It may be weird, just after Mother’s Day, to write about my Dad.
But I’m gonna write about Daddy. (After Father’s Day, I’ll write about Mom.)
I used to tell a story — even in these pages — that I thought was funny about my Dad.
He used to hand out my business card to complete strangers playing poker at a casino. (He may still, for all I know.)
I always joked about an expected a midnight call from a complete stranger, going like this:
Complete Stranger: “Hi, Larry? Complete Stranger here. Your Dad says you’re a fancy pants lawyer and gave me your card. So, I, uh, think I killed someone. Not your Dad. Now what?”
Larry: “ . . . ”
There is a bit more to this story, when I think about it.
And when I think harder about it what it meant for my Dad to hand out my business card, I feel bad making fun of my Dad. (But only a little.)
So here is my deeper set of thoughts on this.
* * *
In casino poker (compared to private games with friends), you sit with strangers (maybe some regulars) for hours and shoot the shit.
The poker table is a chance to meet people from different walks of life.
And every time you meet a stranger, you listen to their stories.
You tell your own life story.
So that’s interesting. When we meet someone new, what story do we tell about ourselves?
What details do we think significant enough to share with someone we don’t know and may never see again?
What about his life did my Dad want to tell strangers?
For him, there is a whole lot of life to talk about.
To Americans, and I suspect even Koreans, my Dad’s life story was very interesting.
Born in Korea before the end of World War II under Japanese colonial rule.
Grew up speaking Japanese. Couldn’t read Korean until he was older.
WWII ends, his family flees North Korea to get away from the Communists.
The Korean War begins; more fleeing (south, to Taegu). The black smoke of war. More chaos for years in refugee camps. Separated from his family then reunited.
Before, during and after the armistice (the war isn’t technically over, you know), hunger.
Right after the war until my Dad left in 1960 for the States, Korea was a nation of drunk farmers.
The future looked bleak to my dad when he left. (How could he have known it would become the land of K-Pop, cellphones, Korean dramas, KAIST, etc., etc.?)
He got a scholarship to study in the U.S. and . . . starved again, for a while.
He was a busboy in Sinatra’s Cal-Neva.
He talked to Frank; he shook his hand.
He once saw Marilyn Monroe staggering around, a bit drunk.
He met and married my mom (of course I called her!).
He had some kids (I’m one).
He grew several businesses, sent his kids to Ivy League schools, lost it all on the stock market (several times).
Now lives in some comfort — my mom, golf, WWE and poker being the pillars of his life — but not quite as nicely as he would have liked to live his retirement.
* * *
And those are the few details that fascinate me that I actually know about. (Aziz Ansari’s Master of None has an awesome episode on knowing your parents’ backstories.)
It’s been a roller coaster ride.
Every time I talk to him, I try to pry another fascinating story out of him.
Here’s one he told me recently that seemed cute, then more significant the more I thought of it:
After the Korean War, he worked on a U.S. Army base shining boots and cleaning tents to help his parents . . . not starve. An American soldier gave him his first chocolate chip cookie and his first orange. Later my dad stole some cookies from a soldier’s care package because he was starving. The soldier noticed the missing cookies and asked my dad, “Did you take those cookies?” He confessed. The soldier then shouted, “Well, save some for me!” and never mentioned it again. Maybe this is why my dad came to the U.S.).
* * *
The “my son is a lawyer” routine is like this — a “cute” story that is more significant the more I think of it.
What of his amazing life details does he share with the complete strangers at the poker table?
Maybe he says he’s from Korea.
He was in the bar business.
He has kids and grandkids.
And his son is a fancy-pants lawyer back in New York City. (Back when I was in New York.)
Then, on cue, he hands out my business card.
One other detail.
In many societies you are a big deal because of who your parents are. The Kardashians have their own fame (is “infame” a word?) now, but when younger, they were “the kids of a lawyer to O.J. Simpson.” (I hear the show is amazing, but I have no desire to relive that time.)
This is a bit inverted in Korea (not entirely, but a bit). Once you have kids in Korea, people stop calling you by your name (which is rare anyway), and start calling you “Larry’s Dad” or “Larry’s Mom” (if your kid is named Larry.)
So, Larry’s Dad’s is the father of a fancy pants lawyer. (And here is the business card as proof.)
That is what Larry’s Dad chooses to tell a complete stranger at poker.
Korean Dads are famous for not being able to express themselves to their children.
So, since I’m from a newer generation:
I love you, too Dad.
I’m proud of you, too, Dad.
And thank you for everything.
Stick out that chest when you hand out your card.
(But the flowers were for Mom; wait until Father’s Day for yours.)