50momdadnow550My parents looking gold on their 50th anniversary! They are my true inspirations.

50 years ago on September 30, my parents first laid eyes upon each other. Literally. They were not to meet ’til their wedding day. My dad was not even allowed to attend his own engagement party. The arranged marriage was voluntary on both sides. Still, to this day, my mom has no idea why she agreed. Part of her felt like she owed it to my great aunt, who raised her and played a role in arranging the marriage. As for my dad, well, he never spoke of the arrangement and never shared. He is a man of few words. All they knew was that they both believed in ‘fate’ and the ‘numbers’ were written for them to be together.

September 30, 1962 was the day read by the elders and psychics as an agreeable day for my parents’ wedding. Sounds superstitious? Possibly, but for my parents, it’s more pragmatism than superstition. Still, to this day, my dad gets quite upset when we pose for photos of three people, as the person in the middle will be struck with bad luck.

I was raised learning that in direct Vietnamese translation, we are all born with a ‘number’… like fate or destiny. Like my mom has said, “Your number is to have hard working, wrinkly hands. Your husband will not be able to provide for you so you’ll have to work to make a living.” That’s her thoughts on herself. It was the ‘number’ she was born with… accepting that the events in her life was mapped by her innate character traits.

My parents are true inspirations. A chef and a farmer. Well it’s actually degrading trying to compartmentalize my parents into those categories ’cause they are so much more. They are lovers of life. They struggle. They laugh. They sacrificed. They live in the now. They work hard. They are happy. They raised a beautiful family.

My mom is the greatest cook in the whole world. No contest. She cooks every day. All day. I’ve never heard her moan or say she feels lazy or tired or make any slight excuse of not wanting to cook. There is no question. She makes everything from scratch… from her own chili pastes to her own homemade vinegar which she has taught me to do myself. And I still feel that I have so much to learn from her. When my mom feels like experimenting or starting a new project, she just does it. I remember when my siblings tried to get my dad to switch from drinking beer to wine. He got real into it, so my mom, who doesn’t drink herself, decided she was gonna grow grapes and try making wine herself. So funny. It didn’t taste good. But it didn’t taste bad either. I just think it’s funny cause she was 65 years old at the time. That’s what I love most about my mom. She’ll just go and try and do something and learn in the process. It’s fun and she’s happy doing it.

My dad has taught me much about life through his actions. He’s very creative, patient, and always expects and strives for the best. More than anything my dad can’t stand sloppy craftsmanship. Even if it’s not something you enjoy doing, do your best work. Actually, I’m not sure the thought of enjoying or not enjoying something comes to mind… just do and do your best work. My dad wakes up every morning before the crack of dawn, drinks his coffee and heads out into the fields. When the sun is at its highest point, he comes in for lunch and has a three hour siesta. He heads back into the fields tending his fruit trees and animals he’s collected (funny stories I’ll share later) outlasting the sun. To this day, my mom still yells ‘Old Man’ standing at the backdoor of the house calling my dad to come in for dinner. My dad will always be a kid at heart.

Although they are both 73 years old now living a simple, happy life, it did not come by without its struggles and sacrifice. When South Vietnam lost the war, my parents had to make the decision to leave their home country of 38 years… take the biggest risk they’ll ever have to make in their whole lives. Do or die. They escaped their home country carrying along 5 children and a pregnant wife (with me), two uncles, and another aunt and her family on a fishing boat… letting the seas decide their future. After 2 weeks at sea, they were finally invited by the Thailand government and allowed to shore and make a temporary home in a refuge camp. There, I was born. Coincidentally, my last name happened to be ‘Thai’, so it just seemed appropriate to name me ‘Lan’… the Vietnamese word for orchid. A flower, studied by Charles Darwin, as one of the most adaptable and diverse species on the planet. Perhaps it was the hope of my parents that their newborn who has never stepped on their homeland, will be able to adapt to the new world.

To think that this day, 35 years after my parents great escape, they have lived more years in their homeland than in the United States. My parents started their life over at 38 years and to think in my last 35 years of life, how much was changed and evolved and just how much life has been lived and enjoyed.

I love my parents and I’m so lucky to have such inspiring and amazing ones. I’ve got much to live up to. Happy 50th Mom & Dad! Live free or die.