A Dedication to My Father: 20 years

Thanks to my stepfather, David, for putting this dedication photo together. This is my dad at age 30 in 1974, in front of our apartment in NYC East Village. 

Thanks to my stepfather, David, for putting this dedication photo together. This is my dad at age 30 in 1974, in front of our apartment in NYC East Village. 

Today was a relatively peaceful day. I got choked up with a couple tears welling up at one point while holding Naomi as I looked in her eyes and saw my father inside her fiery spirit.

On March 20, 1996, I was woken up around 5:45am by my dad as he asked me if I wanted to go to morning Aikido practice with him and mom. I said no as I had been up all night studying for an exam or something (I was a junior at Brooklyn Technical High School) and was exhausted. He said "okay...get some sleep. I love you." Half asleep I said " I love you dad." And those were the last words between the two of us. Apparently, my father was not well that morning and sat on the side lines of the dojo mat. Later he went to his doctors with a friend. The doctor did an ECG and did not see any problems. So our friend left my dad by his office in midtown and dad proceeded to do a task before heading into the office. He went to a nearby Citibank to withdraw money and soon after collapsed from a heart attack. He was alive while in the ambulance, but passed away in one of the city hospitals soon after. I can only imagine how lonely and how much traffic there was to get him to the hospital.

I attended school like usual, but I was also hustling to get myself set-up for an editor position in Tech's literary magazine, Horizons, so I had something to put on my college applications. As I walked outside with the magazine's advisor, I felt like someone had doused me with water and I felt a sudden emptiness in my being. When I arrived home, the air was cold and I saw my mother sitting alone. The first thing I asked "where's dad?" She told me what happened and I was stunned. Then I started to panic about things that didn't matter at that moment, like school work. I called friends to take down notes for class and flatly explained my dad passed away. It wasn't until a friend said "Mieko...shut up...do you realize what has just happened to you?" I'll have to say, my memories before his passing are fuzzy. Afterwards, life was more crystal clear as I was reminded to live life fully and for the purpose of something greater than myself.

It was a few weeks till I got to see my dad again, as we waited till spring vacation. Not easy to see your father in a casket; even harder over the years to not hear and then start to forget his voice. Every year as I look back, I realized life is short and we live on earth for some reason. My dad was a loyal husband, father, son, brother and friend. I know my life trajectory changed due to this moment in time. I felt guilty for a time about feeling fulfilled with who and what I have become after he died; by that I mean, all the amazing things I have done were due to what he left behind for me and his passing was a trigger point for a change in mindset.

Twenty years have passed, I look at what has happened for my family and I without him. And then I remember, though not physically here his presence shows in many ways in all our lives.

Thank you all for reading this reflective journey and rememberance.

A Dedication to My Father: Husband, Father, Family Man

Dad was a natural family man, both as a husband and father. 

One of many aspects that I cherish about dad was his loving partnership with my mom. Their relationship was about love and intellectual companionship, pushing past historical cultural biases. 

The bad blood and history between China and Japan had a great impact on the reaction of my mother's family to her dating and eventually marrying a person of Japanese decent. The opposition to the relationship was so fierce that the threat of leaving the family was discussed. Luckily, in spite of all the stereotypes and ill feelings toward his heritage, dad won my great-grandmother (my mother's guardian and matriarch of the family) over. On the other hand, dad's parents accepted my mother from the start. They got married when my mom was a few months away from graduating college. So they married secretly in City Hall and intended to make the announcement upon graduation, a promise she made to her grandmother.

It was always a running joke in the family that my mother is his sensei, since she took her black belt test and gained ranking before him. But in reality, they both were avid students of Aikido and had gained recognition and respect with equal footing. My dad was more of methodical, while my mom was more intuitive, whether it was in Aikido, or the ways they approached life. Somehow, they complemented each other well. They maintained a check and balance relationship that kept their lives both pragmatic as well as creative.

Aikido was a glue to their relationship, apart from the farm, their politics and later on parenthood. Here the daily practice and early morning routine, helped them to respect each other's discipline. Both had invited a large group of dojo friends into their lives, whether having breakfasts together or other celebrations. These folks became their family members. My dad was always gregarious and open to friendships, while my mom was more cautious and reserve. In their life, it worked.

My dad had a soul of a little boy. He still held on to many of the interests he once had in his childhood: comic books, watching sports, playing outdoor sports. There he shared his interests with me, by taking me regularly to the comic book store in the Village, buying Legos so he can play too, or building blocks so he can show me how to build things. Perhaps this was why I never got into playing dolls. Legos and blocks were more fun.

My dad was humorous in his own way. He often wore tee shirts with funny messages or hilarious cards to cheer me up. At work, he wore Hawaiian print shirts (more Don Ho like than shirt and tie stiff). My mother always commented that he and I played more like brother and sister than father and daughter.

Dad was also a caring son. My grandfather died in his 50s and so my father would call my grandmother weekly as well as send thoughtful cards and gifts. Overall, my dad was a big bear with a big heart who cared for family and friends.


A Dedication to My Father: Aikido, Home, & The Collective

My father's love for functional architecture with aesthetic designs led him to become a draftsman at Leslie E. Robertson & Associates (LERA), an engineering firm in NYC, in 1970. He worked at LERA as their senior draftsman where he remained until the time of his death. There he worked on many famous buildings around the globe like the World Trade Center (NYC), Bank of China (Hong Kong), Corning Museum Glass (NY), United States Steel Building (Pittsburgh, PA), Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (Cleveland, Ohio) and many more. Dad was around to work with the firm on redesign of the WTC structure after the first bombing in the early 90s. I remember vividly his description of the blast area when their team went on site to assess the structural damage. He said it was like looking into an abyss.

