For Our Fathers …

… and those who loved them.

For Our Fathers ...
On December 13, 1967, my father was killed in Vietnam.  He had been a career soldier, but was still a young man at the time of his death, only 34.  I’d like to think I have long since recovered from the trauma I felt as a ten year old boy, but perhaps we never heal completely.  Certainly, from time to time there are reminders.

Fast forward  to 1991.  I myself was 34 and working for Elektra records at the time and there was an artist by the name of Billy Bragg on the label.  I was working a Billy Bragg show in Denver when I first heard him sing “Tank Park Salute”.  I remember standing backstage, listening to Billy’s lyrics and his moving, subdued presentation.  My eyes swelled and I became very emotional, so much so that I had to retreat to the shadows for nearly half an hour before while I composed myself.  It remains the single most  intense reaction to art that I have ever experienced.  I have since listened to the song hundreds of times, and I always think about my Dad and that night more than 18 years ago.

Fast forward again to just a few days ago, when I learned that my friend Ian’s father had succumbed  to cancer.  I didn’t know Alf but I can tell you he did a bang-up job raising Ian.  The son offered a simple,  understated tribute to the father, with a link to “Tank Park Salute”, yes, the same song that has moved me so many times during my lifetime.  Please take a look and have a listen here.

I am often asked how it is I came to be in China. Of course there are many reasons but one thing I have come to realize is that I am exorcising some demons here. Something to do with dad and Vietnam and communism and religion and probably twenty other somehow related things. I think, for the most part anyway, it’s working.

For the fathers from the sons …

Tank Park Salute

Kiss me goodnight and say my prayers
Leave the light on at the top of the stairs
Tell me the names of the stars up in the sky
A tree taps on the window pane
That feeling smothers me again
Daddy is it true that we all have to die

At the top of the stairs
Is darkness

I closed my eyes and when I looked
Your name was in the memorial book
and what had become of all the things we planned
I accepted the commiserations
Of all your friends and your relations
But there’s some things I still don’t understand

You were so tall
How could you fall?

Some photographs of a summer’s day
A little boy’s lifetime away
Is all I’ve left of everything we’ve done
Like a pale moon in a sunny sky
Death gazes down as I pass by
To remind me that I’m but my father’s son

I offer up to you
This tribute
I offer up to you
This tank park salute

Billy Bragg


~ by Expatriate Games on January 5, 2009.

6 Responses to “For Our Fathers …”

  1. Okay, Michael, I take back what I said on your flickr page. This entry moved me to tears. Sad, poignant, so beautiful. Your Dad must be looking down on you with such love and pride. I’ll keep both you and Ian in my prayers tonight, that your fathers’ memories will comfort and sustain you both. xx Rosy

  2. What a beautiful tribute…I am sure your father knows…more than we think…

  3. Yes, it really is a beautiful tribute. 🙂 Your father did great things.

    And I really understand now the father-children connection you have going on for you (about a previous comment).

  4. aaah Billy Bragg …he truly is a unique singer/songwriter…. and those lyrics are very poignant

  5. I do a lot of work in Vietnam, and the first time I went two of the US colleagues who went me had fathers who’d been soldiers in the Vietnam War. Both their fathers had returned home alive, although not necessarily well. These men who accompanied me were on a sort of mission, perhaps on behalf of their fathers, to reconcile the past with the present. I’m not sure how far along that path they got, but I noticed how impactful the trip seemed to be for them.

  6. Thanks, now I want to cry.

    I lost my father (in some sick, poetic irony) the day before my 17th birthday. The words of Bragg’s song ring true to me, as they have for you. Thank you for sharing this.

    You never really get over the loss, you accept it, but never get over it. Every year, every birthday I remember: That’s both good and bad. Maybe that’s a measure: How good the memories are.

    My first time here, from red Ravine. It’s always great to meet another laowai.

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