When I Called My Father that Thanksgiving Night in 2004 ... (April 10, 2016 post)
I knew quite a lot about him. I wondered if he was curious about what had happened to me. I worried a lot about the reaction I would get when he answered the phone. I worried he wouldn’t answer the phone. I worried that his wife would answer the phone. I worried a lot. But I made the call.
Before making the call, I wrote down anything I thought I might say in Japanese and in English. Although Japanese was my first language, my adoptive mother stopped speaking Japanese to me when I was adopted for fear I’d have a strong accent. That was back in 1961 and what we know about language today wasn’t common knowledge then. So my Japanese was pretty sketchy and that of a 5-year old at that.
It took me over an hour to write everything I’d want to say. I rehearsed the various sentences in Japanese so I could say them comfortably and correctly with the correct accent to be understood. I had no idea who might answer the phone, if it were answered at all. I didn’t know if there’d be an answering machine so I wanted to leave a clear message in Japanese that could be understood.
Recall that I got up several times to check on my clean kitchen. (April 10, 2016 Blog Post) I also had to check the time. Thankful for the internet in 2004, I could easily determine that midnight in California was 4 PM in Japan. That seemed like a reasonable time to call Japan. So I picked up the phone.
A female voice answered, “moshi, moshi” (the common way Japanese answer the telephone). Yikes! I began to read the Japanese words I had written down. I had no idea to whom I was speaking, but speculated that it was my father’s wife. I told her my name and asked if my father (stating his name) was available. She responded in Japanese and from what little I could translate, the answer was “no, he’s not here.” I had anticipated this possibility. I had anticipated every possibility in detail – in writing. So I went to another sentence asking if I could leave a message for him to return my call. She responded, “hai,” (yes). I thanked her and gave her my “denma bango” (telephone number). She responded “hai,” and abruptly ended the call. I hung up, gulped and stared at the phone, thinking this might be the end of nothing.
Less than fifteen seconds later, I was startled when the phone rang. I meekly answered, “hello.” (When I say “meekly,” I mean meekly.) A man’s voice stated, “hello, this is Bill ….” I replied, “this is Francine and I am …” he quickly, and nicely, interrupted, “I know who you are, Francine.”
HOLY SMOKES! He knew who I was!! NOW WHAT?!?!
We talked. He was 80 years old now.
He still lived in Tokyo. But he asked more questions and learned about me, what I had been doing, where I lived, that I had a son who had graduated from the Air Force Academy. (My biological father was a retired Army military intelligence officer from World War II.) I told him I was a lawyer. I was happily married. I lived in California. I skied. We chatted for quite a while.
He sounded sincerely interested in what had happened to me. He sounded happy to talk to me. He never rushed the conversation. I felt him caring. I cried.
I then asked him, “would it be ok if I came to Japan to meet you?” He replied, “why wouldn’t it be?” I sensed he was happy that I would come to Japan to meet him. We exchanged email addresses (his wife’s email, actually). We said “goodbye.” I hung up the phone. I don’t know what I did immediately after I hung up. Eventually I made it to bed and went to sleep.
TODAY’S HOW TO
You may recall from my April 10, 2016 blog post, I was afraid to call because I had that horrible “my father is going to desert me again” feeling. But I managed to muster up all my “something” and dial the phone. Honestly, when I hung up the first time, I was quickly resolved to never getting a return phone call. So I was shocked when my father returned my call in seconds. And I was more shocked when his reaction was so positive, caring and welcoming when we spoke.
Of course, the problem is that sometimes the worst of fears does come true. Other times, it doesn’t.
This was not quite the conversation I still wish I could have with my mother; but, I had the chance to talk to one of my real parents and FEEL one of them care about me. I'm glad I took the chance. That phone call is one of those good memories I use to push away negative thoughts.
Then later, I went to Japan …