11 August 2015

The Birthright

“Nobody’s Perfect.”

This was the line that echoed throughout my childhood. My sister and I had matching nighties with this phrase emblazoned on them. One evening, my three-year-old sibling put hers on backwards. She grinned and said, “Nobody’s Perfect!”

Imperfection runs amok in society, but we try our damnedest to cloak it … mask it … shroud it … bury it.

I was once someone’s secret, the personified shame of some encounter. I am still hidden, but there are now more treasures to be found.

Many times in my life, my father reminded me of the country from which I came. He gave me his 1961 Korean dictionary. He sought out Korean restaurants. He insisted I read books on the post Korean War Comfort Women. The latter always disturbed me. It was as though I had insulted him for dismissing a book I couldn’t stomach at the time.

When my son was seven weeks old, my mother suffered a stroke. This event brought our small family together; my parents had been legally separated for more than 18 years. On our first evening together, my sister, my father, my infant son and I shared a hospital hospitality room.

As a new mother, I couldn’t settle my son down. His infant screams were piercing. We all tried various tricks, but nothing worked. Suddenly, my father shouted, “Can you shut that baby up?!”

My sister quickly whisked my father out the room. The outburst seemed to work, and I was able to eventually calm my child. Sobbing uncontrollably and asking for my forgiveness, my father re-entered the room. I tried to calm him and told him not to worry, that we all were tired and stressed, but he kept insisting that he was a bad man and that my sister and I had no idea what a bad person he was.

This scene always lingered with me. My heart broke for my father. He turned around and cared for my mother until her death some eight months later. She fell in love with him all over again as he made her every meal for the remainder of her life.

Last summer, as I searched for my birth mother, my father called me each morning to check in and see what I had done. He was living vicariously through me as I enjoyed the experience of being Korean in Korea. The day I visited my agency to receive nothing, I begged him to come to Korea with me and help me by asking on my behalf for my file. His response was peculiar … “They didn’t tell me anything either.”

When my father died in January, my heart broke into an infinite number … I felt fully alone in my quest. My most fervent supporter was gone.

Five months later, I discovered the cornerstone, the piece that fit all the others together. My father had been stationed in Korea. In my mind, this fact was the reason why he loved Korea, longed for it and was so determined to keep me Korean. I was his connection to a time that meant a great deal to him.

I unearthed that his connection to Korea went beyond me and my connection. He had a secret too. He fathered a son. Somewhere in Korea or beyond is a Korean Puerto Rican who has my identity as his birthright.

Brother/Uncle, we will soon be in Korea to search for you as well …

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