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Ghost Story: How My Dad Bid Me Farewell

caption: For years, Julian Tudor's father interacted with him simply by driving by and slowing down.
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For years, Julian Tudor's father interacted with him simply by driving by and slowing down.
Flickr Photo/Canadian Pacific

My story begins when I was a little boy growing up in Japan.

My mother is Japanese and my dad is American, and I was born in Yokohama, and grew up there until I was 10 years old.

In the mid-1960s, when my parents met, my dad was a seaman in the Merchant Marines, and my mom was a single mom, raising a 2-year-old boy – my older brother Paul, who she had had from a previous relationship with another American man.

Growing up in Yokohama, I was surrounded by aunts, uncles, extended family, family friends – it was a lively childhood. But the one person who was conspicuously absent from my childhood was my dad.

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He would come home every three or four months, spend a week at home and then sail off to sea for another four months.

As a kid, I intellectually knew that my dad was someone to respect and admire, and in his absence, my mom did her very best to instill that in us kids.

But my dad was never around long enough for me to know him, so he became this mythical figure. And my dad, being a strapping 6’3 American guy – he was much bigger and taller than all the other Japanese men around I was used to. Even his physical presence was awe-inspiring and heroic.

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In 1978, when I was 10 years old, my dad retired from the Merchant Marines, and he moved the family from Yokohama to Seattle, where he was originally from.

But within a year of living together day in and day out, my parents realized they didn’t really like each other.

For me and my brother Paul, it was awkward moving to America and making new friends, but now we had this dad who was practically a stranger to us around all the time, and we didn’t know how to relate to him.

After the divorce, my mom got custody and the house.

My dad moved in with his second cousin, Rhonda. The rumor from his side of the family was that when they were kids growing up together, Rhonda had a huge crush on my dad – and that when my dad left home to join the Merchant Marines, she was heartbroken.

After the divorce, she convinced my dad he should have nothing to do with us, his family.

She was very successful. Because even though they lived just miles away, my dad never came to visit me. Never called me, never wrote. Never sent me any birthday cards.

The only thing he would do was occasionally drive by on his way to work – this was as I was getting off the school bus. He would slow down the car just long enough to get my attention. He would smile and wave at me and then drive off.

In the early 1980s, I was entering my early teenage years. I was fast becoming a punk rock, goth, Batcaver kind of kid. And Batcaver, if you’re not familiar with that term, is 1980s goth. And my friends would dress in black and listen to Bauhaus, the Cure and the Smiths. And to quote the Smiths, we wore black on the outside because we felt black on the inside.

We’d hang out on the Ave and Capitol Hill and Broadway – we were too cool to care about anything.

That punk rock attitude really fueled my resentment toward my dad. He wasn’t making any effort to see me. He divorced my mom but I mean, he wasn’t supposed to be estranged from me. And even though I couldn’t admit it at that time, I was really hurt and angry that he wasn’t making any attempt to see me – except for those lame drive-bys that he would do.

I remember in 1983, it was September – I had just started my second week of high school.

I had just gotten off the school bus and I was walking up the driveway toward the front door to my house.

And I notice that my dad is coming down the street in his car, and I think, “Oh shit, here he comes again.”

Instead of slowing down he actually stopped the car this time. We stared at each other for about a minute. It was a stand-off. My dad wasn’t smiling, he didn’t call me over.

About a minute later, I got disinterested. He wasn’t making any attempt to reach out to me, so I walked up to my house.

Just before I reach the front door, I glance back, and I see my dad’s car drive off and out of view.

This episode didn’t strike me as peculiar except that he had stopped.

About a week later, I was sitting at home in the rec room watching TV, and my mom was in the kitchen upstairs. And I heard her cry, so I went upstairs.

She was holding a letter from my grandmother – my dad’s mom. It was a letter of condolence, saying that my dad had died.

I went up to my room, closed the door and laid in bed. I felt numb. I didn’t feel anything for him. It felt like I had heard that a distant uncle had died.

After my mom had calmed down, she placed a call to my grandma, my dad’s mom, to find out what had happened to my dad. We learned that my dad had a massive heart attack. Rhonda had decided that she didn’t need to inform us because we were no longer his family – she was.

My mom, on my behalf, called her lawyer, because she wanted to protect my rights as his heir.

In that process, we received a copy of his death certificate. When it arrived in the mail, she handed it to me. It was unopened; she wanted me to open it.

The death certificate had how he died and when he died. The date of his death was Aug. 29, 1983. That day when my dad drove by was the last time I actually saw him – it was two weeks after he had died.

It’s been 20 years now, and I don’t know what it means to me. I don’t think about my dad that much, and how he came to visit me when he died. Only when somebody asks me for a ghost story, I volunteer this.

But when I do tell this story, I wonder, if I had not turned around, if I had walked up to the car, what would he have said to me?

Now I realize it’s not that important what he had to say to me. To take it at face value, he probably drove by to take a good long look at his son before he drove into the proverbial sunset.

This story was aired as part of "A Guide To Visitors: Storytelling In Seattle," an eight-part series that ran on KUOW in 2010.

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