This is the one thing you can be sure of in life.
My father John is a staunch supporter of his habits. He eats pancakes every morning. If his body is up for it, he’ll drive to a local park and go for a morning walk. Afterwards, he’ll head over to McDonald’s, order a coffee at the senior discount, and sit down with his friends to chat — a morning activity that’s quite common in the senior Korean community, at least in Southern California (unlimited coffee for less than $1? Hell yes). Every time I go to see my parents at their home, my father is plopped on his leather couch with two TVs on, with invariably one TV showing politics and the other showing sports, the only difference being which one has the volume up.
John was born in 1935, came to the U.S. before turning 20 sometime in the 1950’s, and even served in the United States Army during the post-World War II era. He occasionally reminds me of being stationed in Germany — in the city of Stuttgart — during the same time that Elvis Presley served there. It’s one of the few details of his former life that he openly shares. He had me when he was 47-years-old, and everything that happened prior to my birth is clouded in mystery. He hardly ever shares anything about his past, but from the little bits of information that I’ve picked up on over the years, his pre-domesticated life was full of turbulence and hard times. His mother passed from Alzheimer’s a year before I was born, putting an exclamation point on a difficult life prior to my arrival.
My dad has always been a bit of a curmudgeon. Being an obsessive political junkie will do that to you, I suppose. But I’ll give him this — he knows what he likes and sticks by them through thick and thin. Whenever we decide to go out and eat a meal, there are only two choices that my father will accept — Korean or Chinese cuisine. One time, we took him to one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Los Angeles, Palms Thai in Hollywood, and ordered some of the standard palette-friendly dishes like chicken pad-see-ew, yellow curry, andpineapple fried rice. He hated it and said he’ll never eat Thai food again, which came as a surprise to my wife, but for me I felt like I should have seen that coming. Even the bronze Thai Elvis statue that stands by the stage inside could have came to life and said, “Hey partner, remember Deutschland?” but that wouldn’t have swayed his opinion.
One thing that he loves as much as his political talk shows is the San Francisco 49ers. My house felt like a war zone in the ‘90s during those Niners and Cowboys games, with fuck, goddamn it, and shit flying out of my dad’s mouth as much as the ball flew out of Steve Young’s hands. I probably rooted for the Niners back then mostly out of concern that my dad would be in a foul mood if they lost.
Speaking of foul moods and Steve Young, my father never liked the guy. Despite the accolades, awards, and even the Super Bowl victory in 1995, he never embraced Young as the Niners’ leader. And do you know why? It’s because he wasn’t Joe Montana. I know “Not my president” has become a popular saying in recent times, but back then my father was screaming, “Not my quarterback!” Joe was his guy, not Steve, and he wanted Joe to be the Niners quarterback forever. I’m guessing current New Englanders are going to contract this disease in the coming years with Tom Brady.
He didn’t like the change. In fact, my dad doesn’t like change, period.
In the fall of 2000, I started my undergraduate experience at UCLA. I was wet behind the ears, naive, and quite frankly I didn’t know why I was there other than wanting to live away from my parents. Naturally, my major was the all-encompassing, ever so nebulous Undeclared.
When it came to music, I knew little outside of what was on the radio — you know, the thing in your car that plays the same five songs in a muzzled tone whenever ads aren’t being run. My Winamp playlist coming into college consisted of artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, and Nirvana. I was a ’90s kid who knew nothing but ’90s music.
I generally look back at my experience at UCLA as time wasted, which is a fault of my own, but one exception to that sentiment was how my musical universe expanded. I discovered Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and The Beatles. I guess all musical roads lead back to The Beatles.
Of course, I knew of The Beatles prior to college. They were the four guys from England that sang cheesy pop songs for the teenyboppers, right? Boy, was I ever pleasantly surprised to find out that they were much more than that. Beyond the clips of I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You being played to an auditorium of screaming girls on the Ed Sullivan Show, I discovered Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, The White Album, and Abbey Road — drug infused, mind expanding tracks that made me realize for the first time that popular music can be works of art. John, Paul, George, and Ringo grew their hair and mustaches out, ditched the German inspired black suits, and broke out of the confines of how a rock band was supposed to sound to create something greater that has stood the test of time.
They changed. And I changed. This change was good.
Emily and I married on October 27, 2018. A few weeks prior, her dad Steve flew into Los Angeles from Taiwan and stayed with us until the wedding. In a lot of ways, he’s the opposite of my own father — quiet, calm, modest, and unassuming. You would always hear him telling people Thank you, No problem, and Don’t worry about it — he avoided inconveniencing people at all costs. I can picture him now, wearing a faded blue short-sleeved button up shirt, tucked into a pair of high wasted gray slacks, with a no-name brand pair of black shoes on his feet and a baseball cap on his head.
I don’t remember much from my wedding day, but one image that will forever stick in my memory is that of the sheer pleasure on my new father-in-law’s face. He had the smile of a proud father, basking in the glory of witnessing a banquet hall full of friends and family celebrate a pivotal milestone in his daughter’s life. I caught a glimpse of him standing alone with that smile. He didn’t have to say a word for me to know that he was ready to cross a big item off of his bucket list.
A few days later, my father-in-law flew back to Taiwan with plans to come back again sometime the following year. For Emily and I, the weeks went by as we shook off the post-wedding rust and got back into our normal life routines.
On one Saturday, we were working out of a coffee shop in Beverly Hills when Emily’s phone rang. It was her mother, who was calling from Arizona to deliver some bad news — Steve had suffered a stroke in Taiwan and was unconscious. I won’t soon forget seeing Emily’s heart break from the other side of that little coffee table. She flew out to Taiwan two days later, and I followed two days after that.
Unfortunately, Steve never woke up. He remained on life support for a few days as the family deliberated on a plan, but in the end there was nothing much to do other than say our goodbyes. I stood by my wife’s side as she tearfully read her letter of love and gratitude to her father and said her farewell. I stumbled through a few words of saying thank you and promising to always be there for his daughter. In this world of accumulating money, likes, and followers, Steve didn’t have any of those things but I can say without a doubt that he was one of the wealthiest people that I knew. Keanu Reeves of all people said it best when Stephen Colbert asked him what he thinks happens when we die — “I know that the ones who love us will miss us.” And as a few of us gathered around Steve as he took his final breath, I felt somewhat at peace knowing that he can rest easy because he was certainly loved.
At that moment, our lives changed. And this change was difficult to bear.
Even something so magical as The Beatles didn’t last. People like to blame Yoko Ono for poisoning the chemistry, but really the Fab Four grew tired and worn out from being together. It was always going to end someday, and to the world’s sadness, it did.
For what it’s worth, my favorite Beatle was always George Harrison. He seemed the coolest and the least pretentious, a musician’s musician. One of his big solo hits after the Beatles was the song What Is Life. It’s a grandiose question that borders on being rhetorical — how would anyone answer that?
Well, if I were to attempt at coming up with something, it would be this: Life is change, and change is sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes unwanted, and sometimes welcomed. But whether you like it or not, change — and life — is going to happen. We lament over our favorite groups breaking up and we cry when those we love depart, but I’d like to believe that if we can accept that life doesn’t stay the same, then we can make more peace with our past and fear tomorrow a little bit less. And that’s how life always was, is, and will be — an ever-changing, ever-evolving force of energy that cares not about your personal preferences. The show must, and always does, go on.
Appropriately, What Is Life is on George Harrison’s masterpiece of a solo album titled All Things Must Pass. Maybe the Quiet Beatle was really the Wisest Beatle.