On this day, 8 years ago, I lost my father to liver cancer. I found out 4 days before he passed, and I had no idea how sick he truly was until I saw him.
I received the news that my dad was ill from my case manager. She called me and my world fell apart. Even though I was in foster care and finally got placed with a beautiful couple who loved me very much... there was still a huge part in my heart that loved my father... very much. No matter the mistakes that he made, there was never a mistake grave enough for me to dismiss that he was the only parent I had. Good or bad.
When I begged my social worker to see my father, it was impossible. My social worker wouldn't approve of a visit unless my foster parents were there. I screamed and cried, I felt cornered and powerless because the only person who held all my childhood memories, the only parent I ever had, was dying- and because I was a "foster kid", I couldn't even get my last visits with him alone. What else could he say that would hurt me more than his death?
The time I found this out was the same time homecoming was happening. Life was happening, and I wanted so badly for everything to stop. On the day of my homecoming, I went to see my father in my homecoming dress at the hospital. It was the first time, in a very long time that I saw him smile back at me. I had been away from home for almost 5 years, every family visit was awful- and at the family court, he could barely stand seeing me. But this moment, he smiled at me and that was all I ever wanted. I felt for a moment, that he saw me as his daughter again. He turned to my foster parents, with barely an ounce of life left in him, he said to Bill and Rosemary, "take care of my Whitney".
The next day at 7 am, I got a call from my brother, "Dad is gone".
Like a toddler scared of the dark, I jumped out of bed and ran to my foster parent's room and cried, "my dad passed away". I distinctively remember that as they looked at me with worry and shock, they did not know how relieved I was that they were there in my life.
As everyone rotated in the hospital and all my siblings took their turns to say goodbye, I couldn't remove myself from my father's bedside. I sat there staring at him, begging him to just wake up and smile back at me again. Despite the commotion happening, the room felt silent to me. There were no monitors beeping, there were no fluids dripping, there were no sheets rusting.
Since I said my final goodbye to my father, I leave remnants of him in my life as a reminder of that smile that I saw. Maybe, he did want me back home after all.
My father gave me a jade necklace when I was born. It's very special to me and on days where I am unsure or need to feel empowered, I wear it. Sometimes I sign my name in emails with "Lam" in it. Those are my simple ways to show that I will never forget my father. I choose to remember him for his strength, wisdom, and courage. I choose to forgive him.
As my life in foster care continued, it felt that outside looking in, many forgot that I lost a parent while I was in care. My social worker kept talking about a case plan. My classmates still said, "at least you still have parents". I carried a lot of guilt with me when these things happen. Should I be happy that the person who contributed to my time in foster care has passed, and at least I still have parents?
No one can ever fulfill the place of my father. There's no love that can every erase that he existed, and time won't take away the very breaths that he breathed into my walk of life when he was alive. All of that is ok.
My foster parents are very much my parents today. They love me and adore me. My mom said to me the other day "your love is the sunrise", my dad always picks up when I call him. Still, they don't ever try to replace my father. His role, just like theirs- is sacred and irreplaceable.
After his funeral, my family went to eat pho. Tonight, that is exactly what we are going to do.
Living over 18 places has taught me that every child deserves a home. Being a survivor of child abuse has taught me that every child needs to be heard. Growing up in foster care has taught me to bloom where I am planted. Being a mother and a wife has taught me to be resilient. Operating a charity has taught me that people really do want to help. Providing homes for youth in care has taught me that bad days does not mean a bad life. Advocating for children has taught me to be brave.