Sunday, August 2nd 2020

Hi Ophelia,

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. I was kind of hoping that I might have made my last post around this time last year, but I guess you of all people know why I’m back. When we met this time last year after seven years, nine months & nine days of separation, you, my beautiful daughter, walked straight up to me & gave me a magically wondrous hug… at last. At that moment I knew what was in your heart. I will never forget that life-changing moment. Thank you. 

We met twice in late June 2019, then I returned to Japan in September & we met once again. Thank you. I suggested that you needed to let your mother know that we had met. It would be better coming from you than somebody else. Even though you told me in tears that you and your mother only argue when my name comes up, I still feel it was the right thing to do in informing your mother that we had resumed our relationship. It must have taken tremendous courage. Part of you must have felt that you had betrayed her. I get that.

Then your mother contacted me and stated I could see you three times in 2020 if I paid her money. No comment from me. Is it fair of me to ask you, How do you feel about that? I think I know. I just wish I could listen to you again.

As soon as your mother became involved, almost as expected, my emails to you were returned, my phone calls unanswered, and my texts were immediately blocked. So, where to now?

I was on top of the world after you contacted me. Contact from you, instigated by you, was the greatest gift anyone had ever given me. We smiled, we laughed, we talked, we listened. Yeah, we cried to, but they were tears that needed to fall. You were in contact with my beautiful nieces, Allie & Billie, your cousins. That family communication was smothered too… again. How do you feel about that?

Even with Covid-19, Trumpism & a belligerent China bullying where I lay my head, I thought that this was going to be our year. Even with the new strains of fact-resistant humans, not to mention empathy-resistant humans, you my bewdiful gal, had given me such hope. Still, after your courage, there’s always a flicker of buoyant, determined belief in my heart that you will one day soon, once again reach out. As Paul Kelly says, From little things, big things grow.

I just want you to know that I will never give up on you. I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything. 

Anyway Phi, here are a few of the letters I’ve tried to send your way:

Phi,

How are you? Hot & humid in Nippon?

Sunday was May 31, 2020. It was your old-man’s 52nd birthday. All-day Sunday, from dawn at push-up park to dusk from our balcony, I checked my email & my Instagram to see if there was a message from you. It’s okay. I don’t blame you. I never will. None of this is in any way your fault. In any case, most of me thinks that you were too young to remember my exact birth date.

This time last year you gave me hope, you gave us all hope. You had bravely reached out to me. We were writing to one another and your dad had a feeling that he was the luckiest person on Earth. We were weeks away from meeting in person for the first time in 7 years, 9 months & 9 days. Then we met. Anyone would think that after almost eight years of waiting, your dad would know exactly how to act… fortunately, you took the initiative and walked straight up to me and hugged me. I will never forget that moment. Never.

In October this year, you become 18. In many parts of the world, you’ll be considered an adult. Things will change. Officially your mother’s grip on you won’t have as much authority. Even now, the many roadblocks she chooses to put in place is in direct contradiction to both the Family Court of Japan and the High Court who encouraged the resumption of visitation the last time we bothered to appeal for their toothless intervention. Inwardly, however, her wrath will remain omnipresent. A daily stranglehold that you must navigate.

Becoming an adult opens doors, provides you with new freedoms, but society will have different expectations of you, too. 

Even more than those angels watching over you, I would love dearly to help that transition into adulthood. Not just because I have missed a decade of your childhood, but because most nights I dream of you. Even in sleep, you’re still a part of my life… even if in my dreams you’re always around 6 – 8 years of age. The reality when I wake is that you’re no longer in primary school, that I no longer scoop you up in my arms every morning. In fact, as of June 2020, you’re in your final year of high school. It doesn’t stop me thinking & hoping that you’re going to need me… soon. 

There’s stuff around these days that I didn’t have to face when I was growing up. I didn’t have to navigate social media. I was fortunate to be able to grow old and learn sensitivity and empathy slowly, gradually. I was afforded mistakes. Mistakes with few consequences. I’m so grateful there was no FB, Instagram or WhatsApp when I think about how self-centred I was. As a 17 year old, the only obstacles and temptations that I faced were alcohol, cigarettes & perhaps some marijuana. In real terms, it was really only alcohol as I was/am blessed by a healthy/sporty peer group.

It goes without saying that though I’ve missed nearly every second of your last decade, I hope you’ll call on me from time to time in the coming ten years. I’m not sure that I can lay claim to any wisdom, however, I have a good many stories of foolishness to share & learn from.

