Trauma

As a person who regularly moderates and observes his own mental state and emotional range, even now I am struggling to comprehend what happened yesterday, on the 11th of July, 2021. The gambit of emotions I have run through in the past 24 hours is testing every fibre of my resolve.

From a cold, objective perspective, what I witnessed yesterday was a systematic, calculated and Machiavellian plot to take down an elder statesman in the community.

It was … honestly, brilliant. A rather remarkable display of politics, insinuation and calculated slander. Always hinting, never directly targeting the blame. Always skirting the issue, yet the problem is clearly labelled.

A textbook example of how to ruin a man, whose untouchable reputation in the community was ironclad and ensure his fervent supporters were powerless to stop the slow decay of his mental state.

As the elder statesman bore more and more of the blame, of the fact that people despised him, despite his previous achievements, his stature and reputation, the head got lower and lower, until it finally reared itself from his hands, in a final, explosive burst.

He was all alone when it happened but literally seconds later, he was surrounded and pulled in every which way. A mob had surrounded him, his family desperate to tear him away from screams, hands and pleas to the car, as cameras filmed the entire debacle.

That elder statesman left in a blaze of anger, depression, trauma and scorned pride. Never before in the community, has a man been so humiliated, publicly decried and cast out in such a dramatic fashion.

The entire debacle was quite possibly the most divisive, destructive and pathetic thing I’ve ever seen and as a dark horse myself, it was also surprisingly illuminating into how politics work. I had flashbacks of infamous assassinations in history, from Caesar’s betrayal to Trotsky’s death.

If an injury has to be done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared – Niccolo Machiavelli.

This injury was so severe, the man was hospitalised soon after, his entire world upended by the past 4 hours.

It just so happens, that the man who left the public inquiry, (more or less a public trial) in hysterics and tears was my father.

Speaking from a more emotional side, and as his son, I am torn between 70% pity and 30% resignation.

I pity the man and am sorrowful for his mental collapse. This is a man who has sacrificed everything, including his family, for the Vietnamese community.

All his work, passion, thoughts and energy went in service of the community. Every second sentence out of his mouth, was about how much he loved serving the community, how much he despised the Communists for taking over Vietnam and how his current project, a community centre in Victoria, meant everything to him.

He lived, breathed and now …. sacrificed everything for the community.

The other part of me, is resigned because this was a long time coming. His passion sometimes fuelled his pride too much and caused clashes with other headstrong individuals in the community. His inability to apologise for faults of his own making, and words had created dangerous enemies. There is a stubbornness of an ox in him, and naturally it was bound to cause division.

The past 7 months, he has become a brow-beaten individual. I have witnessed a incredible decay slowly tear away at him, from the inside. At first, I thought he was recovering but now … he is finished. Finished in every sense of the word. He has given up the fight inside of him, and is now more or less on autopilot. He doesn’t sleep properly, nor eat, nor can properly string together sentences well.

To provide context into what has caused the downfall of my father, you need to be aware of a couple salient facts.

  1. He is essentially one of the toughest individuals I know. Stubborn, resolute, honourable … his moral compass is unwavering. He has passed on better paying jobs, because he refuses to bend his moral code.
  2. Sacrifice is almost normal for him … only recently, has he really opened up about how he feels tremendous guilt for not being there more for my brother and I when we were growing up. This devotion to the community, has nearly robbed him of his family too.
  3. Stoicism is another trait of his that has really developed some questionable mental health issues that should have been treated long ago. Whilst I describe myself as stoic, I am also highly aware of my own emotional issues and perform weekly mental checks to be aware of my own state. From the moment I am awake, I am always hyper aware of my emotions and my consciousness works tirelessly to ensure my sub-conscious does not take over. My father does not have that level of self-awareness. He is ill-equipped to deal with his own failures, successes and his own mental health. Thus he hardly ever opens up, preferring to build upon the rot that is taking hold of him from the inside. This is a quintessential old man attitude to problem solving.
  4. He has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to the Vietnamese community. He is revered by many and respected by almost all.
  5. Lastly, were you to meet him in his prime, the only real way to describe him is a fervent revolutionary and patriot. Whilst I am sure he would object to the word, a fundamentalist is not an inaccurate term. For him, the world is very black or white, friend or foe, hero or villain.

Hence to accuse this pillar of the community, with suspicions of embezzlement and poor management is an incredibly deep blow to my father’s reputation. This is in light of his already touchy trigger point when it comes to money, due to a 2-year long lawsuit several years prior in which another member of the community accused my father of embezzlement.

His short fuse, becomes essentially a trigger, the moment any mention of money is involved and this was in the context of the community centre which he has ran from decades and is his biggest passion project. To strike so deeply at his very core, shook him immensely. It didn’t help one iota that these accusations came from his best friends, his proteges and people he had known for many years.

Naturally to have an public inquiry into his conduct, only one man had the power to call for such a open discussion into my father, the President of the Vietnamese Community, a man, my father once called a brother and personally groomed for the role, after his own retirement from the role.

Much like the Cain and Abel story, the current President had transformed into an entirely different person, his conduct becoming more political and phony, with every conversation I have had with the man, dripping with condescension, arrogance and insincere remarks. He behaves as if he is always standing in front of a journalist, with a mic in front of him …. his political double-speak and roundabout ways of describing things, a rather sickening aspect of his personality.

It doesn’t help that he lacks many loyal supporters, is indecisive and far too pedantic about small things, to really see the larger picture and the futility of his angry actions.

