Ever since I was a teenager, I’d tried not to be like my dad.
Motivated by his alcoholism, I took my last drink at 17 and haven’t had a sip for 15 years. Where he’s slow to say, “I love you,” I end every conversation with a family member or best friend by using it. Marriage and fatherhood came early for him and, for most of my 20’s, I used my career as an excuse for distancing myself from meaningful relationships. Yet, despite all those years trying not to be like him, I’d ended up exactly where he was after my parents divorced: alone. So, I went to visit him in Bangkok.
As soon as I got off the plane I knew I was in another world. The sounds, the pace, the fashion, the vibe; everything was different. Thankfully, I figured out how to get through customs and made my way to the greeting area where I saw Pops. We were both smiling from ear to ear as we gave each other a long hug.
It’d been about a year since I’d seen him but we’re way closer now than during my childhood. While divorces are traumatizing for many kids, I thought it was a blessing (even as a 7th grader). Instead of being a husband and running a household, he could focus solely on his alcohol issues and building better relationships with my brother and me.
He’s lived in Bangkok for more than a decade but he visits a couple of times a year and we stay in touch through phone calls, texts, and emails. Yet, there was still a lot I had to get off my chest. Little did I know, he had even more to tell me. But we’d have plenty of time for that over the next 2 weeks. So, we spent the first night in a hotel room near the airport catching up and cracking jokes.
The next morning, we started our journey to Dad’s neighborhood in Bangkok. He stays in the city so the pace and crowded nature took getting used to. But, the energy is exciting and I adapted quickly to my surroundings. I got my grub on, worked out at a small gym for locals, and met my dad’s friends while checking out different parts of the city. After a few days there, Pops and I went for a walk. Our plan was to grab a bite to eat. Luckily, we made it to the restaurant just before monsoon rains lit up the pavement.
It was as if God said, “Time to talk, fellas.” As the sky opened up and let out everything it had, so did we. While I said a lot, he said even more. I had the relationship experience to understand where he was coming from and, sensing that, Pops shared more than he ever had. From frustrations with his career and my mom, to his shortcomings as a father, he finally gave me an uncut look into why he felt overwhelmed at times. Meanwhile, I was able to thank him for being a great provider. My brother and I grew up in nice homes and went on to college because of sacrifices he made. But, I also told him how much it hurt to be in the same room as a young boy and feel like he wasn’t even in the same city. There was a disconnect that, over the past 2 decades, had weakened but we still didn’t have the father-son connection I’d always yearned for. As we both teared up, my hand grasped his. In a way, I was meeting my father for the first time.
I’d spent so long trying not to be like my dad without taking the time to learn his perspective.
After what seemed like 2 hours, we left to enjoy the rest of our night. But, we pledged to have real conversations the rest of the trip. And we did. Whether it was in Bangkok, the beaches of Phuket and Phi Phi Island, or Kanchanaburi; we took time to share.
Did we have disagreements during the rest of the trip? Absolutely. We’re still different people from different generations who like things certain ways. But I flew back to the U.S. with way more than just priceless memories. I’d left all of my pent-up frustration in Thailand, while gaining a clear picture of why my father is who he is. And there are parts of him I aspire to be like one day.
I love you, dad. – Kevin