My trip from Ho Chi Minh City to visit my family in Australia had its ups and downs but it was the best thing I could have done for myself.
In Vietnam, where I have been working for the past eight months, one is constantly reminded of family – it is the culture here – and it has rubbed off on me.
My mother and father are 79 and 84 respectively.
When people ask how they are, I say “good for 79 and 84 year olds.” Otherwise the answer is a long medical report.
Dad compares himself to an old car in constant need of repair.
It’s old so you can’t fix it, you just keep it running.
I understand that, as I have owned many cheap old cars.
You could say it is a well-chosen metaphor used to communicate with me but it is just the way Dad thinks, hardly strange that I relate so much.
When I arrived at the airport in Brisbane I went straight to see the whole family, who was with Dad in the hospital.
He’d had a series of small strokes and I had been alerted a few days before.
My prayers were answered when I saw his smiling face as he sat in a chair talking to the doctors.
What more could I ask for?
The feeling that I should return home had been growing stronger and stronger as my months in Vietnam passed by.
I knew these feelings should not be ignored.
It is tragic to waste real feelings – they are the ones that won’t let you be, they follow you wherever you go, they compose dreams for you and open you to experiences you would normally be blind to.
For me the wonderful thing about my family is they are always there for me (in their way) if I have to answer to that call of my heart.
After the initial shock of learning about Dad’s strokes, I built up some faith that everything would be OK.
I spoke to an older friend of mine in Vietnam about my situation and, drawing on his own experiences, he helped me accept that my father was getting old.
Dad is not particularly fond of this fact either, perhaps even less fond than me.
My friend told me it was neither Dad’s job nor his wish to console me or anyone about his age and health and the associated alarms.
I had wondered whether it was right to talk with Dad about my worries in this regard, and he said it wasn’t right to worry him more than he probably already was.
Just say: “you are doing well and you’re in good hands” and ask if there is any way to help.
These words were actually true and I not only said them, I meant them.
Dad asked me to help by being considerate of my mother, who as Dad said was “doing all the work.” It is impossible to stop Mum from fussing, cleaning and cooking, as that is how she shows she loves us all.
But I could – and did – refrain from asking friends around for dinner and also helped out around the place.
The other thing I did was spend some time with my two sisters, who live near our parents.
They are both nearing 50 and I am 42.
Like many families there are longstanding grudges punctuating the family bond and times together can sometimes feel like I’m dragging my fingernails down a blackboard.
The three of us met – by chance – at a cinema and spent an hour together.
For perhaps the first time in our lives it was just us.
A very settling thought for our parents to see the siblings together.
I spoke to my doctor about Dad’s condition and my returning to work in Vietnam.
He said it was always difficult for family members who live far away from home when there were big decisions that needed to be made.
He told me about the different bonds between son and parents.
He said the bond that I feel to them is incredibly strong but it is nothing compared to the bond they feel towards me.
I understood that.
He said that the bond they feel for me eclipses any distance between us and if I am happy in my life there is great peace for them in knowing that.
Returning to Vietnam many people asked me about my family and I understood a little bit more why people here spend their rare days off traveling to their home towns to see their folks.