【父亲父亲】Father’s Hands(父亲的手)

楼主 (文学城)

My mother once told me that, when I was a little girl, the biggest joy my father had was playing “Go to Sky” with me to make me happy.

“Daddy, sky!” “Daddy, sky!” I repeated to myself like singing a cheerful nursery rhyme whenever I was expecting my father to come home from the high school in China where he was teaching Chinese. 
When he appeared in our front yard, I ran to him and shouted, “Daddy––, sky!”
He would take me in his arms and kiss me and suddenly use one hand to lift me from my back over his head, with my face looking up toward the sky, my mouth giggling, my hands and feet grabbing and kicking in the air. 
“Go to Sky! Go to Sky!” my father shouted and laughed, his hearty laughter seemed to burst from his tanned face into his black hair, long arms, and long legs.
I was like a mockingbird singing and dancing on a special stage––my father's hands––without knowing many things that had happened or would happen.

In 1999, when my father was 63, he suffered a stroke that left the right half of his body paralyzed, including his right hand. Before the stroke, as a famous and newly retired high school Chinese teacher in China, my father had his retirement life well planned. He was going to write books on teaching, give lectures at schools across the country, and more. The stroke, however, changed my father and his retirement plans forever. He realized that writing a memoir for his children was the most important thing he wanted to do, even though he knew it wouldn't bring him any fame or money, because his memoir cannot be published in China. My father was wrongly labeled as a counter-revolutionary during the Cultural Revolution in China. He was sent to the countryside to work as a peasant for eight years, from 1970 to 1978, to “reform through labor” until he was “rehabilitated.” 

Five years after his stroke, my father started to write his 300,000-word memoir with his left hand and finished it within a year. Since my father was right-handed before the stroke, he had to practice very hard to get used to writing on the paper word by word with his left hand. Reading his memoir, his college classmates, colleagues, and friends were moved to tears; they urged him to have it published. The book focuses on his experiences during the Cultural Revolution, and because of political sensitivity, it still cannot be published publicly in China. We had to wait. When my father was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in November 2011, our family decided we could no longer wait. We informally self-published it and shared it with more people.

I didn't know much about the persecution and pain my father had suffered during the Cultural Revolution until I received an electronic copy of his memoir several years ago when I was studying in the U.S. One of his students typed his memoir on a computer and sent it to me. From his memoir, I learned that, before he was sent to the countryside, he was subjected to “criticism meetings” at his workplace, which were common during the Cultural Revolution (the Cultural Revolution began in 1966). At these criticism meetings, a victim was criticized and often subjected to humiliation and assault until he or she confessed to imaginary crimes. Because of the false accusations made up against my father, he was forced to confess; he refused. Then he was placed in an interrogation room, where he was repeatedly questioned and not allowed to sleep for five consecutive days and nights.
Finally one of the leaders of the task force of the Cultural Revolution in his school said to him, “Are you afraid of being shot to death? Confess if you are! Aren't you afraid?”
For a long time my father didn't know how to answer.
“Are you afraid? Answer me! Hurry up!” the leader snapped, a layer of thin frost seeming to start to appear on his cold face.
“Give me a cigarette, please,” my father said, sitting on a small square stool, his voice trembling.
My father never smoked before. He sucked the cigarette a few times and immediately choked and coughed. The cigarette fell off. 
He picked up the cigarette from the floor, stubbed it out with his right hand, and said, “I'm not afraid.” 
My father's answer surprised the task force of the Cultural Revolution. He was not shot, however, he was locked into a small room and continually commanded to confess. He decided that he would rather die than incriminate himself. 
One night he tried to commit suicide by holding a pair of electric power cords in his left hand. His left hand violently flicked and felt burning. The suicide was unsuccessful because of his lack of electrical knowledge. He didn't know it wouldn't kill him unless he held one cord in one hand while he held the other cord with the other hand, causing the current to flow through his body. His ignorance saved his life. The suicide attempt, however, left a permanent irregularly shaped scar on the center of his left palm. After the suicide attempt, my father felt sorry for that he had tried to kill himself. He realized he must stay strong and live for his children, his wife, and his hope.
Two weeks later, when I was about two years old, my father was sent to the countryside to “reform through labor”, starting his eight-year peasant life.

When I grew older, I learned from my mother that my father's strong body and his ability to adapt and endure hardship helped him survive the intense physical labor in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. On the first day of his eight-year peasant life, my father was assigned to pick up one-hundred and thirty pounds of wheat seeds from a farm six miles away, using a shoulder pole and a pair of baskets. A couple of strong villagers who were assigned the same task thought my father could not make it, since they knew my father had been an intellectual and had no experience with such physical labor. My father, to their surprise, was the second person to return. At that time, he was unfamiliar with the skill of switching the shoulder pole from one shoulder to another on the way. To save time, he didn't switch it at all and didn't even stop to take a rest. His strength and spirit impressed the villagers and won their respect and friendship. My father soon became capable at all kinds of farm work, such as using a simple wooden wheelbarrow to carry large loads, transplanting rice seedlings, making thousands of brooms, and many more strenuous tasks. My father's hands saved him and led him through the dark years. I have heard that many intellectuals committed suicide when they were forced to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

