Monkey brain, it’s what we’ll be eating for dinner, my dad signed to me on one of my first nights with him in Vietnam. It’s the Vietnamese way, he added.

Really?! I asked, my sign language unnecessary as my expression said it all. He looked serious about it a few moments longer, making me sweat, before a big grin spread across his face. He probably could have had me going for a lot longer as I was still getting to know his sense of humor as this was only the second time we’d seen each other in 10 years.

Even though it had been such a long time, it was surprisingly easy to laugh and converse with each other. At first I’d been worried about communication since my dad is deaf and I’ve rarely used sign language since I’d last seen him. Thankfully it came back quickly, even if we had to spell words out from time to time, because we had a lot to talk about.

Years ago my dad made some bad choices in his life and for awhile was put behind bars. At that time I was young, 16 years old, and didn’t know how to deal with having one of my parents in prison. I was embarrassed, didn’t talk to anyone about where my dad was and would tell a fib if people asked. I avoided the issue in a state of denial that lasted far too long.

It took me going halfway around the world as a grown adult to face this issue and finally reconnect with my dad. I happened to be traveling through Vietnam while he was there in his home country for the first time in 40 years. Having been gone for that long, much of Vietnam was as foreign to him as it was to me. We formed a common bond as misplaced Americans and it gave us something to joke about when we talked about the unfamiliar “Vietnamese way” of doing things.

Britnee and her dad in VietnamWe decided to go on a road trip together through Vietnam giving us a lot of time to talk and sightsee as a family. Driving north we visited Mui Ne, Dalat, Dak Mil, Nha Trang, and Hoi An, which were all parts of the country that neither of us had seen before. My dad was originally from Saigon so that city was all he knew from his childhood. He had moved with his parents and sisters to America just a few days before the South fell to the North in the Vietnam War.

His sister’s husband was in the U.S. military and was able to sponsor the entire family to move to Castle Dale, Utah, of all places. It’s hard to imagine my dad and his siblings going from the humid tropics of Asia to the empty, cold deserts of southern Utah in the winter of 1975. On my dad’s first day in America he saw snow for the first time and didn’t know what it was. He thought it was ice he could use and started to bring it into the house until someone yelled at him to leave it outside. Stories like these were fun to hear from my dad and helped me get to know him better.

Our visit was too short of a time to make up for the last ten years, but it was enough for us to heal from the past, talk about the future, and improve our father-daughter relationship. I feel so much better about my relationship with my dad after creating better memories of him while in his home country.

I don’t know when we’ll see each other again, but am glad that my latest memory of my dad is a happy one…him waving the “I love you” sign at me through the bus window in Vietnam.

About The Author

Britnee traveled around the world with her husband on a shoestring budget for a year. A few of her favorite destinations include Scotland's Isle of Skye, Chile's Torres del Paine, Bolivia's Salt Flats and Nepal's Annapurna Circuit.

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