My dad was an enigma. He was mysterious and weird, stoic and, somehow at the same time, temperamental. My dad could be stubborn, tactless even. He was the kind of man who had presence. He walked in a room and you would feel one of two things: intrigue or fear. Then there was the other side of my dad--the lighter, more jovial side. He was eccentric and more than slightly ostentatious. He was charming and funny, witty and intelligent. People sometimes joked about him being the "international man of mystery" for good reason. He was. And he was my dad.
He lived life completely by his own set of rules. Obviously, that was both good and bad. He built himself up from very little and crumbled back down into nothing before he would start that cycle all over again. He wore so many different hats--a professional concert pianist, a real estate developer, a restauranteur, a commercial fisherman, an international business consultant, and most recently, a pre-school founder / principal. (See...? Weird.) He was a husband three times and a father seven. And he was my dad.
He regaled all of us with colorful stories of his life and his experiences. And the man had stories. I remember him telling my sister and me when we were very young about the time he was in Burma and he ate a tree worm because it was a delicacy. He said it tasted like a "cream puff". There was another story about how when he was in the fishing business, the sea captain fell overboard. Everyone thought had fallen into the Pacific abyss never to return, only to come back a little over a year later right at my dad's doorstep totally good as new. During his days as an entertainer, he played alongside all the greats. But one I know he was so incredibly proud to play with was none other than Ray Charles himself. Talk about a moment, you know? This was my dad!
This morning, as I was getting ready to take A to school, I found out that he had suddenly passed away. There was nothing I could do but cry and feel everything. My heart sank and I desperately searched for meaning in all of it. I'm still trying to understand how it all happened and why, but I don't know the details and at this point, I'm not sure if I want to know everything. I want to remember all of the things that I loved so much about him. I dug deep, unlocked memory vaults, and let the contents spill out. I remember my mom telling me about how my dad was so excited when I was born--excited because I was pink and rosy with a full head of curly hair (like him) and called me his "treasure". I remember him telling me that my hair would be shiny and grow faster if I ate seaweed at dinner. I remember him making us crêpes suzette complete with a Gran Marnier flambé on our electric stovetop. I remember him carrying me up the stairs to my bedroom after having fallen asleep watching movies on the couch in the living room and tucking me in...even when I was too old to be tucked in. I remember him letting us travel to Japan to visit family on our own without parents (!!!) when we were in high school. Only my dad would be crazy enough to let his teenage daughters do that.
I'm grateful for the time I had with him when I lived in Japan after graduating from college. I think I saw a side of him that so few people knew about. There were days when he was just quiet, drinking coffee alone at home, furrowed brow and cigarette in hand. Some days, he looked tortured by his own thoughts. Other days, he'd be grinning from ear to ear. There were times when he and I would take walks in silence but it was peaceful. There were moments when we'd watch marathon races on television and be amazed at some of the runners. We'd be shocked and awed at the Japanese variety shows with their cartoon-like hosts and their glaring lights. We'd have late night conversations and he'd sometimes even humor me with a romantic comedy he picked up at the video store (because he just knew of my penchant for rom-coms). He and I had regular lunch dates--sometimes at the local ramen shop, other times in a fancier hotel restaurant. He introduced me to his friends and colleagues and although I had just graduated and was just an English teacher abroad, he beamed so much when I was with him you'd have thought I was a rocket scientist. I felt it anyway. Some days, he'd forgo shaving and his five o'clock shadow would appear. Over the years, it went from black to grey to white. He could put on a three piece suit on any random day, walk into a building and look like he owned the place. The next day, he'd be unkempt and unshaven and still, he garnered respect. I don't know how he did it. But he did. And that was my dad.
His name was Yoshinori Fujiki but people here called him Charly. He smoked Benson & Hedges Menthol Lights 100s and took his coffee black. He wore custom-made shirts, suits, and shoes. He smelled like Dunhill aftershave. He combed his curls back when he wanted to look fancy. He read books on mixology before mixology was even a thing. He was an iron chef in the kitchen--some dishes a wild success (spicy cod roe spaghetti), others epic failures (orange juice with rice...soup?). He enjoyed beautiful women, luxury cars, gourmet food, and traveling the world. But he also enjoyed road trips, fried pork rinds, and walking around outlet malls. Always proud, never humble. He was my dad. And I am nothing but honored to be his daughter. Papa, you will be so missed.