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.

Fatherhood
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.

A Dedication to My Father: Introduction

My father was a big part of my life. What you might not know is that every year, I reflect for five days on my past and think about my future on his birthday (today March 15th) till the day of his passing on (March 20th). Most years, I post a picture of him. This year is different. This year he would have been 72 years old and it has been 20 years since he passed away. The latter fact struck me...20 years, so much has happened in that time for me and now with our little girl, I cannot believe my dad is not here to play with his granddaughter.

And so I dedicate these next few days to share a little bit of him and some thoughts on how he has impacted my life. With the help of my parents and family, I have pulled together pictures of my dad through 52 years of his life and assembled them into photo collages. I appreciate those of you who follow me on this reflective journey...thank you!