It’s 10:30 PM, and I’m filming my father in his pajamas on a beaten-down coach. The screaming Karaoke sounds blare through the night from beneath us. My father, however, is nonplussed. He’s strumming his guitar, playing some strings that he picked up on his own, looking at me through the camera — expectant. With nervous eyes, tells, he never has had formal training and yet he plays it like an expert.
This is my father at 83, playing some serenades for me after a long dinner. I am 40, here on the weekend visiting. The camera is turned on, so I can ask him about all of his past lives: the time he met Westmoreland, shook hands with Ngo Dinh Diem, had girlfriends besides my mother, was sexually accosted by male supervising French officer, and how he was a failure in society and in his family, but that he tried his best to be a virtuous person, a person with integrity, he keeps telling me. He is a natural in front of the camera.
Growth is this moment in our relationship between my father and I. Filming him at 40, I was able to catch the laughter that erupted from his mouth in ways that I’ve never witnessed before. Filming him I saw him talk volubly about his resentment towards the Americans, admiration for the French, and animosity for the Communists. Growth is my understanding of my father as a person who has many lives, all of which have been limned with both sadness and sorrow, deprivation and Catholic devotion. Growth is the understanding of the person who he was and of the reasons for why he — 40 years before – brutally used to beat sense into his sons and daughter in the hopes that we would follow his lead. Growth is knowing that he is walking slowly towards mortality and that he cannot do anything more than what he has already done.