Monday night I was chatting with my dad about how grandpa was going to be visiting him in Beijing in a few months. He mentioned that grandpa had given me a ton of money for my wedding and that he’s so happy I’ll be married. That was so sweet of him. In my family, money is not really important – it exchanges hands rather freely and nobody hoards it all selfishly. Everyone earns their keep and family members help each other out as needed. The giving of money is really more symbolic than anything. It’s such a touching thing for my grandpa to give me money because he wants to celebrate. It’s completely unnecessary but a really nice gesture. I don’t know why it affects me so much, but it had me gushing tears.
For some reason, whenever I talk to my dad about my grandpa, I get all teary. It’s this crazy weird emotional thing where all the joy of unspoken love is just too much to keep inside.
My grandpa is undoubtedly the patriarch of our family. He is the father to four grown children, each with 2 kids of their own (well, except my father, with just me). We grew up having family gatherings each summer to celebrate his birthday. It was always a big deal, and we’d so some of the traditional Chinese things, like offer a peach bun. My cousins and I would sit at the children’s table as the adults marveled at the years gone by (and how big we were all getting). I always was meeting new relatives at these things (someone from each family including his nieces and nephews had to send a representative to be respectful to my grandfather, after all).
As a child, I would only spend a few months in China before returning to my American life. Most of my time I did not get to spend with family. What precious time I did have I wanted to hang out with my cousins (they were more fun, you see). I never sat with grandpa and had long chats or got to know what was in his mind or heart. We just aren’t that type of family. I have a deep respect and love for him that doesn’t require me to spend tons of time with him or say certain things just to feel or express it. He sits in the tenderest part of my heart.
One year when I went back to China, I was presented with an essay he’d written. In his 80s, he decided to put together a little summary of our family history. He outlined his family lineage all the way through to my cousins and their children. It was such a precious thing. My aunt sat with me and patiently helped me read through it (my Chinese isn’t great, but manageable). Maybe I get my sentimentality from him. That’s exactly the sort of thing I like, knowing some of our past. Now I have a full account of his parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren. It was then that I learned that I would have had another uncle, but he drowned as a child. Wow – the quietest bombshell ever.
Sometimes I do ache for the time that we could have spent together. What would it have been like to grow up being able to visit all the time? What I do know of him is that he loved raising birds. Whenever I was there, he was always checking on his birds, making sure they were doing well. He was enterprising too – in retirement, he found activities to keep his mind sharp even as his body started to weaken. He’s a bit deaf and his eyes are getting droopy, but he’s still got his mind and that’s a blessing.
I see him clearly in my dad and uncle, and maybe that’s why I have similar feelings about my dad. As the only male I grew up with, he was somewhat intimidating but a strong figure I respected. We are not much into expressing ourselves, but in adulthood we’ve started to explore ways to be more affectionate. Funny enough, digital interaction has allowed us to open up more. When I see him I see all the sacrifice, the hard work that he has given. It’s so touching how much he has done to make my life far less difficult. I don’t see him much, but he’s certainly in my heart too.
My father and grandfather’s actions are so subtle in their love that many may miss or dismiss it. But for me, they speak volumes. Ours are not relationships of hugs, praise, and hoopla. It is a quiet, joyous love that touches the heart deeply. And sometimes that’s a little overwhelming.