My dad came home early this year, and stayed. In January, he stopped sending money from Hong Kong. My mother quickly realized that what little savings she had in the bank wouldn’t last more than a few months. There was a sinking sense of familiarity not felt since the last time my father filed for bankruptcy more than a decade ago. A few weeks later, my father called to say he was coming home immediately. He left behind his apartment and the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of credit card loans, and came home.

My mother was hopeful at first. She thought they will come up with a plan together, work hard, and get back on their feet. But it soon became clear that he had other intentions. Or rather, he had no intentions at all. He had spent the past few years hiding the deterioration of his business and abysmal management of money. There was a point, long passed, when he should’ve given up. But dogged by delusions of grandeur, he took out loan after loan to finance his flailing company and his own income. Until his debt bloomed into a colossal mess that he could no longer evade.

He came home, he declared, because of a “temporary setback.” You’re all looking down at me, he accused, but just watch, I’m going to build my own company again someday. He then proceeded to station himself in front of the computer for the next few months, aimlessly searching the internet and pretending to busy himself whenever my mother came around to suggest more realistic and practical solutions.

He spoke to me once about his plan, which involved writing a business proposal he planned to cold-pitch to VCs. The idea was a disjointed, baffling mess about theoretical computer science that neither me nor my boyfriend (who has a masters in computer engineering) can make sense of. It sounded as if he had took an idea from a dubious, pop-science website and believed it was real.

I might have been more forgiving if he had shown any hints of remorse. Apologized for the hell that he put my mother through, acknowledged his mistakes, shown some sign of humility. I would have saved the last shred of respect I still held for him. But I was floored to hear him claim moral high ground. Over the phone, I listened to him justify his actions, dismiss the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Debt, that he never had intended to pay. And who are you–he sneered–to judge, who are you to act so righteous? I screamed, what about your wife and family? Don’t you care about us? I just want you to say you’re SORRY.

I’m like Steve Jobs, he said, I’m going to make a come back. I wept.

In February, my mother asked me to accompany her to the jeweler, so that she can sell her wedding jewelry. There wasn’t much, but she tenderly touched each piece before they were weighed and appraised. Nostalgia written all over her face. When we left, she turned to me and said, “Now I don’t have anything to give you for your wedding day.”

“Don’t worry mom, gold never looked good on me anyways.”

My father never bothered to save for retirement. He never had a plan for himself or my mother. She has no college degree, no work experience and limited English proficiency. But in the past half year, she managed to make some modest money by chauffeuring students to after-school programs. She transformed her living room into a studio and began to teach Tai Chi, Chinese Yoga, and knitting. She rented out our childhood rooms. It’s not quite enough, but she’s hopeful. And hope has changed her. She holds herself differently and dreams of a brighter future.

But sometimes, she’ll ask me if she’s a failure for marrying my father. And I’ll meet that question with a barrage of no’s and how-could-you-think-that before reciting a laundry list of things she’s achieved and should be proud of. Other times, she’ll embark on a tired and familiar diatribe against my father, recounting every wrong he has inflicted on her and reliving years worth of anger and resentment. It makes me sick. Because every word only reminds me how much she is still shackled and bound by his selfishness. And that is not fair, it isn’t fair at all.

After weeks of badgering, my mother finally convinced him to take up driving for Uber using her car. But her hopefulness was short-lived when she discovered that he had secretly withdrawn the money he thinks he’s entitled to from her bank account, insisting that he needs to control his own money. Never did he offer to pay for groceries or household necessities. Nor did he feel obliged to help with the credit card debt my mother had racked up since he returned; debt that he had a hand in making and that she’s struggling to pay. Only when my mother brought it up at Thanksgiving dinner did he agree to help pay for the debt.

A few months ago, I sat down at the county clerk’s booth and handed the clerk a packet of papers from the blue folder that I had brought with me. I am helping my mother file for divorce, I said. The words sounded strange.

We don’t hire a lawyer, because we can’t afford it. But there aren’t really any assets or property to divide, anyways. So the happy job of filling out the paperwork lands on me. And it’s not too complicated, or it shouldn’t be so complicated is what I tell myself. But I am surprised how difficult it has been to motivate myself even to read through the forms. Not because I can’t understand the wording or because the process is too obscure. But I suspect that at some level, the dissolution of my parents’ marriage (as much as I agree with it) weighs heavier on me than I realized.

My mother is buoyant. Maybe I’ll find new love at the tender age of 58, she teases, someone who would take care of me. Good luck with that, I retort before reminding her that she doesn’t need a man to take care of her; she can take care of herself.

I couldn’t write this post for the longest time without getting lost in cold fury. The anger has lessened, even though there are still days when I feel palpable hatred toward this stranger who is my father. Yet I caught myself the other day, riding quietly in his car and hoping to glimpse some redeeming quality I had overlooked. Some hint of the father I remember who brought plates of peeled fruit to my desk while I was doing my high school homework. The father who gushed over pictures of me on his computer–the ones from our family trip to Thailand many years ago. The father who felt genuine remorse when he missed parent-teacher night, and promised he wouldn’t disappoint me again. Maybe, I still want to believe he’s there.

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