As a child I lived with my parents in a village not very many miles from the outskirts of Beijing. They were only allowed to have one child because it was feared that the population would expand too rapidly if families had more than one offspring. After I was born my father went to Beijing to work in the city. He had a rickshaw and he would work very hard to earn money to send home to us. We did not see him very often.
When he came back for one of his short visits, he was always overcome with joy to see us. The tears would roll down his face as he embraced us. My mother would make a very special meal. She never stopped smiling when my father was around.
As I grew older, I asked my father why he did not stay at home with us. He could work on the land, as mother did, growing vegetables. We could sell them and make enough money so that he did not have to go away.
“No, no, my son,” he would say. “If I were to stay at home, your mother and I would argue. We would not be happy. She would have more children and we would be in trouble. This is the best way for us all.”
I did not understand my father. Mother was always happy when he was at home. Why did he think they would argue? She was always smiling when he was around and when he went away she grew quiet and sad.
One day I decided to ask mother why father did not stay at home. I asked her if she thought they would argue if he was there every day.
“Deng Zhang, my son, sometimes it is difficult to explain your feelings to your child. I love your father very much, but before you arrived when there were just the two of us, he would spend some of the time working in Beijing, just the same as now.
When I asked him why he said. ‘I cannot live with one person all my life. I need time alone, time to think. Although I love you, and I do not have eyes for any other woman, to be with you all day, every day, would be too much for me. I told you this when we married and you agreed that you would be happy to let me go away at times. When our child is born I will go away and work in the city. I will send you money to bring up our son or daughter, and I will visit you sometimes, but do not ask me to stay. This I cannot do’.”
My mother said she was sad about not having father around, but she accepted his decision. She had agreed to living separate lives, even before they were married, although she would have preferred not to. She was not alone – many of the women in our village had husbands who worked away from home. It was very common. None of mother’s friends had husbands at home. Some of them never came back at all after they left for Beijing. Some sent money regularly and some did not. Some would return, penniless perhaps once a year and their wives would feed them and mend their clothes. They in turn would help with the heavy work of mending the roof or adding another room to the house. Then they would be off again.
My mother forgave my father for his long absences and was grateful that he returned to see us when he did. She learnt to live with the situation and to forget her sadness when he was away.
Unlike many of the women, she was not bitter about him not being there for us. She did not scream and shout at him in anger on his return, nor did she plead with him to stay when he decided to leave.
She could laugh and joke with the other women in the village and they supported each other in times of trouble. I grew up knowing that my father loved me and the times my family spent together were very happy. I would have liked to have seen my father more, but it was not to be. If mother had been harder on my father, he may never have come home at all, like so many of my friends’ fathers. Her forgiveness made it possible for him to keep returning and she was grateful for the happy times they had together.
Unfortunately my mother died when I was twelve years old. My father was away from home at the time. I decided I would try to find him and his rickshaw in Beijing. I haven’t found him yet, but I am still looking.
QUESTIONS: Support answers to questions 2 to 6 with evidence from the text.
1. What name would you give this story?
2. Why had Deng Zhang’s father left for Beijing?
3. What good qualities did Deng Zhang’s mother have?
4. Why was she able to remain happy?
5. How did she feel when her husband first left?
6. What explanation did her husband give for staying in Beijing?
7. How did you feel when you heard the story?
8. Did the story remind you of anything in your own life?