A Father’s Fear
I saw them again. It’s not the first time and, by now, there isn’t any doubt left in my mind. I know the truth, even if he hasn’t said a word. It may not seem that way, but I know my child. He is very much like me and always has been. In this situation, it’s no different.
The first time shocked me and I convinced myself that they were only friends. Friends hug for all sorts of reasons. I told myself it was just for comfort. I knew I was lying to myself but ignored it. I had seen his face after all, that face whose expressions are so similar to my own. I saw the look he had as his hand pat the back of his friend and I knew the truth that I didn’t want to admit. After that, I paid closer attention. The more I saw, the more it confirmed something that scared me.
When I became a parent for the first time, I looked down on this small human being who had completely captured my heart and I was afraid. I was completely responsible for the first time in my life for someone other than myself. This fragile little person’s future was in my hands. It was the most frightening thing to face and, until you face it yourself, there is no way you can truly understand how your entire universe is forever changed.
When you raise your child, you try to do the best you can for them. You teach them right from wrong, how to show proper respect, and give them all the love you can. As they grow, you wish the best for them and dream about what their future will be. You work hard, day after day, to give them a better life and a better start when they grow up. In all the time and effort, you want them to grow up to be strong, caring, and decent people. This is what I had always thought.
By the time my oldest had reached high school, I wasn’t able to spend as much time at home because of my political responsibilities. It never worried me though, because Phun was growing up to be a good son, a good student, and a good person. Honestly, my daughter caused me a lot more worry but Phun was there as a good brother to guide her when I couldn’t be around. I have a weakness where my little girl is concerned because I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like. She has the sunniest spirit and I tend to give her everything she asks for and sometimes things she doesn’t. Even with my spoiling, I think Pang has the sweetest of hearts. I feel very blessed in my children.
When Phun and Noh became fast friends, I didn’t think much about it. They were suddenly spending all their free time together and I thought it was great that Phun had found someone he had connected with so well. I could easily see why both Phun and Pang adored Noh so much. He’s a good kid with a good heart and a fun personality. My wife and I both approved of him without question.
Then that day happened, the one that made me question everything. The day I saw Noh and Phun hugging on the step outside our house. Anyone else might have passed it off as being affectionate friends but, no matter what I told myself, I knew that there was more to it than that. I saw my son’s face and I saw the truth.
Soon, there was no way I could deny it, no way I could pretend different, and I admit that I panicked. This world is not kind to those they deem different. It is harsh and rarely forgiving. I didn’t want to see my precious son have to face that reality because of an ill thought out choice he’s made. He’s only a teenager and those feelings can be fleeting and sometimes meaningless. I thought if I showed him a different path, an easier and more accepted path, that he would do as I had planned for him like he always has done. I thought that those feelings he had would fade away and he would fall in line. I thought so many things on my own.
In thinking that I was right and that my plan for his life was the best for him, I pressed forward with confidence. I did not expect him to fight back. I did not expect his anger or his pain. I did not expect the tears in his eyes as he ran to his room, to Noh who was waiting for him.
My son who has always done as I wished, no matter what it was, had vanished. In his stead stood a young man full bitterness. He spat words at me like poison and each one found their mark. My defenses were up and I spoke harshly, demanding his obedience. His last statement before he stormed away was the final blow to my fragile heart, a questioning of my worth as his parent. I collapsed once he had left the room, the heated energy evaporating and leaving me empty. The only thought left in my mind was to wonder how it had come to this when all I wanted was what was best for him.
We spoke one more time after that night but the words were few and razor sharp. Neither of us wanted to give in. I still feared for my son’s future if he stayed on this path and I blamed Noh for leading him astray. I needed to blame someone and Noh was all too convenient, even though there was no way Phun would go along unless he wanted to. I thought Phun was blind to everything that could happen, blinded by a beautiful boy with buzzcut hair and an infectious grin. Our words were harsh again as we argued and then Phun was gone. He had run away and I was left to wallow in my anger and fear.
Days went by and my mind cleared. I thought about what was said and what I had seen. After a week had passed, I realized just how alike my son and I were. When it comes to love, we give everything. For that one person, when we find them, we can do anything and it is all-consuming and it is forever. I saw it when I looked into his eyes as he fought me over who he dates. I saw it, too, whenever he looked at Noh. That same look that I give to my beautiful wife every day of our lives. I saw it on my son’s handsome face but now I needed to be sure. I needed him to be sure.
Phun’s mother during this time has been worrying non-stop. Our arguing upset her and she hasn’t known what to do to help fix the problem. Several times this past week, I overheard her talking on the phone to Noh, asking after Phun and asking Noh to take care of him. She hasn’t said anything but I think she realized what was between those two before I did and accepted it. For her, it was an easy decision. The only thing she wants for her son is his happiness and Noh makes Phun happy. It was as simple as that. She has always been very open, caring, and understanding. It’s one of the things I love best about her and something that has made my life easier since a politician’s life is filled with all manner of people.
It is through these phone conversations, that my anger towards Noh disintegrates. Though I only heard half of what was said, I could see how much comfort that boy gave to my wife, how much she trusted him with our son. Little by little, I began to understand and accept the truth.
