If you’ve ever lost a parent, you probably dread Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and any other holiday that reminds you of your loved ones.
I lost my Dad to stomach cancer in 2001. That year was a blur to me as I lost Dad, Auntie and both grandmothers all in about a year’s time. I’m surprised I survived that experience. I hardly remember anything from that time. I can only recollect moving to L.A. to live on a friend’s couch and losing my voice for two months (that’s a big deal, if you know me, I LOVE to talk).
I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since the sadness and sorrow. The only thing worse is the burden of unfinished business with Dad that I too will have to take to my grave one day.
But this Father’s Day, I can finally say that I am at peace with Dad. Thanks to two friends — angels on Earth really — one of whom was a complete stranger who helped me let go of the unsettled business I had with pops.
I met Fiona “Love” Pattison at a castle during my friends Cathy Hue and Julian Shah-Tayler’s wedding in Durham, England. Yes, a real castle — what a fantastic backdrop for our friendship to develop. Our connection was even more magical. I knew she was an evolved soul. I felt like we’ve known each other since we were kids. We connected over storytelling, good deeds and our genuine love of all things artsy fartsy.
She said, “The world needs this now, more than ever. There is a shift happening. What you’re doing with storytelling and social media is really special.” Immediately, she vowed to help with public relations and spread the news of Go Inspire Go in the U.K. She pitched a story, connected me to the talented filmmaker Oli Cohen, and the rest was history. Here’s the story we produced about a fabulous couple who created a Compassionate Tea Movement:
That experience was extra special because so many lovely happenings manifested from our meeting. For the first time, I didn’t carry a camera with me during my travels. I wanted to produce a story about all the compassion that came out of the 2011 London riots before meeting Fiona, but, ironically, I had an accident where hot tea spilled and burned off the first layer of skin on my foot. There was no way I could carry gear and navigate the Tube. It was pure kismet that she pitched the same story and connected me to the interviewees and Oli!
Since this experience, we’ve been spirit siblings. No doubt about it. Connected at a higher vibration and level. Fast forward two years… I had a Go Inspire Go social media photo walk to meet some of our biggest supporters in the San Francisco community.
One viewer and fan, Michael Fullam, asked, “Wow, what do your parents think of your success?” I told him, although I created a global multimedia platform to highlight everyday humanitarians and leverage social media to inspire social change and action, teach multimedia and storytelling at two universities, and share my blogs on the Huffington Post and Intent.com, my mom didn’t really fully comprehend what I do. I replied, “I tell my mom I do stories about people helping people.” She still asks, in her adorable Chinese accent, “Oh, good. You make money yet?”
Michael asked me about my Dad and what he thought about this. I told him my father passed and doesn’t know about what I’m doing. “I’m sure he’s proud of you,” Michael assured me. This made me sad — yet another reminder of one of the last conversations I had with Dad replayed like a bad sitcom rerun in my head.
I told Michael that I quit my first TV reporting job to take care of Dad when I found out he had six months to live. I remember seeing him for the first time after moving back home. He was in the hospital bed. “Hi Dad, how are you?” I asked cautiously. A noisy clock’s second hand was ticking in slow motion. I expected him to embrace me, hug me, tell me he loved me and say he was proud of my accomplishments as a TV reporter. It felt like a smack in the face when he said, “When are you going to be a doctor?” Really? That is the first thing he was going to say to me? UGH! I realized nothing had changed.
The day after Michael asked me about my Dad, Fiona called. We hadn’t talked for about six months. She pinged me on Facebook and said she wanted to tell me something. We jumped on Skype. She told me, “I was putting the kettle on and got a hit. Your Dad wanted me to tell you that he was proud of you.” What the? How could this be a coincidence? #Chills
The second person who helped me process my father’s death was a complete stranger at the time. I met Gina Pell through my good friend and Community Heroes co-founder, Kala Shah. We met at a cafe/bakery in Ross, Calif. Gina offered to coach me about branding and business development.
She too asked me if my parents were impressed by the work I’ve been doing. I told her the same story I told Michael. She interrupted me and said, “Wait, did you ever think that your Dad was being sarcastic? I know that he was very proud of you. And he knows that you are a doctor now.” I was perplexed. “A Doctor of the Spirit. You have helped so many people reconnect to their spirit and see their power and help people,” she continued.
Tears ran down my eyes. We hugged. Instantly, more than three decades of the need to please my Dad and not feeling like I was good enough were lifted from me. I felt light. The tears washed away my sadness. Alas, I finally felt at peace with Dad.
Memories of conversations with the hospice nurse and priest my father befriended resurfaced. When I met them, they instantly knew who I was. They knew that I was a successful TV reporter, the youngest son, the kid whom he loved with every fiber of his being.
Before Dad took his last breath, he gave one last piece of advice: “We were all born with music in our hearts. It’s our responsibility to share it with the world before we die.”
I discovered that my melody lies in the heart of human communication. What brings me joy is connecting with people through reading, writing and talking. I share it with the world through Go Inspire Go. What music is in your heart and how are you sharing it?
This is one of the biggest spiritual lessons I’ve learned.
Here are five takeaways:
–I learned to forgive.
–I learned to make time for loved ones (even if you have to schedule them in) because life is fleeting.
–I learned that despite the cultural and generational barriers that got in the way of fully understanding our quirks, we did the best that we could.
-I learned that my father and auntie and both grandmothers will always be with me. Albeit not in the physical form, their values, spirit and goodness will live through me and my actions.
–I learned that I am their legacy… and my legacy will always be passed on through everybody who has been touched by my words, my voice and my story.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I know you’re up there, glowing with pride, smiling at me.
Toan, “The Soul Doctor”
P.S. Thank you to all my friends, you truly are angels — the light in my dark times.
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