My Dad, Harry: A Father’s Day Tribute

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By Esther Yang

Photos courtesy of Esther Yang

Feature from the Roosevelt Island Daily News

I was adopted when I was eight years old. My adoptive father, Harry, was a rodeo champion, a police officer and a Navy man. Since it’s Father’s Day today, I’m writing about my hero. I wrote about my biological and adoptive moms last Mother’s Day.

I was a stranger to my adoptive parents, and yet out of pure love they adopted my seven brothers and me. Yup, all eight of us. My mom was a young widow, and, out of her unconditional love, felt our lives would be better with my adoptive parents — Marj and Harry. My biological mom was right. My adoptive parents made sure to include my biological mother in everything. My brothers and I were lucky to have biological and adoptive parents who adored and loved us.

Harry was the best dad. He always taught me life skills. I was deeply terrified of swimming. Harry swam next to me to the deep end and the shallow end, back and forth until I was a “duck in water,” as he put it. He made sure I knew how to float on my back in case I got too exhausted from swimming. My daughter and I are certified scuba divers now, taught many of my students how to swim, and can do handstands in the pool, all because of Harry.

Our house had the most games and snacks. Harry wanted my friends to be in our house instead of me going to their houses. He made sure we had the best healthy snacks, the nicest ping-pong tables, the coolest board games. He made the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich and BLT sandwich.

He was loving, yet strict. We had to be home for dinner and didn’t answer the phone at dinnertime. We only had one TV, in our family room, and we all learned to negotiate with one TV and one phone. When all my friends had their own phones in their room, Harry didn’t want to hear my plea about why I must have my own phone in my room. We had one phone and one TV and everyone came home for dinner. Those were the house rules. Simple and basic that encouraged all of us to communicate and to bond.

Harry taught me how to drive and parallel park. I must have ruined so many garbage cans from the parallel parking lessons. But Harry was always patient.

He was very funny: He would walk around and say, “I need to lie down and let the blood flow back to my brain.” And when I asked him why, he said, with a straight face, “I am beginning to understand you.” LOL!

He was the first one up, made coffee for everyone, and drank his coffee black. I used to work in the bakery as a teenager, so I would be up with him bright and early. Looking back, I cherished those morning moments with Harry before everyone was up and it was just the two of us at the kitchen table.

Thanksgiving was another tradition that Harry made. No female members of the family were allowed to be in the kitchen. All my brothers and uncles and, of course, Harry made the turkey, gravy, his famous stuffings and open-faced apple pies. They cooked and cleaned. We loved it.

Given the increase of Asian l violence, public safety is my main issue, as I am running for District Leader. I learned this from Harry as well.

Never cheapen your values, be whiter than snow and share your kindness even to the underserving – he would say to me when I had arguments with my friends or when I was feeling down, Harry would say, think about it tomorrow — problems will work themselves out when the sun is out.

Harry passed away from esophageal cancer. Not a day passes that I don’t think about Harry. People said that time heals all wounds. They lied. I miss Harry. I miss everything about him: his humor, his constant protection, his wisdom and his phone calls to check in on me. I am at the age when deaths happen more often, but Harry also taught me, “Mortality makes us appreciate life and the people close to us even more.”

This Father’s Day, hug your dad, adoptive dad, uncles, and father figures even tighter, because life is incredibly short. Celebrate the day — not just today, every day. Harry made me feel that every day is Christmas, Thanksgiving, a birthday, a day of celebration not just for one day.

It’s a day late, but Happy Father’s Day to all of you and many many more.

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