Moreover, your daggy dad dares to daydream of the decades to come. If you choose to have children, I want to be the bubbly grandpa sprinting to the end of the pier with his grandchildren and launching into the sea or lake below. Hopefully, I’m wearing shorts! I want to have more Dr Seuss, Michael Morpurgo, Mac Barnett & Gary Paulson books on my shelves than titles like Cutting for Stone, Animal’s People, Days Without End or Pachinko. Having said that, I hope we get to sit down on a wintery night with a bottle of cabernet-sauvignon somewhere in the mountains, comfortable in front of the open fire talking books. I want to pull out the same box of Lego you & I used to play with. By the way, I still have your train set. You loved it so much, I couldn’t bring myself to give it away. It’s in storage in Japan bursting to be greeted. Would you like to see it? 

Today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and every year thereafter, I want to make you feel special, and if I can do that by making my grandchildren feel special, then, that’s just PERFECT. Some day, I want them to laugh at me & with me.

Though an ocean, baggage claim, immigration, planes, trains & automobiles separate us, it doesn’t stop me every day wishing I could reach out & cup my wrinkly hands around your precious hands. Phi, it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t need to choose. Over time, stories change, they shift, they take different paths. Sometimes there are forks… which to choose? Sometimes you have to grit your teeth & plough straight ahead. Sometimes those tough decisions will make you. Sometimes you have to forget the smooth, flat concrete path, and you need to summon the courage to climb the tree, with its warts and all. 

Adulthood, with its many twists & turns, will become your new “new”. The paths you choose will have elements of your childhood, your teenage years, but also elements of what’s to come. Like the feel of the tree’s warts on your bare feet as you climb the tree, some situations will feel familiar. But some things stay the same, too. Like, how I love you more & more. 

Remote love hurts but it also provides clarity. I can draft a letter to you, then come back to it days later with fresh eyes. Slash the lame stuff (admittedly, I probably miss the worst stuff – SORRY!), add details to the parts that need stretching, and insert a metaphor that came to me on a mountain trail in my sweaty shorts

So, how’s the family, Phi? I’ve been thinking about your mother, how Covid-19 is affecting your lives, managing family anxieties and grievances. Support her & love her. She probably needs you more than ever right now. 

With your magical touch, you can spread the kindness pandemic. In light of what’s happening on the streets of Hong Kong, the US, the locusts in India & Ethiopia, gently remind your loved ones to let us all be kinder. Let us all be better versions of ourselves. Let us appreciate the simple things in life, like running barefoot on grass, hiking mountain trails, a picnic for two.

Your family in Oz? Well, your Pa misses you… he’s having trouble with his heart. Pa will be 79 in a few days! Your Nandee misses you so much. Don’t let your parents’ hassles get in the way. Reach out to your Aussie grandparents… your Nandee & Pa won’t live forever. Then there’s your cousins, Luca, Allie, Billie & Christopher. Allie & Billie were ecstatic to connect with you on Instagram last May (2019), but equally disappointed that all communication stopped after you told your mum you were in contact with me. I don’t know what I can say to embolden you, other than to listen to your heart. I wish I could have protected you. I wish I could have supported you. I wish I could have been there for you, to listen.

I look forward to seeing you again soon & seeing that beautiful soft smile. So hope there are angels watching over you.

Go with care, 

Dad… XoXo

Here’s an article that was in The Age that sheds a little light on the nightmare for so many kids & parents in Japan: Child Abduction in Japan

Hi Phi,

How’s winter in Japan? Hope you’re heading to the snow. Are you a snowboarder, a skier, or do you just prefer the onsen?

Any news from your end? How are your studies going? Any thoughts about studying abroad?

What about we get together for some extended quality time in 2020… We could do a foodies tour of Seoul, Korea, attend cooking classes together. What you say, Phi? My treat.

I could come to Japan and we could retrace our steps in Hokkaido. We could rent a car, take the ferry to Otoro … go camping near Furano, watch sunsets together at Shikotsuko, climb mountains together… even visit the Anpan Man museum again💕

We could also surprise Nandee and Pa and visit them in Melbourne…

Let’s get together…💓

Dad

Hey Phi.

How are you? How are you feeling at this moment?

I hope you feel you have the support you need. I hope you can speak the truth in your heart. I hope you have people in your life who listen, really listen. I hope you have people you can lean on, people who understand your bilingual and bicultural identity, people who respect and empathise with who you are. People who don’t try to change you.