The same year he joined LERA, he married my mother on October 31, 1970. Dad always joked that he couldn't forget their anniversary because not only was it Halloween but it was also my mother's birthday. As a couple, they looked for a martial art that they could practice together. My mom saw an Aikido demonstration in the city and soon after they joined the NY Aikikai. They routinely practiced early in the morning followed by breakfast with other practitioners before heading to work. Over time, both my parents rose in the ranks and started to teach classes in the morning. When I was little (from age 5-8), my father took the time to teach me and be my partner. As an Aikido instructor, dad was great at explaining each technique and demonstrating its effectiveness. To say the least, I was well-behaved cause I did not want to be called up when he demonstrated a technique with me in front of the class. It was funny and embarrassing at the same time.

The idea of assembling a collective of like minded politically engaged people, remained a goal he wanted to fulfill. At the same time, his idea for the design of a communal house came into being. My father, mother, David, a couple, and another friend joined together to form a collective with the intent of finding land, building a community house with smaller homes on the property, and living together. The collective formed during the Back to the Land years. After finding land in the Catskills region and beginning construction of the main building, three of the six members decided to leave after the first year because of other opportunities (and building a house was too big of a challenge for them). 

In spite the abrupt leaving of the three members and their financial support, my parents and David were able to carry on with their regular jobs in NYC to continue to support the farm. Being youthful, filled with energy and idealism, they were able to accomplish goals while having some fun on the way. While both working during the week in the City, my mother and father made the long trek to upstate New York to meet up with David to work on the construction on the house over the weekends. The work started in 1974 and has continued till the present. These were happy times for my family and it would take a few years before I joined them.

A Dedication to My Father: Youth & Activism

My father had an interest in architecture and after two years in community college and earning his associates degree, he attended UC Berkeley's school of architecture. He arrived in the late 60s when students were protesting against the Vietnam War and other social issues of the time. Dad was focused on his studies, training to be a draftsman, and proudly graduated from his program. 

My father was in his 20s and during the late 60s/70s, it was the period in his life he became an activist engaged in Leftist politics. To avoid the draft, he became a VISTA volunteer. Moving from California to Waterbury, Connecticut, dad became more politically active while working with African American mothers who were on welfare and living in the public projects. He witnessed the racist injustices that put these mothers into perpetual poverty. During this time, he met his best friend and now my stepfather, David, who was engaged in protesting the Vietnam War. Later on, they moved to the East Village in the early 70s. My father met my mother through political meetings in Chinatown.

Dad became more politically engaged because of his personal experience with racism and the hypocrisy of the American government, who had uprooted his family and many others to internment camps ("relocation centers", aka concentration camps) during WWII . He wanted to prevent this from happening to my mother, his Chinese American wife, due to the growing adversarial relationship between the USA and China. He truly believed that the internment camp could happen again to his family and his future offspring.

He met many political activist during this time, who had influenced the way he looked at life, his politics, and at the increased creeping of fascism in this country. He read up on political collectivism, the Nearings, James and Grace Lee Bogg's, Mary Kochiyama, Malcolm X, Black Panthers, and many important writers of the time. He was recruited by community leaders because he had charisma to organize and lead. He was involved in many student demonstrations, including in Columbia University, and organized political forums.

With these experiences, he came to a conclusion that forming a collective with political minded persons, who had specific skills, could be an answer to spread and live the progressive political ideas he desired to be a part of.

A Dedication to My Father: Born & Raised in America

Phillip M. Ozeki (nickname Mibo) was born on March 16, 1944 at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. His parents Ben and Mae Ozeki along with his grandparents, 1-year old sister Carol, aunts, uncles, cousins were among the 120,000 Japanese American placed in internment camps during WWII under Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. The conditions were bare minimum and Heart Mountain was not a hospitable place in the winter, especially for the many internees who were coming from the warm West Coast. My father's family were the last to arrive at the camp after their stay in horse stalls at Santa Anita Race Track, the government's temporary holding area for internees. They arrived in the winter of 1943 with no winter coats. 

The Nisei (2nd generation) worked hard to deal with the conditions of the camp and create a new normal, even with soldiers guns pointed in toward them within the confines of fences. This was a generation as a whole who tried hard to prove they were American. Some fought back and pointed to the racial injustice of their incarceration. Others stayed quiet believing the government was protecting them from harm. 

As you take a look at this collage, you will see my father's baby pictures and images of the barracks behind him. When they left the camps, like so many other internees, my family lost personal property and the land they farmed. They started from scratch and they adjusted to their new normal in Los Angeles. My dad lived an American boyhood, he joined the Boy Scouts and received all his badges with his dad by his side as Scout Master. He journeyed to Philmont and earned his Eagle Scout badge. In school, he was the mischievous child who enjoyed the occasional practical joke. He looked and lived like your typical American kid in the 1950s. 

It was not until later in his young adulthood he started to ask why he was born in an internment camp and why the U.S. government thought they were justified to imprison so many people because of their race. Also, why treat one race like animals. These questions are relevant now as much as then. The internment camps were only the American variation of the Nazi's concentration camps and yet this part of history is buried in a paragraph in our school books. At the root Dad and now I ask: what does it mean to be an American and who determines if you're American? Do I get to determine my identity if others already have a perception based on my exterior?

Closing thought: As a 4th generation Japanese American and 5th generation Chinese American, the microagression aimed at me from time to time comes in the form of the following question "no really...where are you from?"  
These questions of identity are not so much questions I need answers to, but are reflective of a situation I experience here in this country.