1949: The boy peered out from his hiding place as the soldiers grabbed Father and lead him away—every fiber of his being longed to cry out at the injustice, but he dared not. Father’s crime: graduating from an American university, St. John’s University in Shanghai, the Harvard of China. And now the Communists considered him a threat to their new power and they imprisoned folks like that. The boy knew what would happen now: his two brothers and three sisters would go to live with Grandpa and Grandma. He and Mother would flee to Taiwan for he was the eldest son, the one the family’s line depended upon.
So began the inspiring true life story of my father-in-law when he and his mother fled to Taiwan to escape the Communist’s takeover of mainland China. We hear many inspiring stories, but few have the opportunity to live beside someone who endured and overcome adversity as he did.
His story: Arriving in an unfamiliar country, he and Mother got along as best as they could on the money she had brought with her. But within a year, she started feeling sick and within two she died of cancer. The boy who was just starting his freshman year of high school, felt completely lost. Despair nearly won, but when things seemed darkest, one of his high school teachers reached out to a contact at the China Daily News and helped him get a job as a laborer. For a year the boy fetched tea, delivered messages and did all manner of tasks in the evenings, while keeping up his studies during the day. His efforts earned him enough to live on and helped him begin building a foundation for his future. As he started his sophomore year, his superiors promoted him to a proofreader.
Graduation brought with it the challenge of passing an exam in order to enroll in university. After much studying, he succeeded and began a two-year course in Journalism. At night he continued his work for the newspaper while pursuing coursework during the day. He graduated and the newspaper promoted him to Reporter. He covered all types of events for three years in Taiwan before they sent him to Kinmen, an island off Taiwan. While there, he covered one particular story in more depth than usual, for he had met a woman he took a liking to. At the end of a year when the newspaper called him back to Taiwan, he proposed marriage and she accepted.
Upon his return, the newspaper again promoted him, this time to editor. Seeking to improve their future, the young man again enrolled in college, this time to earn a degree in western literature in order to teach English to high school students. For three years he pursued his degree during the day and continued working for the newspaper in the evening. Upon graduation, he began work as a teacher while continuing his role as editor at night. Finally feeling he was enough ahead to support a wife, he and his beloved married.
Life seemed finally to have reached some measure of stability for the couple as they welcomed their first child two years later. But with the birth of a son, the young man’s ambitions grew. He longed to provide the opportunity for an even better life. Considering his options, he believed the United States was that possibility. But getting into the graduate school through which he could ultimately accomplish that, the School of International Law and Diplomacy, was extremely competitive. Only the top five finalists on the qualifying exam, out of several hundred applicants, would be admitted. After much studying, he sat for the exam and against long odds, he finished among the top five!
As the young man pursued his studies the couple welcomed their second child, a little girl. And with her arrival, the young man’s resolve to create greater opportunity deepened further. Just before he graduated, he sat for and passed the exam to become a career diplomat. Upon graduation, the Taiwanese government put him to work in the Foreign Affairs office where he worked until they sent him to be a representative to El Salvador.
The son and daughter, age five and three at the time, adapted to life in a strange country with a strange language and strange customs. Five years later, after the young man and his wife had saved enough to start over in the United States, he resigned from the Foreign Service and immigrated with his family to Kansas City.
Starting over was difficult, but the young man had done it before. And this time he was not alone. In order to immigrate, he had to enroll in college and pursue a degree, trading his diplomatic visa for a student visa which did not permit them to work. And so for two years, the family lived on savings that forbade luxuries. The son well remembers homemade clothes of remnant fabrics that begged ridicule from peers, no school supplies, and a lot of going without.
If graduations had become routine for the young man, this one was anything but, for with it he began a new career, a new life. And his children could at last flourish.
As a writer, I seek to create conflict and adversity for my characters that my readers can identify with and have their lives positively impacted from–the young man’s story is certainly that. While he did not know his ambition and choices would significantly impact my life, a WASP American, he has, for had he not worked and sacrificed all he did, my life would be nothing like it is. And so this Father’s Day, I salute my second father, Andrew Lee. Thank you for your sacrifices and your dedication to see your children prosper.