The double pain of a stranger’s father

I have a father that I am proud of and I have a father that I am sad about.

For as long as I can remember, my father was the head of the brigade’s health clinic and doctor, and the only doctor there was. He often wore a white-washed uniform blouse with four pockets, a pen pinned to the left pocket of the blouse, and a stethoscope and a silver needle bag for sticking needles in the large lower pocket at all times. My father had a parted head, dark hair, and a benevolent smile on his face. In the spring and autumn, my father sometimes wore a single hat of light gray cloth, which was the most obvious and unique sign when I looked for him in the crowd to come home for dinner.

The brigade health center is located in a four-plex compound in the village, neat and quiet. Sometimes when he was too busy seeing patients, my father slept in the health center at night. When I was in the first grade of elementary school, I slept with my father in the summer, and he had a mosquito net on his bed so I didn’t worry about mosquito bites. Sometimes I took off all my clothes and got into the bed, and when I met adults who came to see my father, they often shoved their hands into the bed and wanted to touch my dog’s cock, so ashamed that I went straight into the bed.

When my father went to someone’s home to see a doctor, I sometimes went with him, and some people insisted that my father stay for dinner, so I followed them. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, all of whom were very kind to me, not only played with me, but also gave me lots of delicious food, such as sweet apricots, walnuts and red dates, and my little pockets were often stuffed full. From the cadres of the brigade, to ordinary members of the community, as long as people see me, always in front of my parents, praised me for looking handsome, smart, and will grow up to be successful.

Almost overnight, my father was branded as a “historical counterrevolutionary” and was driven out of the main health clinic by the rebels, and returned to the production team as a member. He wore a tall paper hat on his head and had a big paper sign on his chest, on which was written with a thick brush, “Feng You You, a historical counterrevolutionary”, with a blood-red cross on his name. After the meeting, the rebels ordered them to parade through the streets, with their heads hanging down, their faces grimy and their steps heavy, from one street to the other, with angry revolutionary students and teachers shouting slogans behind them.

It would have been fine if they had only been criticized, but the rebels pulled out all sorts of tricks to give these people even greater insults and discipline. They nailed a large white placard to the door of every house of the Five Gangsters, with the words “Home of Landlords,” “Home of Rich Peasants,” and “Home of Counterrevolutionaries” written in black letters. “Home of the bad elements”, “home of the rightists”, and those with “honorable martyrs” and “honorable military members”. The wooden plaques with yellow lettering on a red background contrasted sharply with the red ones.

For the Black Five elements themselves, they were required to wear a white cloth armband on their arm sleeves with the words “landlord molecule so-and-so” written in black, which was distinctly different from the red armband of the rebels. The rebels said that this was to raise the vigilance of the revolution, to prevent people from outside the village from coming to our village, not knowing the details of these bad people, and rashly contacting them, and being harmed by the class enemy.

In addition to participating in the work of the production team, my father was often called in by the main GRC security unit to do a lot of voluntary work. These jobs included sweeping the streets every morning, wiping coal cakes for the brigade headquarters in winter, hauling water for the brick kilns of the brigade, cleaning toilets for the school, clearing snow on snowy days, and so on. Anyway, all they did was the dirty and tiring work that the poor peasants and ordinary members of the community didn’t want to do, and they were called to be rehabilitated through labor.

My father had completely changed into a father I didn’t know. The white and neat clothes were no longer worn, but were replaced by a black jacket and black cotton pants; the white sneakers were taken off and replaced by the black cloth loafers with a cow’s nose sewn on by my mother; the gray hat was no longer worn, and his long, thick hair was shaved off, leaving him bald. His hands are calloused, and his heels are often cracked and painful, requiring several layers of tape to make them feel better. In the past, he used to smoke paper cigarettes, but now he has switched to a dry tobacco pot and smokes his own dry tobacco leaves. My father, who used to be very talkative and had a kind smile on his face, suddenly became silent and old.

It was a delightful thing for me to participate in the school’s Mao Zedong Thought propaganda team, but what embarrassed me the most was how to face my father. The propaganda team went up to the county town or commune to perform at the conference, leaving early in the morning and needing to carry dry food for lunch. The main task is to take care of the costumes, props and dry food bags of dozens of us when we perform in the cultural performance.

Imagine what an awkward situation it was.