Be yourself. Be proud. Be the one and only Ophelia.

I love you.

Hey Phi, every day I wonder how you are, what you’re thinking, what you’re doing.

Sometimes I wish I could still hold and protect you. When I dream of us, you’re still six or seven. My little Ophelia who used to climb all over me, sit on my back while I did pushups, sleep in my arms as I cradled you standing in the train.

But it’s better this way, you’re 17. You’re independent, mature and working hard to make sense of your life. Let me in. Let me know you are okay. I so wish to see you again 💕Love dad…💞

Phi, on your birthday, take a moment to reflect and appreciate the small things in life. Your ability to smell the deliciousness of Japanese curry rice and the first time you learned that the voices of Mickey and Minnie Mouse were married in real life? (So cool, right?) Or how about the fact a group of pink flamingos is called a ‘flamboyance’? Do you enjoy the feeling of new crisp bed sheets? I love putting my head on a fresh pillow slip💕 The small things are what make up life when we don’t have time to notice. Love. Song. Dance. Laughter. Smiles.

Phi,

I’m so proud of you for reaching out to me. Every day I marvel at how lucky I am. You make me very, very happy!

I hope you are starting to feel some pride in who you are. You’re Japanese and Australian. You’re Hirakawa & Morice. Your identity is bicultural. You’re unique & beautiful. You are caring, honest and respected. I am so proud to be your dad.

In less than a month, you will turn 17. You have likely been thinking a lot about your future. Now, that you have had the courage to reconnect with your Australian family, though it may make your life difficult in some ways, it also brightens your future, personally & professionally.

Professionally, because being bilingual opens business doors. If you’re fluent in both English & Japanese, companies will be keen to give you a job. Good jobs that pay well. Good jobs that provide opportunities to travel.

Personally, because being bilingual also opens hearts. You will make new friends, be able to travel, and of course spend quality time with your family in Australia.

Now is the time to act. Now is your time. You need to nurture & grow your bilingualism. When you were six, you were perfectly bilingual, fluent in both Japanese & English. Over the years, your Japanese language skills have dominated. Your English language skills have slept. Now, you are in a position to awaken your English language skills. It won’t be easy. It will take some work (particularly your English writing), but if you want to regain the gift of bilingualism, you can do this!

You have several things in your favour:

One, you’re young enough to regrow your English.

Two, you have people who love & care for you and want to help you.

Three, you have options. Lots of options. Here are just some options:

1.     After high school in Japan, you could take a gap-year in Australia. You could live with Nandee & Pa, your aunts & uncles, and reconnect with your cousins. Your spoken English would improve rapidly. Nandee could help you with your writing & reading.

2.     After high school in Japan, you could take a gap-year in Hong Kong. You could live with Chinami & me. I can act as your teacher, and at last be a “dad” to you. We can holiday together, and we can visit Australia, too.

3.     After high school in Japan, you could go to Australia and go to high school for 12 or 24 months.

4.     After high school, you could study at a college or university in Japan. Ideally, a college/university that has a strong English course. During the vacations, you could travel to Hong Kong & Australia.

5.     After high school in Japan, you could take a gap-year in Japan & Australia. During this time you could prepare for college/university.

*Taking a gap-year is a solid idea. It will give you time to think about what you really want to do.

It’s your future, nobody else’s. Use your head, and follow your heart.

I am here to help & support you. I am here to listen.

I love you and so much want to be a part of your life, again.

Dad… XoXo…

Hi Phi, I’ve wanted to hear how you are and yet I’m kind of glad I haven’t, as I hope this means you are happy, busy and smiling. I just feel lucky to have spent time with you this year (TWICE 💕). It’s also comforting to know that tonight we’ll be looking at the same moon, and in less than two weeks, I will be in Japan. If you have time, I would love to celebrate your birthday together. Please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. Dad.

Phi,

Though I may never carry you on my shoulders again, I hope we go jogging side by side.

Though we may never ride to school together again, I hope we climb mountains, watch sunsets and swim in the ocean again & again.

Though we may never read another book before bed together, I hope we go to the theater soon.

Though I may never cut your fingernails again, I hope we can cook together.

Though I may never bounce you on my knee again, I hope we hug again & again.

Though we may never draw pictures beside each other again, I hope we visit art galleries & museums together.

Though we may never play dress-ups again, I hope your dad can take you shopping again & again.

I love you Phi…

Dad… XoXo…