The Old Man’s Love

“It’s been more than 10 years since your mother passed away. 11 years in just few months. Time flies.”

I nodded, even though he could not see me. Skype isn’t really our thing.

“Do you have a boyfriend? You aren’t so young anymore.”
“I’m taking it easy.”
“Don’t you need someone to take care of you?”
“I can take care of myself, Pap. And I’d rather be happy—you know what I mean.”

Silence hung in the air. But it wasn’t an awkward one. I knew he understands me.

“How about you? Got a girlfriend?”
“Why? You think I got one?”
I shrugged. “Perhaps. You need someone to take care of you, I guess.”

And he knew I could get a little saucy.

“You know the idiom, don’t buy a pig in a poke?”
“Sure.”
“You don’t be with someone because he is handsome, rich, or because he can take care of you. You should be together because he is the best person for you, the best you could ever have, and vice versa. Because he loves you like no one else can.”

And no one can love me like your mother. She’s hard to beat, that woman.

I have been hearing him saying it over and over again the past 11 years and it still brought tears to my eyes.

She loved me unconditionally. That’s the word… unconditionally. She understood me. She chose to be with me when nobody else would—not even my own family. A woman like that is hard to find.

“And a man like you isn’t exactly easy to find, Pap.”

He isn’t my real father, even though he’s more real to me than anyone else has ever been. He was in love with my mother since forever and loved her enough to let her go, to see her married another guy. He loved my mother so much that he took her back and patiently attended to her while she recovered from the wounds and damages my abusive father afflicted. He was the last and the only person by her side when cancer took my mother away. Divorce was a huge deal back then. Marrying a widow with two kids was even a bigger deal, especially since he was raised in a prominent family. It meant being a cast-out, a black sheep that brings shame and disgrace to the whole clan. My grandfather disowned him shortly after he took my mother in.

The marriage, or should I say, the signing of papers was far from glamorous. It was done in the small town hall. Nobody heard them exchanged wedding vow, yet they stuck together through thick and thin for as long as I knew. Without so much of a celebration or glorious declaration of never-ending love, they were an example of “till death do us part”.

My mother taught me to stand for myself, to be strong and courageous. My stepfather taught me to love unconditionally and persistently. He taught me that love heals and it stays, even long after the person is gone.

“I love you.”

He rarely says it, though. If you were raised in a conservative Chinese family you’d know what I mean. Exchange of words isn’t our best quality. But it’s there.

“Love you too, Pap.”

We meant it. We both knew we did.

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