I have long suspected that my father, featured in my last column, is a fairly unique sort even among quirky immigrant dads. I offer as evidence his intense, long-held antipathy towards the animal kingdom. For instance, one time my stepmother mentioned in passing that he had recently thrown a brick at a squirrel. When I asked my dad why he did this, he replied that it was “not a brick, it were a large piece of wood.” Oh, okay then.
Ever since emigrating to the US, my dad has aggressively bought into the American dream. Specifically, the aspect of the dream that entails ownership of an immaculately maintained yard. When he is not tinkering with thrifted appliances or writing irate letters to the Kansas state attorney general, he spends his remaining free time on the upkeep of this yard. It is pristine, free of weeds and other irregularities. The McMansions of my dad’s current neighborhood, with their expansive golf-course lawns, just do not exist in Vietnam, or anywhere else outside of American suburbia, really. In this area, at least, my dad has assimilated perfectly.
I had grown up desperately wanting a cat or rabbit or some other impractical pet, but my dad was absolutely against the idea. Animals are just potential sources of terror in my father’s realm of order and tidiness. Well, so are children, really, but we stopped being threats once we left the nest. Since then, my dad has been free to maintain and defend his realm by whatever means necessary. Any trespassers that cross over into its boundaries are subject to immediate expulsion, typically by shovel. Now, expulsion via shovel varies in severity of enforcement. An opossum that had the temerity to threaten my dad’s artfully-planted phlox experienced a sound whacking. Whereas a few box turtles passing through, on their way to a nearby creek, were simply scooped up and flung over the fence. I sometimes reflect that this was a thing that actually happened, and wonder what these turtles must have felt, as they were flying through the air for the first and last time in their (probably much abbreviated) lives.
My dad has always been creative in coming up with defense schemes for the yard. Once, when I came home for a visit during my college years, I pulled up while my dad was (surprise) out working in the yard. While waiting for him to finish trimming the hedges and acknowledge that I had arrived, I stood around and surveyed his handiwork. He had installed a decorative lamppost and had planted several new flowers in the bed surrounding it. A large beetle, its body roughly the size of an oblong quarter, dangled from the lamppost, seemingly caught in a web. But something about it looked a little off. Upon closer examination, it was not spidersilk that had ensnared the poor beetle, but a long piece of red sewing thread, tied in a precise knot around one of the beetle’s legs.
Taken aback, I looked at the beetle again. It was definitely not a rubber toy beetle, but a real beetle corpse. “Dad,” I said, once there was a pause in the trimmer noise and he could hear me, “what is this?”
“What? Oh, that,” he said, looking over at it. “I hung it up as example to the other bugs. Stay away from my property!” He laughed maniacally as he revved up the trimmer again.
In college and afterwards, I would make an effort to visit my dad at least once every few months, until I packed up and moved to the other side of the planet to teach English for a couple of years. Neither my dad nor I are really good phone or Skype people, so I didn’t see much of him at all during those years. When I came back from traveling, I stayed at his house for a couple of months to regroup and strategize the next part of my life.
One day, I returned home from shopping, noticing that my dad was – per usual – out in the backyard, engaged in some mysterious yardly task. I thought nothing of it, until my stepmom called me to look out the window. Beside the fence marking my father’s property, there sat a big bucket, and next to it, a duck.
Uh oh, I thought. “Uhh … what is Dad going to do to that duck?”
My stepmom laughed, for she had the same thought. “He’s trying to help it!”
Ehh? This seemed very unlikely. I went outside and discovered that this duck was missing part of one leg, and was quacking in distress. My dad had filled the bucket with some water, and was trying to steer the duck towards the bucket. He rummaged around in his garage for material to build it a house, while I tried unsuccessfully to reach Animal Control for assistance.
“Listen, Dad, I think we should just probably let the duck do its thing,” I said, figuring it was a goner. There were cats in the neighborhood. The duck looked simultaneously terrified and pissed off, and highly resistant to our attempts to help it.
But he went to go put out a dish of assorted nuts and seeds for it anyhow, and I went back indoors, truly baffled at this change in character. Had my dad softened his stance towards the animal kingdom in my absence?
“You know, he is doing this for you,” my stepmom said, as we watched my dad run back and forth between the duck and the garage with various items to coax it towards the bucket of water, which my dad had deemed necessary for its survival.
“Yeah! He knows you love animals. And he is so happy to have you home.”
Oh. That was unexpected. For my dad, who’s not a big “feelings sharer,” this was effectively a big hug and a banner displaying in huge writing: “I love you and I missed you, now please don’t go live on the other side of the planet for years any more, mmkay?”
The duck had disappeared by the following sunrise. I do not know whether it got raptured by cat, or somehow managed to fly off with half-a-leg missing. But at least it was spared the shovel.
(Of course, he could not have foreseen that his daughter would shortly become a willing vanquisher of ducks. Which is way more aligned with my dad’s sensibilities than any of my previous pastimes. Hence, I begrudgingly admit there might be some truth to the idea that we turn into our parents as we get older.)
Kim Le is a writer and shiftless gadabout who hails from the distant wheat fields of Kansas. Obsessions include sustainability, yurts and extreme DIY. Also, she makes sculptures out of food, mostly potatoes. She never updates her blog at http://badmetaphor.net.