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Late Father’s Day Letter – Saddest Part of My Graduation

Graphic Credit: Sana Kewalramani

Bản Tiếng Việt 

In all of the business and preparation for graduation, it’s a time to reflect on the most important people in the audience, the ones who pushed us towards that degree–our parents. 

For international students, bringing our parents to graduation isn’t a two-day or one-night thing, it’s a whole operation that requires months of planning. Besides graduation, you will also have to play different hats such as translator, tour guide, and bellhop before you get across that stage.

My mom has never been to the United States or taken any flight that’s longer than 6 hours. Now, in her 50s, taking a twenty-two-hour flight is a huge challenge for my parents. But they sure know at the end of that flight, their son will be there waiting. 

 Ideally, a trip like this would be for 10 -14 days, where only 2 days will be spent on my graduation, and the rest would be spent exploring America. But I don’t want to take my parents to see the popular and touristy places; rather, I want to take them to see my America. One Liberty observation deck is a no-go, paying 30 bucks to walk around a circle for 10 minutes would mean I would get some heckle later from both of them. I want to take them for a walk in Center city, let them see City Hall on a quiet evening – tell them how I felt the same feeling four years ago when I first saw this building. Then I would take them to a small bar at the intersection of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where they can see the whole road leading up to the Philadelphia Art Museum. I would tell them about the Rocky statue, a fictional character among all the great historical antiques inside the museum. Neither of my parents has been to Philadelphia, but I want to tell them how I feel about this city, the vibe, the atmosphere, my version of Philadelphia.  

 Showcasing my room is also a part of the trip. I’m imagining my dad’s first time seeing my room would be like Simon Cowel in America’s Got Talent with the red button on his hand ready to push anytime. With the door open, the first exhibition is my living room ( or at least what I consider it to be ) which for my dad that might look like the war zone after the battle ended. The tour will then move to my kitchen which he will judge as a chemistry lab by his assessment. The end of the tour will probably be my room, or at least that’s the end of what he can take. Following that will be 10 minutes of lecture, and then 20 minutes of him revolutionizing my house. It would be the great TV show of my life for the past 18 years featuring Marie Kondo and Gordan Ramsay together. And believe it or not, I have missed it for the past 4 years since I moved to the U.S. Affection to me doesn’t always come with a hug or kiss, it’s the smallest things that no one notices, the daily life stuff. My dad has never said “I love you” to me, but he has never forgotten to remind me to put the towel back on the rack. It is a sign from my dad to show that he cares. (P/s: to emphasize I only miss it occasionally, not all the time). 

   Moving on to the tour in the U.S after graduation, it would probably be a road trip, perhaps the East Coast starting in New York. I will let my mom see New York and examine all the stories she has been told her whole life about this magical city. Does the United States like what they think it is? Does the fantasy live up to reality? I also want to let my parent try a Cheesesteak; however, with such a mixed opinion about the sandwich, I figure it’s better to do it at the end of the trip. If they think it is good, then my mission is accomplished, on the other end, I might have ruined their whole fantasy about America. 

 From my perspective, the feeling of taking my parents around is one I haven’t yet felt. The majority of international student parents have very likely never been to the United States, and now you have a chance to show them around. When they have landed and started wandering around, you can proudly tell them, “Dad, Mom, I got this.” I’ve known enough about this city for the past 4 years or at least I can fake as I do. For me, it’s the first time I feel like I’m in control and taking the lead. Isn’t that such a cool feeling? 

 Yet that’s exactly what your parents want you to do. No doubt, my parents have this fantasy about America. And you might be surprised about how big that population who think like my parents are. But after going through half of their life, they’ve never been here.  Now they’ve decided to put all those fantasies in me. With the tuition in U.S college, my parents could have taken a flight to this country every month – twice.

Nevertheless, they didn’t do it because while investing in travel is investing in experiences, investing in education is investing for life. It’s the investment for the future.The fact that they are coming to the United States isn’t to see this country but to have a glimpse into my life in this country. I imagine the question my dad has in mind: How have you been living so far?  

 Coming from a different country, international students are an excellent witness to the phrase, “Life is what we created”. They have to create a life here, almost from scratch. Despite having similar experiences as any college student, such as setting up new housing, making new friends, and new education, international students will also have to adapt to the new culture, new environment, and even language. For some students, it might be very different from their hometown. So believe me when I say, I’m proud that after four years I can show my dad what kind of life I have created with the people around me in this exciting country.  

 But when life is what we try to create, the harsh reality will hit you in the head once in a while. This time it has a name, coronavirus. All the things I mentioned above came crashing down into reality. Everything I had been dreaming for the past four years was gone. My graduation was in my bed through a screen and no, my parents were not there.   

  In March, I stopped asking my dad, “when are you coming?” and he started asking me, “how are you holding up?” That’s not the question I want to answer. I hated to say that I’m fine. After how much I’ve grown, fine is not the phrase I want to tell him. To show him the campus, show him the place where I usually eat, usually hang out, or even take a nap. Introduce him to the friends I trust, to the person I love. I want to introduce him to the professors who I respect and admire. Tell him the struggle I have to go through and those who have helped me on every path of the way. 

10,000 miles away in Vietnam, in most of the conversation, I had with my parents, there is one thing they will always keep repeating: “If you are tired of America, if you are exhausted, feel lonely in a strange society, go home, there will always be someone to welcome you”. Never once, did I say yes. I’ve realized that it wasn’t because I’m brave but rather because I’ve created that safe place for me to know that it doesn’t matter how far I go, how high I want to reach, how much hurt it might be if I fall. There will always be a place called home, and someone called dad.

The finale is the moment of my parent’s U.S tour seeing me in my gown on graduation day. Although I will only be on that stage for less than 5 seconds depending on my walking speed, I still feel proud of that moment but I know for sure someone in the audience is even prouder. COVID 19 took away that moment from me.  It took away the moment that should have happened for me and many others. Since I can’t directly tell him in person, I might put it into word.

So finally, here is my personal note to my parents. For the things I didn’t get to say yet in person, but for which I am still so honored to say.


Dad, I’m no longer a boy with a messy room but I’m now the confident, ambitious, and energetic young man – yes, with a messy room. My room might never be cleaned nor organized.

Still, for sure the fact that I am here is because of the opportunity you gave me, the discipline and rule you ask me to follow, and most important of all the unconditional love knowing I can go as far as I want there will always be a place to go back. 

The saddest part right now is you couldn’t come! 

Despite me telling you how much I’ve told you about my life. I want to show it to you, how far I’ve been and how much I’ve grown.

I will be fine doesn’t matter what happens, the reason I know it is simply because I’m your son and so proud that I am. Hang in there till the day I’m confident enough to look at you in every situation and say “I got this, you can get some rest now”.

Happy Super Late Father’s Day!