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Japanese Fathers by Bill Watanabe

My father was a little man – that is, short in stature; he stood barely over 5 feet tall but he was a strong Issei male figure in our Japanese American household.  By the time I was in middle school, I was bigger and quicker than he was but I was also taught to hold our parents in great respect so size did not matter and I always held him in high respect as if he were a giant.   Though he rarely disciplined me, I knew he was the boss of our family and I cannot recall ever willfully disobeying my father.

A father-story I will never forget came from a man named Mas Fukai.  Many of you younger folks may not have heard of Mas Fukai but he was an active civic leader in the South Bay for many years, and most notably, he was Chief of Staff to County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  There is a nice park named after Mas Fukai in Gardena.  Mas was a successful businessman, served on the Gardena City Council for many years, and was extremely dedicated to community services especially for youth and sports.   

Mas was born just before the Great Depression and his family had a farm in the Southbay before the war; it was tough times for many people in America who were struggling to get by.  According to Mas (and to my imperfect memory of his telling of the story), he was a rambunctious youngster and one day he stole a fruit from a neighborhood grocer who saw him commit the act.  The grocer came to the Fukai residence and reported the theft to Mas’ father.   

Mas was taken by his father to the woodshed – literally.   His father took a thin reed-like stick from the shed and held it in his hand – Mas thought he was about to get a licking for his misdeed.  Surprisingly, the father gave the stick to young Mas and told him to strike him in the face with the stick.   Mas, being a young boy and raised to revere and respect his father, resisted and said he could not do such a thing.   His father became angry and ordered Mas to strike him in the face with the stick – Mas did as he was told and gave his father a weak blow to the cheek.   His father, in an angrier voice, told him to strike him hard, with all his might!   Mas, with tears in his eyes, raised the stick and swung hard and hit his father again in the cheek with a loud “thwack”.   His father took the stick and looked down at his son and said “Mas – do you see this red welt on my face? – you hurt me – but this pain is nothing compared to how much you hurt me and the family when you stole that fruit from our neighborhood grocer!”  Mas said after that he never ever stole anything again and as I mentioned, went on to a distinguished career in business and public service.

Our Issei parents often did not show love in physical or demonstrative ways (like hugging and kissing) and they were often frugal with their verbal praises, but for the most part, they did love us and did the best they could to show it.   My father never told me in words that he loved me but as I think about it, he showed it in little ways every day so there was never ever any doubt.   In my case, I try to show my child that I love her in the non-verbal ways as my father did, but I also try to tell her in words whenever I can that I love her a lot – which feels good for both of us.  

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