My father was still working as a peasant at the end of the Cultural Revolution––in 1976––as I started elementary school. One day at home, I was reciting some words while my father was doing some housework nearby. My father interrupted me and pointed out that my pronunciation of one word was wrong. 
“Daddy, that's what my teacher taught me; it should be correct,” I said, looking at my father.
“Baby, maybe you didn't pay attention to your teacher's pronunciation. … Or, maybe your teacher pronounced it wrong. Double check with him tomorrow,” he said and wrote down the pronunciation for me.
To my surprise, my teacher said his pronunciation was wrong and my father's was correct.
 “Daddy, you are a peasant. How can you read and write?” I asked with my eyes wide open, sitting on my father's lap and screwing his sticky and disheveled hair (the peasant population in China was largely illiterate at the time). 
My father didn't say a word; he cried. He wiped away his tears with his rough hands, full of thick calluses. It was not until two years later, when my father was “rehabilitated” and restored to his former position that I knew he used to have smooth hands and teach Chinese in high school.

In the fourth grade, I planned to participate in the first children's essay contest in our city, but it seemed hard to pick a topic. One day, I asked my father for his suggestions while he was reading in his study. He was in his forties, wearing a white shirt and a grayish-blue tie, sitting on a wooden chair in front of his cherry wood bookshelf. The bookshelf occupied a whole wall, filled with books, magazines, and newspapers.
“Well, sweetie, let's see. … You love your little catfish and you love your kitten as well. What if your kitten eats your little fish? Do you still love your kitten?” my father put down his book and said, teasing.
My eyes lit up, but I didn't know how to answer at the moment. He smiled and patted my head gently with his big and delicate hand.
“Use your imagination, my sweetie. You might want to write something about your little fish and kitten and see how it goes,” he said, picking up his book.
I nodded. That night I wrote my essay entitled “The Little Fish and the Kitten” and it won the grand prize because of its novelty, creativity, and the vivid description of a child's psychology. I'm going to be a writer, I thought.

When it was time for me to choose either the Arts Stream or the Science Stream in high school, however, my father didn't encourage me to follow his road. Instead, I entered the Science Stream and three years later started to study medicine in college. I didn't realize the reason behind his concern until I read his memoir and knew about his suffering during the Cultural Revolution. People in the field of arts were much more likely to be attacked and persecuted during that dark period than the people with science backgrounds. I understand that deep in his heart, like most intellectuals of his generation, he was still traumatized by the years of pain he had suffered, even though the Cultural Revolution had been over for about a decade when I began high school.

After finishing his memoir, my father continued to write poems using his left hand and he shared them with other people. He also kept a poetry journal for his grandson, recording the child's growth and emotions.

While studying in the U.S., I went back to China to visit my father in June 2011. He seemed to feel that his time with us wouldn't be long. He insisted on going with my brother to pick me up at the airport when I arrived and on going to the airport again when I departed. 
“Dad, you take care. I have to go,” I said and hugged my father, who was sitting in the front passenger seat of my brother's car, his hair gray and dry, his face smelling of the fresh scent of a familiar soap.
“You take care too, daughter. I wish … next time I can come with your brother to pick you up again,” he said slowly, his left hand––with brown spots and bulging veins––holding my hands for a long time. 
Five months later, he was taken to an emergency room and diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

Three weeks before my father passed away, he left a note in his study for my brother. My brother discovered the note the next day; he had to hold back his tears and not cry. 
On the note, my father wrote, “Please don't cry. Let me go. Donate my body unconditionally for medical research. If my body has no value for medical research, cremate it immediately, and don't save the ashes.” In the Chinese tradition, people rarely want to donate their bodies for medical research, and, they usually want to have their ashes saved.
It took my father almost two hours to write the note. His left hand was too weak to write, but he felt he must get it done while his mind was still clear. In China, doctors allow elderly cancer patient's families to decide if they want to tell the diagnosis to the patient. Almost every family chooses not to tell; they believe it's the best way to help their loved ones keep confidence and look forward to recovering.
The diagnosis had been kept secret from my father. From his note, however, we realized he knew in his heart and he was just pretending not to know. My father's note turned out to be his final written words, written with his left hand. 

The other night I dreamed of my father: his hands were holding my hands; he was smiling at me and saying, “Daughter, write if you want. Follow your little fish and kitten ......” 

Although my father and I can no longer hold hands with one another, everyday I feel he has been looking at me from heaven. His spirit has passed from his hands to my hands, helping me sing and dance on the world stage …...

(Originally written in June 2012, one month after my father passed away in China)

Thank you for reading and for your encouragement.
谢葱姐,有梦就好 :)
谢谢冰花。本文是我10年前的有感而发,如今再读,依然满眼泪花 。。。
啥时候也贴一下你小时候写的kitten & fish的故事吧?