By Crystal Chen
It was 3 a.m. I was the only one awake, and the smell of smoke filled the house. I rushed to wake Dad up, and he jumped out of bed, sprinting to check the stove and balcony. After a thorough examination of our kitchen, he concluded that it was the smell of incense from a nearby temple, probably following a tradition for the lunar ghost month.
Unlike me, Dad is not afraid of movies about ghosts. He’s not afraid of movies about zombies or witches or anything of the sort. In his calm and collected voice, he explained to me that he’s only scared of criminal/psychological thrillers. He pointed out those are the types of things that can happen to any of us.
Over dinner, Dad recounted details from news reports of the Setagaya family murder in Tokyo, Japan from the year 2000. The perpetrator slipped in through an open bathroom window and strangled and stabbed the parents and two young children to death. The killer remained in the house for many more hours afterwards, using their computer, eating ice cream from their fridge and napping on their couch. The perpetrator’s DNA evidence provided some genetic insight, but investigators were unable to find a match in the database. To this day, the case remains unsolved.
It was another 3 a.m. between online classes from Taiwan. Trying not to wake my parents up, I quietly grabbed my sister (who was oddly also awake) to deal with a cockroach hanging out in the dining area. The situation descended into chaos. We dumped two bottles of soap water on the cockroach and let out a scream when it escaped to the wine cabinet.
Hearing the scream, Dad bursted out of his room, eyes wide with terror and anger and a pillow in his hand, yelling “SHEI (WHO’S THERE)?”
At that moment, I understood. His fear of criminal/psychological thrillers was intermixed with his fierce desire to protect his loved ones. Bravery lay beneath the terror in his eyes as he stood unwavering in the doorway. This was a father who would willingly stand in harm’s way, even with only a pillow in his right hand, to take care of his daughters and wife. I can’t determine what went through his head, but he shouted “who’s there?” preparing for the worst and ready to defend us from whatever or whoever may come his way. In times of perceived crises, I found my father instinctively venturing to the front lines of danger in the name of love.
I was reminded again of how often I take unconditional familial love for granted. I can’t recall the last time my father said the words “I love you” or even a casual “miss you” or “love ya.” In fact, as with many other Asian families, it’s rare to hear expressions of affection. Growing up, I acquainted myself with implicit love. From weaving fantastical bedtime stories to surprising my sister and me with homemade Shepherd’s Pie once every few weeks, my father nurtured a loving home without explicitly telling us so. When unconditional love remains so quiet, I find myself forgetting to appreciate it, treating family movie nights and Saturday road trips as a given. Experiencing this powerful moment reminded me once again that the love that exists in our family persists, and I’ll never take this unconditional familial love for granted again.
Contact Crystal Chen at chen1130 ‘at’ stanford.edu.