Joel Engardio with his in-laws and husband Lionel Hsu in Taipei.

What Good Fathers Do

By Joel P. Engardio

When I married Lionel Hsu, our dads didn’t attend the wedding. My dad abandoned my mom when she was six months pregnant. Lionel’s dad didn’t want to fly across the ocean to San Francisco from Taiwan. He’s never been on a plane and hasn’t left the island his entire life.

I didn’t have a dad growing up, but now I have a father-in-law and I can recognize good fathers when I see one. His name is 許繁雄. He never gave himself an English name as many in Taiwan’s professional class do. 許繁雄 only has a third grade education and lived in poverty until his kids escaped it and provided for their parents.

Lionel and his two siblings were born in the brick house with a dirt floor and no electricity that their grandfather built by hand in the countryside. When Lionel was five, his father moved the family to Taipei. They lived in a corrugated metal shack without running water inches from the curb of a busy road in the capital city.

Lionel’s dad repaired motorbikes. He stood on street corners looking for breakdowns and hustled for customers at red lights. His wife figured out how to feed everyone on the meager earnings.

Trying to understand
許繁雄 gave his kids the one luxury he never had: the time to study at the library on a full stomach. Lionel tested into a charity-run boarding school with a path to college and a career.

After compulsory military service, Lionel went to the United States for graduate school and got a job as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. 許繁雄 was happy for his oldest son’s success but didn’t understand why Lionel had to go to America.

He found out a few years later when Lionel visited home and came out as gay. Lionel’s mother, sister and brother were supportive though public opinion in Taiwan was still against it. Lionel’s dad was silent. “This is no good,” he finally said. And that’s all he had to say about it.

Lionel’s mom worked on her husband. “You’re going to have to say hi to the man our son brings to see us next year,” she told him.

Learning to say hello
My father-in-law learned to say hello to me in English and uses it every time I visit Taipei. I reply in Mandarin. It’s the one word we know how to say as we’ve sat in each other’s company at the dining table the past 10 years. Lionel and I take his dad to restaurants all over town he would never go to on his own. He enjoys a good meal.

Four years after our San Francisco wedding, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to allow same-sex marriage. We registered our marriage at Taipei’s City Hall to be part of the historic moment Lionel never thought was possible while growing up under martial law and before Taiwan became a democracy. Lionel’s older sister has two college-age kids who waved rainbow flags in the government office. They represent the generation of change. They even had rainbow boutonnieres for Lionel’s parents.

許繁雄 stood stoic as Lionel pinned the flower on his dad’s shirt. Everything about the scene and ceremony was out of his element, but he showed up. He participated. He accepted. That’s what good fathers do. And then we took him out for dinner.

Originally published at https://www.engardio.com on June 21, 2020.

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Forward-thinking + pragmatic Democrat, civil liberties advocate, award-winning journalist, Westside SF homeowner. My local views at www.engardio.com/issues

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Joel Engardio

Forward-thinking + pragmatic Democrat, civil liberties advocate, award-winning journalist, Westside SF homeowner. My local views at www.engardio.com/issues