Since my dad has been gone, Father’s Day for me has become a day for reminiscing about his impact on my life. I’ve been thinking about my roots this Father’s Day. In the spirit of remembering my dad, here’s part of his story.
It is funny how life follows cycles. It’s been a little more than eighteen months since I left my corporate job to pursue custom tailoring. As a child of first-generation immigrants, I’ve come full circle.
How He Got Here
My father came to the US in 1967 as a traveling salesman, fitting people for custom-tailored suits stitched in Hong Kong. He and his brothers ran a custom tailoring company together. His work took him all over the country—I’m pretty sure he visited all of the lower 48 states.
He spent a few years in St. Thomas and married my mom. They eventually settled in Florida, where I was born. When he threw in the towel on his shop there, Papa decided to try his luck somewhere else. Over the course of his travels, he—like so many others—fell in love with San Francisco. En route to California, my parents stopped to visit family friends in Dallas and ended up staying there.
A Steady Presence
Papa owned a jewelry store. For 45 minutes to an hour on either side of locking the shop doors, he would pack or unpack the safe and set up the displays in the showcases. During the day, he would perform watch repairs, like changing batteries and adjusting the length of watch bands, in between customers. These repairs paid our bills since the shop wasn’t that busy.
Papa worked really hard at what I saw as a thankless business. An immigrant with an unfinished college degree, his opportunities for employment that would pay the bills were limited. As a small business owner without salaried employees, he didn’t often close the shop for vacations. After all, if someone came by while the shop was closed, we wouldn’t make a sale. However, he would send my mother and me on trips in the summer, primarily to India where most of her family still lives. He might join us for a week or so before heading back home. Even then, he risked break-ins and the opportunity cost of a closed shop.
Papa picked up side hustles to make sure we could always pay the bills and put aside savings. Eventually, he started taking short trips while my mom and I ran the shop to … get right back into custom tailoring with one of his brothers.
A Precious Legacy
Papa always showed up for anything going on in my life. Walking me to school (long after the age where it was cool)? School play? Dance concert? Martial arts test? PTA meetings? He was always sure to be there.
Even though his business efforts weren’t yielding the best results, he kept looking for new opportunities. Many times, these might have led us to move, and he eventually decided to stay put because it was in my best interest—my education’s best interest—to remain in the same (excellent) school.
His best advice to me was that I needed to be independent, able to take care of myself and my family, no matter what happened in life. On one of our last visits together, he expressed gratitude and relief that he knew he didn’t have to worry about my future … about me. I can only hope to share the same wise counsel with my own children and appreciate a similar result. Now that I am a parent, I know it’s a heavy burden to have that constant niggling concern about whether the kids are going to be okay. I’m grateful that in this one thing, I was able to ease his heart.
Family history can be complicated. For me, the opportunity to follow in my father’s footsteps as a custom tailor and an entrepreneur makes me feel closer to him. With my feet firmly planted in my roots this Father’s Day, I’d like to think he’d be happy to know we shared this work in common so many years apart.