The Daily Illini

A dad whose story continues to inspire

By Molly Nguyen, Contributing Writer

When I was younger, my dad told me dozens of stories about his life. I was fascinated by each one, but one in particular sticks with me the most. The story I am about to share really defines who he is: a father who deeply loves his family and who will do anything he can to give them the best possible life. And that is what I admire most about him.

My father was born in 1958 in Da Nang, Vietnam. This region is in the central part of the country, and its residents sided with the South Vietnamese against communist efforts during the Vietnam War. In his late teenage years, my dad left the country when the communist power took over. At this time, it was incredibly difficult for my father to leave, but he managed to escape by boat to Thailand, take a plane from there to North America and then bring his family over.

Around the mid-’70s, my father attempted to escape one night, but he was arrested and brought to a jail in Rach Gia, Vietnam. After just a few hours, he and several others jumped the fence and successfully escaped by boat to Thailand. Along the way, they were attacked by pirates. The only way my father survived was by giving up his great-grandmother’s gold necklace. When they arrived in Thailand, my dad stayed for about six months and taught English to the natives to make money for his plane ticket. The funny thing is, he didn’t know English.

Once he had the money, he flew to Montreal and stayed there for a couple of years before he decided to go to the U.S. My dad knew a bit of French, which is the primary language in Montreal; this was a huge advantage for him.

Immigrating his family over was tough because he came with nothing. He had very little money, barely any clothing and language barrier to overcome. He worked odd jobs, such as pizza delivery man and a locksmith, in preparation for a new and better life in the U.S.

In 1979, my father finally made it to the U.S. He drove from Canada to Evansville, Indiana, where some friends were living. Once again, he had to get over another language barrier to establish himself and adapt to this new culture.

My father is a very intelligent man and has always wanted to be a doctor, but he knew it was close to impossible due to his circumstances. At this point, he was in his 20s and still didn’t know English. But he kept going.

During his stay in Indiana, he met my mother. Within the year, they got married. The dress and the tux they were married in were from a local thrift store. Soon after, they had my older sister.

My father’s mission was to give his family the best possible life, but he knew he couldn’t do that without a good job and an education. He decided to study hard and make enough money to go to college and hopefully medical school. This idea was far-fetched because this meant he would be apart from his family for roughly 13 years.

My dad, mom and sister eventually moved to Los Angeles. My mom worked as a waitress, and my dad was a hibachi chef at the same restaurant. My father was attending school at the East Los Angeles College. After four years, he got accepted into a medical school in Cincinnati.

His years in medical school were tough because my mom and my sister were still in California, and he was so far away. Along with that, he was one of the oldest students in his class. After completing medical school, he attended residency in Indianapolis for a few more years, during which my brother and I were born. After all of his schooling was finally done, he landed a job in central Illinois, where he was able to give his family a new start at a better life.

My father’s story is one I will always look to for inspiration. Words cannot describe how much I admire his love for my family and me. Without his hard work, hopeful spirit and determination, there wouldn’t have been a story to tell.

Molly is a junior in LAS.

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