Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Father

◎ Lu Yan

“Father is now over sixty, but he still wants to work to save up for a house to be built for me,” a friend of mine from North China told me.

That put me in mind of my father. My father was very much like his.

Father went through untold hardships for me all his life. He brought me up, sent me to school, had a house built for me and bought me a few mu of land. He went to Hankou to engage in trade the year when he was already sixty. And he tried to make out that he was still in his fifties lest people should consider him too old to be of much use. We had all tried to dissuade him from going out to Hankou, but he simply wouldn’t listen and left home carrying the luggage on his back.

“Let me toil a few more years for my son’s sake!” That was what he said.

It happened afterwards that the house was burned down. And he wanted to go back to his business in order to have the house rebuilt. I tried to console him, saying that there was no need for him to do it because in three years’ time I myself would have laid by enough money for a new house. He agreed. Then he gave me a lot of building materials and told me what to do with them. Shortly before his death, he urged me,

“You’d better get started right away so that I can watch to see that everything is done properly.”

Unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to see the new house. He told me on his deathbed that he had nothing to feel sorry about. But I knew he would be much happier if he could live a few more years just to see the new house put up. When I heard his dying groans and sighs, I believed they were caused not by physical pain, but by regret for not being able to live a few more years to help me with the new house.

Now I myself am a father of several children. Though I love my kids, I do not share the idea of father and people of his time that one can never do too much in his lifetime to help his children. Much as I admire father and people of his time for their moral excellence, I can never follow in their footsteps.

I think of my children as an encumbrance to me. I haven’t worked out a long-term plan for them, nay, not even a short-term one.

“I’d like to give away my kids to anyone who’s willing to take them!” That’s what I say whenever I am fed up with them.

Alas, compared with father and people of his time, the present generation, I think, have pitifully low vitality. We in our twenties or thirties cannot compare with our elders in their sixties or seventies. Today they may be advanced in years or even no more, but they will, nevertheless, live forever and ever.

As for us, though still alive, we have long been dead.