Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Other Part of the Story

It has come to my attention that my previous post about my parents might lead some of you to believe some things that are not true.

My parent’s move from Japan to the US was not an attempt to run from perceived problems. The Japanese people are great people, kind and hospitable. Yet the fact is that it is a more homogeneous society than the US. While the Japanese might be too courteous to say anything directly to us, my parents feared that we kids would suffer a greater prejudice there than in the US. Add to that was the concern of providing for a growing family; my parents felt it best that my father finish his degree in order to increase his career opportunities. I think my mother in particular, showed great courage. She agreed to leave her family, friends and all that was familiar to her to live in a foreign land at a time when opportunities for communication were not as quick and easy as we take for granted now. Hers was a large sacrifice made for the benefit of her family.

It’s not like my brothers and I didn’t experience any prejudice here in the US. We were teased by neighbor kids with some pretty harsh names and even physical abuse in my brothers’ case. I remember often being teased to the point of tears. But I’m not sure I know anyone who wasn’t bullied in some form as a child. We mock and tease what we don’t know, what we fear...or what we’re envious of. It’s a tribute to my father and mother’s parenting that we rose above the bullying to be proud of our heritage and appreciative of all the cultures around us.

I also mentioned in my previous post how both my grandfathers objected to my parents’ marriage. While that may lead you to think they were bigoted, that is not true.

Let me start by saying I think the fears expressed by my grandfathers came from a genuine concern that their children did not fully appreciate the consequences of their decisions. As a parent myself, I have frequently fretted about something that was really not an issue. But my desire to protect my children is sometimes stronger than my common sense. I also think marriage is hard work and my grandfathers’ concern about cultural differences adding undue stress on an already hard job was not without some merit.

However, whatever issue they had with the marriage in the beginning was never shown to us grandchildren in word or deed in all the time we spent with them. Growing up, I never experienced anything but love and affection from my grandfathers. As a matter of fact, I was shocked when I read my grandfather’s letter to my mother because the author was not the man I knew.

It was the same with my mother’s father. I have only fond memories of visits with him in Japan. Whenever he traveled to various Rotary conventions, he asked us to go with him. I remember in particular an RV trip we took with Oji-chan and Oba-chan (Japanese for ‘grandpa’ and ‘grandma’). While at first he was not happy with the accommodations (7 people in a 30’ camper), my grandmother reported that he bragged to all his friends of his “Great Adventure in the American West.”

So while my grandfathers had concerns about the marriage and perhaps expressed them in less than charitable ways, once the marriage was made and the grandchildren started to arrive, they both embraced the new family and did what they could to support my parents. I believe it’s a testimony to the character of both men that, when faced with their prejudices, they chose to do what was right and true over what they could have justified as the ‘conventional wisdom’ of their day. Forgiveness, simple grace and mercy - while maybe not spoken, were there. Actually, ‘simple grace’ is an oxymoron because grace is never simple, is it?

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. - 2 Timothy 1:7

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Here's the story...of a lovely lady

that's my mom in the middle
My mother was born in Sapporo, Japan. I can’t tell you what year because I think she stopped aging at 40. Sapporo is on the northern-most island of Hokkaido, known for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics and more importantly, producing Sapporo Beer. My mother was the second of Chuichi and Shizuku Ogawa’s three children. For the most part, hers was an uncomplicated childhood filled with friends and family. At a time when not many of her female peers went on to higher education, my mom received an Associate’s degree in English Literature/Education from Hokusei Junior College for Women.

My father was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1933, but grew up in Staten Island, New York. After an unsuccessful year at college, he enlisted in the Army. He had a life long fondness for all things German and hoped the Army would send him there; instead they sent him to Chitose, Japan, one hour south of Sapporo.

While in Japan, a friend asked him to help with an English language club, my dad being a bonafide Yankee and all. My dad’s Army boss, hearing he was part of this club, asked my dad to invite two students to come to the boss’ house for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. My dad picked the boy with the best English skills and the only girl in the class who spoke up without being spoken to first. I’ll give you a guess who that girl was. Now I wish I could say they fell in love and everything went swimmingly after that but that wouldn’t make a good story now, would it?

The fact that my mom was dating my dad did not make her father happy. He was quite concerned about having his daughter marry this big, loud American. And on the other side of the Pacific, similar concerns were voiced by my father’s father. He actually put pen to paper requesting that my mom have nothing more to do with my father. Thankfully, she did not heed this advice.

After a year or so of dating, my father returned to the US. He had fulfilled his obligation to the Army and both my parents thought a little time and distance would help them figure out if their marriage was truly meant to be. Stateside, my father returned to Staten Island and worked various jobs trying to save up money so he could return to Japan. Back in Japan, my mother’s father set about trying to find a proper Japanese boy for her to marry. Being a dutiful daughter, she would meet these boys as requested by my grandfather. Being the woman she is, she would promptly tell them she had no intention of marrying them.

After two years of this long distance romance, my mother issued the following communique to my father; come back and marry me or cut me loose. Gathering what savings he had, he bought a ticket on an “unscheduled” airline to get back to my mother. “Unscheduled” meant the plane flew when it needed to; basically, a “you’ll get there when you get there” flight. He departed the US on a Monday and arrived in Japan on Saturday with little in the way of money in his pockets. This must be genetic because family legend has it that my great-grandfather departed England and arrived in Baltimore, Maryland with only $.82. My mother said when her father came home one evening and saw that familiar pair of huge shoes in the foyer, he sighed and said to her, “I guess you were made for export.”

And so a wedding needed to be planned. And a tuxedo to be found for a 6’-1” American in a country where the average male height is 5’-8”. Thankfully, one was found as I shudder to think what he would have had to wear if they couldn’t find a tuxedo.

My parents were married at a Shinto shrine in a traditional Japanese wedding. They married again at the U.S. consulate as the U.S. government didn’t consider the Shinto ceremony to be legitimate. In 1964, while pregnant with her second child, my parents decided to move to the US. They figured America was probably a better place to raise ‘mixed’ kids than Japan. I cannot imagine the challenge it must have been for my mother to relocate to another country with a toddler and a baby on the way.

Eventually settling in Long Island, my parents raised their three kids (two boys and a Domestic Goddess) and today enjoy the pleasures of spoiling nine grandchildren and traveling the world (they’ve been to Germany at least four times).

Today is their 48th anniversary. Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad, here’s to many more chapters of a good story.