Originally published in The Straits Times on Father's Day, June 17, 2001
Go on, make peace with Dad
by Will Kern
Fathers and sons. Boy, there's a real
Anger, resentment and estrangement
were about all I had with my Dad from
the time I was a teenager.
Then, when I was in my 20s,
I was reading a newspaper, like you're
doing now, and I came across a letter
in Dear Abby's column Abby is what
Singaporeans call an Agony Aunt. I
paraphrase it here:
"Dear Abby: Years ago, my father and
I quarrelled over something petty, and
we grew apart and lost contact with
"I always wanted to bury the hatchet
with him, but pride got in the way, and I
never did. He's dead now, and we
"Abby, that was 25 years ago, and to
this day I am haunted by what might
"Please tell your readers that if they
have a bad relationship with their
father or mother, tell them to try and
square their differences so they can
enjoy the little time they have left
together as a family.
"I could have worked out the problems
with my Dad, but I didn't, and so I
missed out on having a Dad. It is the
biggest mistake of my life."
I put the paper down, and something
came back to me I'd buried long ago.
I'm 11 years old, my Dad is gone a lot.
He is away from us most of the time, on
duty with the US Air Force. I miss him,
and I never see him. For all intents and
purposes, he may as well be a ghost.
We are stationed at Richards-Gebaur
Air Force Base in Belton, Missouri.
This is our fourth
assignment in four years. I am having
a hard time with the constant moving,
having a hard time making friends. I
am lonely. I hate Belton.
One afternoon, I am bored and I start
going through a storage closet and I
find my Dad's flight suit, this great
orange canvas jumpsuit with a thick
zipper down the middle.
There is a squadron patch on the
arm, 4028th Strategic
Reconnaissance. In the centre of the
patch is a fire-breathing dragon, and
below it, the words Toward The
I put on the jumpsuit. It is way too big
for me, of course, all bulky and loose
fitting, but I cuff up the sleeves and
pants legs and it feels very
I start to wear it around. I put it on
after school and walk around the
neighbourhood. My Mom puts a stop to
this after a few days.
"What are you doing with that flight
"I don't know. I like it."
"Well, put it back in the closet. What's
wrong with you? Boy, I raised some
I did what she asked, and I didn't wear
the flight suit again.
My Dad didn't know the value of family
until it was too late, until he was way
past retirement and he had long since
become a stranger to both his sons.
We didn't have the faintest idea who
he was, and for my own part I had long
since stopped caring.
My Dad was a very patriotic military
man, so much so that he sacrificed his
family on the altar of his patriotism.
Which is great as an ideal, but it's a
drag if you're a boy and you don't
know why your Dad doesn't want to be
Happy Father's Day, Pops!
I read the Dear Abby letter again.
The hell with him. He had his chance.
I thought, maybe, this woman could be
right. Maybe things could change. I
always admired what my Dad had
accomplished in his life. Could we find
common ground? I didn't really know.
When I called him and said I something
I had to talk to him about, he seemed
suspicious. "You do?"
The next week, I sat down with him at
living room table and told him about
Me: "So let's face it. You and me got a
terrible relationship. Why do you
suppose that is?"
Dad: "I don't know. I've always felt like
you didn't really like me very much.
I told him it wasn't like that, that I
loved him, but I had a lot of anger for
his never being around when I was a
kid. But I could put all that in the past
so we could move on, and I thought it
possible if we did one thing.
My father and I were on opposite ends
of the political spectrum, and whenever
we got together, the subject of politics
would come up one way or another
and suddenly it was sharks in bloody
water, turning nasty and mean real
But that was the only thing that stood
in the way as that was the only thing
we fought about. So no more talking
It was not all sugar cookies and rose
blossoms after that. It takes time and
many awkward moments to rebuild
something so damaged. But believe
me, it was definitely the right thing to
So I encourage you, on this Father's
Day, to try and bury the hatchet if you
have an estranged parent. My Dad
and I were like that dragon patch on
his orange flight suit, moving forever
Toward The Unknown.
Then one day, because of a letter,
things began to change.
Happy Father's Day.
Will Kern is a sub-editor with