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Remembering my Father-in-Law

3 weeks ago, for the first time, I told my father-in-law, Philip Eugene MacLean, that I loved him, and he told me he loved me too, also for the first time.  And then Thursday morning he died after a 5 year long journey with 2 forms of cancer at the age of 91 and 10 months.

Dad was a character.  A man who’s always looked 20 years younger than his age, he was vigorous and bull-headed and opinionated.  After his cancer diagnosis at age 87, he decided not to seek treatment because it didn’t make sense.  They gave him 1-5 years to live, and like the man he was, he pushed the boundary to the limit.  For most of his illness, he ran a mile before each oncology appointment just to tell the doctor he could.

Raising his family in rural Maine, he never expected his son to bring home a Chinese-American girl.  But 23 years ago, Scott not only brought home this girl, but also her cousin, along with Scott’s Japanese-American roommate who eventually became our brother-in-law.  Little did he know he welcomed an “all-in-the family” Asian sensibility when we walked through the front door.

8 months later, my father planned to meet Scott for the first time after attending a a physics conference in Maryland.   But after making all those plans, Scott learned his parents had planned a cocktail party and wanted him there, triggering one of our first fights.  He suggested we drive Baba up to Maine to meet his parents.

I couldn’t believe that we were asking my father to drive 7 hours to Maine after a long train ride to New York, but Baba was thrilled.  He thought 7 hours in a car with Scott would give him ample time to look over my new suitor, and even more importantly, to meet the parents as well.

Phil greeted my father with typical MacLean hospitality, plying him with cocktails, taking him around and introducing him to all their guests.  My father wore a suit for the occasion because that’s what he wears when visiting the mainland, and stuck out in all sorts of ways.  But Phil seemed to genuinely enjoy everything about Baba.

We never thought when we married that our parents would spend much more time together, but my parents made several trips to Maine, and Scott’s parents began travelling to Hawaii in November and April, so a friendship and familiarity formed between them.  Scott’s parents were welcomed into my home community in Hawaii–once again, all in the family.

During one Christmas trip in Maine, Phil gave Baba 2 martinis before dinner, wine during dinner, and stingers afterwards.  I looked on in horror as my father towards the end of the meal sloshed his wine and announced, “I think I’m drunk!”

After dinner, Phil came to the rest of us with a grin announcing Baba had fallen asleep while Phil was talking—the stinger had done him in.  I was mortified, but if the Chinese will overstuff you with food, the Scottish will help you over-imbibe, and Baba was not one to refuse hospitality.

Dad was not a touchy-feely man.  A World War II vet who grew up during the Depression, achieving financial stability was one of his greatest goals.  The ability to provide boating, water skiing, skiing, and other sorts of leisure activities for his children, and then grandchildren gave him joy.  There were challenging parts to him, but he raised my husband to be a man of hard work, integrity and responsibility—all qualities I deeply appreciate.

There’s more to be written about grief, relationships, and losing a parent.  But for now, I’m glad I got to say I love him, and heard him tell me he loved me back.

  • Peter Choo

    Condolences to you, Scott and your families at Phil’s passing. Thanks for sharing a bit of his story with your readers.


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