My father’s birthday is this coming Sunday. He’ll be 81 years old. Bo Gia (“Boe Zaah,” Old Daddy in Vietnamese) has been through much in his life, having been forced to migrate repeatedly and weather Vietnam’s turbulent history through the 20th century.
As a young man, he pondered becoming a priest but went into the military instead, taking on the role of provincial governor by the time he was in his late 20s. After the Diem assassination in 1963, Bo Gia switched careers to become a business development consultant (today’s equivalent of a start-up pro). My dad had always wanted to study and live in the United States; in his youth, he even applied for a scholarship abroad. In the end, it was the Fall of Saigon in 1975 that brought him and our family here.
If you asked Bo Gia about his eventual good fortune of living in America, he’d respond that it was mostly because of his religious conviction. My dad attends mass every morning at his local Catholic church. He can lead a rosary in Vietnamese – which resembles a light chant – like no one else can in our clan. Religious statues are displayed in various prominent spots at my parents’ home.
My dad’s devotion to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is combined with his belief in three material things that have helped him get out of many tough jams: tiger balm, eucalyptus oil, and toothpicks. Those are his fix-it tools. Seriously.