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Father’s Day

by Johnny Trinh


You say you are my father.

Sometimes I don’t know what that means.

It breaks your heart to hear these words–

but absence too long leaves me more forgetful than fond.


Too many years



to distance myself from your face in the mirror.


All I’ve accomplished are thousands of kilometres between us–

And not a single success can measure up to the failure to run away.


Each monthly holiday, long weekend, festival is timely coincidence,

For every facebook reminder of sad memories that make up the vast space between you and I,

I succumb to the finding of each happy memory that just won’t quit.


I pick up the phone,


voicemail to voicemail, after voicemail

“Happy Father’s Day [full stop]

I miss you [period]

I will visit next week [silence]

I hope you’re well [lingering silence]”; dialtone.


You pick up the phone.


“Hello. I’m fine. We are OK. Talk later. I want to talk to you so much. I have so much to say. I

worry about you. You need to get things going. You need, you need, you need- ok bye.”; click.


On screen, on paper, in black and white– it is a brief conversation full of terse intentions- but

only you and I know the novel inside every word, between every letter, and this fatherhood that

refuses to relent.


This same fatherhood that refuses to unpunish,

This same fatherhood that constantly forgives me

(because I Failed to meet YOUR expectations and what YOU believe to be happy.)

This same fatherhood that constantly rebukes YOU

(because you failed to force me to meet your expectations.)


You say you just want me to be happy.

Happy in your eyes.

I’ve long since left the periphery of your gaze–

All we have are photos of us

When I still looked like the son you wanted.


On screen, in black and white, in full colour– only you and I know the film inside every forced

smile and clenched fist– this prodigal son rebellion

that no amount of financial support can redeem.


You were raised by war’s deliberate hand,

But I never saw the side of you that held me in my sleep,

That cradled my sickly infant self in one palm, between jobs, with no sleep.

Trying to pour our family’s definition of happiness into future selves.

I was an infant.

I remind myself of–

This same hand that slapped the queer out of me.

This same hand that slapped the shame into me.


My heart burst when you said I should find a “partner”;

I didn’t know you knew the word.

My heart broke when you said I needed wife,

nothing worse than watching hope slip from your grasp.


My actions feign denial of love for you

Your actions feign denial of what you know of me

So we sit with miles of denial between us

Until we meet again.


For another goodbye.


I stand at the gate,

You stand by mother.

Sister hugs me,

Mother looks away counting the parking meter, rushing us.

I shake you hand, you shake mine–

the only time we touch without hitting–

I try to rewrite the memories of your palms.

I fail.


“I’ll see you when I get back. [pause] (waiting for the day I never have to come back) [thought].”;


“See you. [pause] (you are everything i could not be, and some things i never wanted you to be,

one day, you will understand) [thought]”;


[silence] (i love you) [thought]


[silence] (i love you too) [thought]


You say you are my father.

Sometimes I don’t know what that means.


But you say you are my father,

As if I could ever forget.


And you say you are my father-

So I pick up the phone again.


Johnny D Trinh is an interdisciplinary spoken word artist. Johnny’s practice is rooted in the constant goal of fostering a sense of empowerment, agency, and compassion through socially engaged, community based art. He creates opportunities to support marginalized communities cultivate their voice: “Pass the mic, or silence the future.” www.johnnydavidtrinh.com (website to be launched by July 2017)