Another day passes by and I decide to spend the late afternoon in our garden. As I clip some excess off of one of the plants, I finally hear a boy’s voice… but it’s not my son’s. That voice means that my son is not far away though. If Noh has come to visit, then Phun is definitely with him. As happy as I am to know that he has returned, I am also extremely nervous about what will happen next so I don’t turn around as they come closer.
“I’m not going. I’m not going.” It sounds like Noh is being pulled into the garden against his will. “Phun!”
“Dad.” They stopped behind me and I pause in my clipping but don’t turn around. I can’t face him just yet.
“What is it?” My words are quiet and I anxiously wait for his reply. The seconds stretch out and I begin to wonder if he will answer.
“I’ve got a sweetheart.” His voice is calm and he doesn’t say anymore.
“Getting lost for so many days just to say this?” There needs to be more. It can’t be just this. I can’t let him go with just this.
“I was thinking about the reasons why you are doing this,” Phun says after a small pause. “Why you want me to say it. Then I understood that you love me. So, you don’t want me to end up like p’Pao who got a girl pregnant, which resulted in you and your party’s embarrassment… but then I realized that you never trusted me.”
I can hear the aggravation in his voice. He is a smart boy but he still doesn’t understand. My work was not an important issue for me, though it will probably cause me some trouble later on. Phun’s life and future is more important to me than anything else.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, but do you ever think that you are still so young? Can you two stay together for that long? And your sweetheart, how serious is that person about your relationship?” Knowing full well that the person in question is standing behind me, I still can’t let on that I know. It has to come from Phun. Noh obviously didn’t want to come here to face me and that worried me, but he is staying now without argument. How far are they willing to go? Are they really strong enough for what’s ahead? I follow the idea that my son presented, probing for answers to my questions. “I just don’t want you to end up like Pao or the journalists are gonna have fun writing about us.”
“In the end you still worry about how others will look at you, about yourself.” Phun’s disappointment is palpable.
“Everybody worries about themselves. Isn’t that the reason why you came here today, because you worry about yourself?” If he takes this step with Noh, Phun needs to understand that it will have consequences and he needs to be ready to face them. Those consequences can also involve our family and he will need to watch it happen, to stand with us to face it all.
“Yes, I worry about myself. I’m afraid I can’t stay together with the one I love.” There’s another pause as he considers his next words. “I worry that, if I tell you, I will have to break up with that person. Is that wrong?”
If he had asked me that last week, I would have agreed that they needed to break up. Last week, I was still blinded by my need to protect my little boy. Last week seems a long time ago.
“But, right now, I’m not scared and I don’t care what is waiting for me in the future.” Phun’s voice comes out firm but I still haven’t heard what I need to hear from him.
“You don’t care?” I prod him for more.
“I can’t tell you how long we will stay together or if this person is good for me but, right now, we love each other.” This is what I am waiting for and I’m tempted to turn around, but I want to hear it all without distractions. “I love this person no matter what happens. I will still love this person no matter what you do. I will still love this person no matter what the future brings. This is what I choose. You’ll never hear me say that I regret this. Never.”
There it is, the conviction. This confidence in his choice and in their love is what I needed to hear. To make absolutely sure, I dig just a bit more. “Did you think this through?”
“Yes.” He answers clearly, without hesitation.
“That’s all I wanna hear. I thought you only kept running away from problems but you’ve grown.” Setting the clippers down, I turn and face them. Phun is waiting patiently for me to continue and I can see the remnant of tears in Noh’s eyes and a quiet happiness when he glances at my son.
“I’m sorry I let you down. I just wanted you to date the girls I chose.” Setting my hand on Phun’s shoulder, I give it an affectionate squeeze as I own up to my own faults. Then I turn towards Noh and give the same gesture. This is the person my son loves and has chosen to be with, though neither has said as much, and I want to convey my acceptance in a small way to him. I can’t say it directly, but I can show my pride in both of them. “Tell his sweetheart for me that, today, he came to fight me for that person and for their love.”
“Yes.” Nodding his head, Noh appears very moved by my words and I think he may understand at least a little of what I really want to say.
“Are you spending the night?” Phun has spent too many nights away from home and we have all missed him. I have no problems keeping Noh here, if that is what it takes to see my son. Noh’s reaction is immediate and amuses me.
“No, it’s okay. I’ll just go home.” Noh answers nervously as he quickly raises his hands to wai.
“I’ll take him home.” My son says smoothly, grabbing hold of Noh’s arm before he can run away.
“Drive safely.” Noh struggles to escape and I try my hardest not to laugh at his antics.
“Well, Dad, I’ll go sleep at Noh’s place.” Phun calmly says, ignoring the wiggling boy in his grasp. They both wai and walk away with Phun slinging his arm around Noh’s shoulders. Though I am disappointed that Phun is not coming home tonight, I have to smile as I watch them leave.
Yes, that boy of mine is just like his old man. He might as well have confessed everything today with the way he was acting. After getting out what he wanted to tell me, Phun didn’t even try to hide his affection for Noh in front of me. Since he is so very much like me, that means he won’t even be able to breathe without his love by his side. Tearing Noh away from him would be akin to killing every bit of happiness inside him. I should know because I feel the same way about Phun’s mother. So, for the happiness of my son, I will support them in whatever way I can. Together, we will be strong.