Karaoke with Dad
Anybody has one or two sad breakup stories, I suppose. Nobody wants to listen to them since they are usually self-indulgent and over-sentimentalized. But I dare to tell you mine now because it is not really about my breakup itself but more about my father. Born in 1934, my father grew up in a tiny seaside village in Japan where I do not understand the dialects of the local people. He went to college but did not finish it as he jumped into a new booming industry at that time called television. He had spent most of his life as a TV broadcaster till he retired a couple of years ago. Despite the spotlight and a fancy media life, or rather because of that, he is hopelessly shallow, helplessly unsophisticated, and desperately insensitive. And I look like him so much. Every time I see him, I feel like looking at the older version of me.

Kazu, who used to be my co-worker in Tokyo, and I were very serious about making plans for a successful second marriage for both of us. Maybe too serious to keep them alive. Taking a two-week vacation from my job in the north of Massachusetts, I went back to Japan to see if there was any hope left between us, but all I could hear was his words of rejection. From the moment I heard his final "No", I could not sleep for 50 hours straight dramatically.

Not able to sleep, I wandered around a city. Being exhausted, I came back to my parents' house where I was staying at that time. My father was in the living room. Since I left their house to go to college, I had never really spent a long time there. I was surprised to see him since I was not used to the idea that he had retired and could stay at home in the middle of the day. He did not say a word looking at his daughter, who went to the U.S. with her American husband and then immediately came back after having divorced and began talking about her new boyfriend. I had been good at being diplomatic with my father, but on that day, without much sleep, I somehow got loose. Tears started to drop from my eyes. I sat on the floor and began to cry. A 33-year-old woman sobbing in front of her father mumbling, "I got divorced, lost a mighty Tokyo job, don't know where to live, what to do, and I just got dumped. What am I going to do?"

I was too busy weeping but I am sure that my father got completely panicked. I don't think he had seen me crying like this for more than 30 years. Or had he ever? He did not say anything and disappeared into a kitchen. He came back and put something on the top of the coffee table.

"Eat, " said my father. It was a bowl of rice. I didn't feel like it, but I began eating anyhow.

My father leaned back in his chair and said, "Getting married to an American. That was the beginning of your bad luck." Yeah, right, I thought. What does it have something to do with my present situation? I regretted that I had shown my vulnerable face to a man who said such a thing. But I was too tired to say something back.

When I got married to my husband in Japan in the early '90s, my father told me that I reminded him of Pan-pan. I don't know the origin of this word, but it means a prostitute who lived on American G.I.' s in Japan after the end of the Pacific War half a century ago. My father was not firmly opposed to my marriage. I translated that he did not care due to the lack of interest in his daughter's life. His words remained in my mind, though. Every time Kazu and I talked about our marriage, I was saying somewhere in myself that I was not Pan-pan anymore.

My father went outside leaving me alone. I calmed down a little and felt actually lighter after a good cry. I kept sitting on the floor doing nothing, and then my father rushed back to the living room. He shouted at me, "Cheer up! Even if you can' t find anybody, I will leave you enough money that you can live on for the rest of your life! " A life depending on my father's money was not particularly a life I wanted, but I appreciated his words and said, " Thanks, Dad."

My father continued. "What do you want to do now? You want to go out to eat something? Or a movie?" I thought about it. I wanted to do something totally stupid and meaningless. " Karaoke," I said. " Karaoke? Yeah, sure. Let's go. A Karaoke Box has just opened nearby. I have a discount coupon. Let's go there."

Karaoke Box is a new Japanese invention. It's a building divided into very tiny sound-proof rooms installed with high-tech Karaoke video system. You order a room itself and bury yourself and your company in a cave, given billions of choices of the songs that you can sing along. My father loves Karaoke. So do I. I don't know about my father, but anytime I indulged in Karaoke, I found a sense of self-contempt awaken, which was somehow comfortable.

My father left the living room to change his outfit. He came back and asked me, "How do I look?" He spent more than 40 years of his life in suit and tie, so after retirement he did not know what to wear at all. He looked horrible in a purple checkered sweater and brown striped trouser. I didn't care, though, so I said, "Fine."

We went to a parking garage. He moved his new silver blue Mercedes-Benz, which looked like a space station, from his tiny garage. Since the day I saw him scream at my mother just because she put a dirty cardboard box on the top of this car, I had been refusing to ride in this car. But it was an emergency. I sat next to my father in this space station.

We got to the Karaoke Box. It was a nice Indian summer day. The parking lot was totally empty. We went to the front desk and were led to one of the miniature rooms. It was a three tatami-matted room that my father and I could barely fit into. There was no window. The glittering illumination on the video screen was the only light in this dark room. We sat on the floor looking up the gigantic video monitor. The smell of cigarette was so strong that I couldn't help coughing.

A thin teenager who dyed his hair pure blonde came to our room and said, "Two hours limit. You've got to order something. What are you going to drink?" My father asked me, "What do you want? Whiskey? Sake? Beer?" I thought for a second and said to this kid, "Mix brandy and Chinese tea together."

"All right. Cool." He left.

Then for another two hours I sang and sang and sang. At the beginning my father sang some military songs and sentimental old tunes, but he quit soon. In the corner of this dark room with a glass of beer in his hand, my father said, "I would rather listen. It's rare to listen to the songs for young people."

I sang all the hit songs of the time I had dated Kazu. Or the songs we sang together. Or some typical heart-breaking songs. Sitting on a dirty floor, screaming into a microphone, frantically programming the next song on the keyboard, I began recollecting the final conversation that I had had with Kazu. He told me that he was seeing somebody who was 22-years-old. I said, "You are 40-years-old and dating 22-years-old? What is the matter with you? What do you talk to her about?"

"That's the problem. We don't have anything to talk about," said Kazu with a nice big smile I always loved, and he looked outside the window. I felt as if the ground I was standing on were disappearing.

After two hours, my throat was totally damaged because of over-singing, over-drinking and the cigarette smell in the room. I could not say a word. My father stood up. "Let's go."

We came home with his space station. My mother was back home. "You went out together? " She looked surprised." Where have you been?"

"Karaoke," replied my father. "Karaoke?" As a typical cultural snob, my mother seemed like she didn't even want to pronounce this word. "Well, did you have a fun?"

"Yes. It was a fun," said my father. Then he went to the living room to watch television.

Since that day my father and I have not talked anything about Karaoke. Actually about anything else. We simply do not talk at all. Recently my parents visited me here in the U.S. and stayed in my apartment for two weeks. During this stay my mother kept talking and my father was always silent with a stern look on his face. The only thing he directly told me was to drive my old car carefully.

Also, every time before he went out, he asked me, "How do I look?" He constantly looked terrible, but I always told him, "You look fine, Dad." Each time I replied so, he nodded and went out on the streets of a foreign country, which was an enemy nation when he was a kid. When I saw him nod like this, I sometimes had a strange urge to hug him. Probably I did it a lot when I was a little girl. But after I grew up I never did and I know I never will.