Father Chases Son

 by Zhihui Zou


What made my father’s future career plan intriguing was not the clear skies he had described on the other side of the ocean, but the way he presented it. That day, seagulls screeched outside our apartment like always. My father was standing before me, drawing invisible figures in the air with his hand, and slowly pacing back and forth. For once in his life, I think, he became a true speaker, despite having been a TV reporter for years.

“You know, if I go to the other side of the ocean, you’ll be on your own for four years, and that sucks,” my dad said, with a light chuckle in the end.

I scratched my head.

He watched me with expecting eyes, still with a hand paused in the air. I didn’t know how to respond. My family was proud of our closeness. If I were to say I’ll be fine with it, then my dad would think I wasn’t loyal to the family’s unity. But I also didn’t want to act sad or throw out cliches like oh God, please don’t go. I knew he wouldn’t leave if I were to say it, but I also knew he needed that job.

“But if you go there, you’ll be on your own for four years too,” I replied.

I tried to keep my facial expression as emotionless as possible for two reasons: I didn’t want him to worry about me, and I didn’t want him to see that small part inside me that was looking forward to a life alone.

But dads can always dissect their sons’ thoughts. Dads just react slightly after seeing the sections of their sons’ thoughts. I pictured the part of me excited for a life alone, running and hiding, and my dad chasing behind and dodging the distractions from the larger part of me not willing to have an ocean between us for four years. Small kids would say it was a staring contest; teenagers would say it was the rebellious nature caused by hormones; sons would say it was the unwillingness to show their weakness before their dads.

“Well yes…” my dad struggled a bit to find the right word. “You can come with me.”

The chase was over. That small part of me disappeared. The family pride remained. There was no need for toughness or softness. But I also didn’t want to leave this place for somewhere far and foreign.

I looked out the window. Our apartment was on the coastline, and seagulls were the most common animal around me during my childhood. Sometimes I wondered whether they wanted to fly across the ocean. I had tried to memorize the shape of each seagull who had departed in the morning so that, at night, I would know whether those seagulls would return. But each time I tried to memorize their shapes, I would forget their unusually long beaks, or the discolored feathers, or the body that was thinner or fatter than usual seagulls no matter how much I tried to carve their shapes in my memory.

“Hey, are you still with me?” My father asked.

I continued to look out the window, not turning back to my father. What did his face look like? I remember once, when I was young, I lost track of him at a shopping mall. I had asked a store staff to find him. The staff asked what my father looked like, and I struggled to describe him besides the color of his clothes and that his hair was brushed to the right.

Four years sounded like a long time away from his face or away from the seagulls.

“So what do you think?” My father said again.

I looked at him. He looked sincere. The seagulls screeched outside. The left part of me said “yes,” and the right part said “no,” so no words came out.

That made my father impatient. The chase resumed.


Zhihui Zou is a high school junior living in southern California. He enjoys writing historical fiction and essays. Reading historical books is one of his favorite things to do, besides dreaming about being able to live in a library. Currently he is thinking about going back to playing tennis.