in seeing the  movie, the ungrateful imp in me yelled, "No!" I'm sure that was followed with the characteristic whining of a tired, hungry child.

My father made an immediate executive decision and that is how we ended up in the only other movie showing at the theater. The movie 'Thunderbolt & Lightfoot' starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges was not exactly children's fare. Regardless, it got us off the street, into the air-conditioned darkness of the movies and filled my wailing mouth with a cold Coca-Cola. If you've never seen the movie the plot goes as follows:

"Seven years after a daring bank robbery involving an anti-tank gun used to blow open a vault, the robbery team temporarily puts aside their mutual suspicions to repeat the crime (after they are unable to find the loot from the original heist). The hardened artilleryman (Eastwood) and his flippant, irresponsible young sidekick (Bridges) are the two wild cards in a deck of jokers." ~ • It is also a movie about, "The nature of freedom and loneliness. Youth vs age. The American dream - inverted (criminal as hero). It's the kind of movie that sticks with you. It is an unappreciated masterpiece." ~ orpheus44

This oscar-nominated movie subconsciously affected me in ways not obvious to me until I watched the film again years later. There is a running theme of honor (among thieves), genuine friendship and the support of family — no matter how unorthodox the family. I now realize that these are the same principles I applied to my current life-long friends and family members. These are people who will bail you out of jail, drive cross-country to come to your aid and loan you money without the expectation of being paid back. They are few and far in between. I am blessed to have more than my fair share.

To this day, though I own the movie on DVD, if 'Thunderbolt & Lightfoot' is playing on television I must stop to watch — even if only for a few minutes. That is all it takes to transport me back to that hot, sweaty, afternoon with my first friend and father.

Laotian Chronicles: A Life Story [ an excerpt from the novel I may never write ]

* I'll go into more detail on the 'Escape from Laos' in future posts.
** Not his real Laotian, given name.
***Actually it was late spring, since summer in Thailand & Laos is monsoon season. 

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I MISS YOU DAD (redux)

Originally written on the day after Father's Day 2009 — Republished 2010. I hope this missive is the prodding others need to realize that it's not too late to make amends. You can't choose your family but, you can choose to make the most of the time you have with them

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Forgiveness. Yesterday was the first time I didn’t feel guilty about forgetting to put a Father’s day card into the mail. For the first time in my life I didn’t need to make that call, to hear your voice, talk to you ever so briefly, before you would hand the phone to Mom — but, I wanted to.
Thats why I'm compelled to write you this letter. I don't know how the universe works but, I have faith that you'll see it.

I had breakfast with friends in Ashburn yesterday, Dad. Then I drove over to Jack's and spent the afternoon playing with my niece and catching up with Diane and her family. We had a perfect summer meal of Maryland blue crabs, steamed corn, fritters, potato salad and hard cider. Later we gathered around the fire-pit and relaxed over glasses of Prosecco. Everything was great until Jack pointed out the big dipper in the clear Bethesda sky and I began to wonder. I wondered where are you now, what were you doing and if the after-life made up for all the regrets you endured while you were here on earth. Are you with my brother and your son, Monirak? I hope so. I hope you're in a place where people are honest and true to their word. I hope you're in a place where everyone is decent and looks out for their fellow man. A place without politics, religion, pride or prejudice. Maybe in the after-life we'll pass through a cosmic customs station, turn in our religious denomination passports and on the other side realize we've all arrived in the same place — regardless of faith.

Until I see you next, I'm grateful that we got to spend time together, to talk and reminisce. Though you were deaf in one ear, I'm sure you heard everything I had to say. But, just in case you didn't Dad, I'll say the most important parts one more time:
Contrary to your own beliefs, you never disappointed me. You always thought you let me down and always wanted to find a way to make ammends. The forgiveness you sought was never given because there was never anything to forgive.

I loved that you disciplined and taught me by example, even if it took me longer than most to learn certain lessons.

I was never angry and I never had any regrets that you had sent me overseas to study at such a young age. The experience has informed me and made me everything I am today; independent, resourceful, tolerant and outspoken.

One of my happiest memories of you was when I lost your grandfather's Omega Constellation wristwatch. The watch you gave me after I graduated from VCU — the one in my possession for less than an hour. It had such sentimental value and meant so much to you. When I eventually told you, I remember you said, "Don't worry. It's just a watch."

It never bothered me that people either loved you with a passion or hated you vehemently. I know now thats how things are in politics. I know you can't please all the people all the time and you did what you thought best for your people. You never brought any of those problems home, to me you were just my Dad.

It moved me to tears that, even in your fragile state, you thought more about me than you did yourself. I still have the bracelet you gave me and I wear it often, my own buddhist talisman of happiness, health and prosperity.

I know you're gone but, here in my heart nothing has changed. I'm still holding on to you. I love you and I miss you.


Laotian Chronicles: A Life Story [ an excerpt from the novel I may never write ]