I was on stage performing a revolutionary show in high spirits and spirit, and when I took a lunch break for dry food at the end of the show, I saw my father squatting pitifully, with a pile of colorful clothes and dry food bags piled up around him. I didn’t know how to comfort my father, and my father didn’t know how to comfort me either. Father and son looked at each other, and what complicated emotions were woven in their eyes! I ache for the shame of having such a father, and what would a father do for having such a son?

As a result, I often deliberately avoided my father’s eyes, and he often spoke to me very rarely. When I ate dry food, I had to separate from my father, and I ate with my teammates, laughing and talking; my father and those who came with him ate in isolation, and no one paid any attention to them. In front of the teacher and the other propagandists, I did not even offer my father a glass of boiled water in order to show that I had drawn a political line with my class enemy. He was him and I was me, as if we were not a father and son, but two strange passers-by.

When the school propaganda team performed at night on the village stage, my father’s tasks as a member of the “black five” were even more complicated: cleaning the stage, taking care of the stove in the back field, fetching cold water, boiling water for the dozens of propaganda team members to wash, makeup and drinking. After the show, the audience and actors went home, and my father had to sleep on the dark, deserted stage, responsible for looking after the costumes and props on stage.

Think about this scene, when I am putting on my make-up in the mirror, when I go on and off the stage for each performance, when I go to the fireside to pour a glass of boiling water, when I rush up to the stage to thank the audience after the performance, I can see my father, intentionally or unintentionally, adding coal biscuits to the stove, or carrying a big bucket of cold water to the stage with great difficulty, or sitting silently in a corner in the back of the stage.

Occasionally, I would meet my father’s eyes, and he would immediately give me a smile that only I could detect, a smile that implied encouragement, expectation, hope and pride, as well as guilt, low self-esteem, resentment and helplessness. But even this smile would be fleeting on my father’s face.

I couldn’t stand in my father’s shoes and look at what was happening in front of me, much less try to fathom how he was feeling. I think he must have felt quite hard inside, pained, tormented, exasperated and helpless. A father should give his son a good education, a father should give his son a good protection, a father should give his son a good help. But all that a father should do, a father is unable to give to his child, and isn’t this not the deepest pain of a father’s heart? Instead, the father not only fails to give his son all this, but also brutally inflicts his own sins – sins he doesn’t even know what he has committed – on his innocent son, influencing him and implicating him. This is another pain.

The father dared not and could not disagree or resist, he could only obey and do what he had to do. He is bound to meet with his son, contact, a meeting, a contact, others will find, will associate, and even more malicious misinterpretation, association and false accusations. At such times, it is only natural that father and son are in the same shape. The father suffered double physical and mental pain, which could only be buried in the bottom of his heart, like a cheetah in the forest with no reason for a gunshot wound and nowhere to turn to for help, so he could only lick the blood from the wound with his tongue a little bit and let time slowly heal the wound.

Nowhere to tell my father? Who do I tell!

As a son, I was relaxed, excited, and passionate about going on stage. But as soon as I returned backstage and saw my father’s figure, a dark cloud rolled over my heart and a shadow immediately fell over my eyes. My heart was heavy, sad and traumatized. Relaxed and heavy, excited and sad, passionate and traumatic, all the time winding and intertwining and rolling in my heart.

Perhaps it is in my face, the school propaganda team teachers and members of the team, the treatment of my father’s attitude, far better than the treatment of other “black five” members. They tend to be rude, complain, reprimand to the face and curse behind the back. Either picking on the water is not hot, is discarded the stove fire is not hot, a moment to shout placed things to find missing, a moment to complain about the back field too messy. The “black five” who were there to serve, nodded, apologized, and then quickly made amends in order to redeem themselves.

I personally heard the teachers and team members complained: “Look at these people, do things lazily, dilly-dallying, we need to let them make a good reformation! “They are accustomed to enjoying the old world, and are always dreaming of restoring their lost paradise!” “Well, good at camouflage, absent-minded at work, and resistant to revolutionary propaganda!” The person who says these words, when they say them, glances at me with a twist of the head, immediately realizes, feels embarrassed, or turns away, or smiles apologetically, and will immediately take the conversation elsewhere.

I grew up in such an environment, and instead of sunshine, happiness, equality, and dignity, my young mind was sown with the seeds of depression, pain, discrimination, and cowardice, so much so that it affected my character for the rest of my life.

June 3, 2013 with Lingkong Book House
Revised November 2014
January 2, 2018 and then changed

(Originally published in Life. Reading . The Family Past, published by Sunkist Triad Books)