Petty, cowardly and spineless, the current President pinned the blame for an increase in land ownership payment squarely on the shoulders of my father, a move that is typical of his ilk. The irony of the entire situation was not lost on me, as in a move to try and cement his power, he underlined the weakness of his own, for in failing to address this payment it only highlighted the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of his leadership.

It would be amusing, if it wasn’t all so pathetic.

In the lead-up to the trial, my father had become so distraught and lost, that he ventured down a very dark path. Constantly watching samurai films, reflecting on the potential loss …. indulging in nihilistic thoughts … it came to a head that he asked for a family meeting and handed us his suicide note.

I ended up being the only one who read it, having had experience in writing and reading other people’s final thoughts before.

My brother and mother couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

When you view someone’s note, it always make for heart-wrenching reading. The whole note reeks of desperation, a plea for help and a futile helplessness that always ends up making the whole experience pathetic.

Because in many ways the truth is pathetic.

Everything we do is small in terms of the universe and such a concept is too humbling because we lose ourselves in it. Hence when you read someone’s final thoughts, you feel wretched reading it, and you know that the person felt equally terrible writing it.

But my father held on for this Sunday’s public hearing.

He had this hope that justice would prevail.

However, when I walked in and observed how the trial would go, I instantly clued in to the trap.

The facilitator was a compatriot of the President. The President didn’t seemed fazed by the video testimony of my father’s. My father’s supporters had their time cut short, due to “time constraints” which honestly had zero merit nor meaning. The facilitator would ask his own questions, chiming in to the interrogation and shouting over answers which his ridiculously tone-deaf attitude.

Then there was the hostile public, who often asked questions that had zero relation to the context of the meeting, and in a stereotypical Vietnamese fashion, would ask the same question in a different manner, just to have their ego stroked. This ensured the meeting went on much, much longer than necessary, a tactic that would be applauded by interrogators world-wide as it ensures the mental strain is enhanced by the slowness of everything occurring.

My father’s already fractured mental state would have broken even more under the constant barrage of questions which is again, another well known interrogation technique used in questioning suspects.

This trial wasn’t really a trial. It was essentially a trap designed around breaking down my father to a raw emotional state, so that it seemed that he was too emotionally distraught to make any rational decisions, thus nullifying his power and position as the lead of the heritage centre.

In contrast, the President would seem cool, rational and saintly, for having tolerated such an emotional subordinate for so long.

How could such a trial be a trial, without a clear outcome at the end? What was the purpose of this actual meeting? Why present my father before the public, as a scapegoat if the outcome was to prove/disprove his innocence? No such answers were provided at the end of the meeting, only political manoeuvring and heavy insinuations.

Instead, they asked the public to contribute questions on how to fundraise more money. That was none of the public’s concern. It was the committee’s job to think about how. Not the public.

But it did provide the opportunity for the public to ask even further questions and drag my father’s name further in the dirt.

It worked.

Because up until now, it seemed OK. My father was holding it together. The trap wasn’t too horrible to bear. Then they asked questions about one of his closest friends and before she could probably answer, the overbearing, pompous facilitator interrupted her, cutting her off.

This was the final straw. My father whose hands were covering his hand, could no longer stand by idly. Something inside of him snapped and he screamed at the entire crowd, before rushing out. His closest friends tried to stop him, afraid that he would do something rash. Opponents also rushed him, demanding him to stay and answer questions. My mother and brother screamed at everyone to let him go.

Utter chaos, mass hysteria.

I was frozen, unable to comprehend that sheer panic that had just happened. But I did note the expressions of his detractors and noted the smug expressions. So I merely picked up my father’s belongings, my own and followed the mob out, shutting off phones in the process, and staring at my father going stark raving mad.

I managed to push my way through to his car, and opened the door so that my family could get in. I only had just shut the door and said sternly, for everyone to Fuck Off when one of our closest family friends got in and drove off.

He was admitted into hospital literally 20 minutes later.

I followed suit in my car, with my best friend beside me. Everyone was concerned about me, but I knew that I had held everything together. I wasn’t going to get emotional, despite what I had just saw.

I was in control still.

A brief glimmer of pride blossomed inside of me, before it was instantaneously replaced with concern. So I followed my family to the hospital, where thankfully my father had calmed down enough.

There are some things that are traumatic to witness from a child’s perspective. Seeing your father essentially go crazy for a brief period, with hands grabbing at him constantly is one of those things. Tears, screams, wails and crazed expressions are horrible.

Fathers, for all their stereotypes, aren’t meant to weep nor show strong displays of emotions. Even in the family meeting he was subdued. But here my family and I were, confronted with a true image of the demon that controlled him inside.

Even now, I get the feeling I will never shake that image out of my head.

There is a reason why I am writing all of this now, because first and foremost, writing has always been my greatest therapeutic asset. I write when I am stressed, nervous, afraid, concerned, or confused. It allows me to recognise, sort and decipher all the complex emotion I am experiencing.

Even now, as I type these words out, I can feel my mind coming to grips with what happened yesterday better and better. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings of revenge, like my brother and mum. I am purely focused on helping my dad recover, to rediscover himself and find a new purpose.

He had sacrificed being a human being, with a curiosity for the world and other worldly pursuits for the community. I was determined to ensure this wasn’t going to happen again.

A big part of why he had turned into the shell of his former self, was because he devoted every waking moment to the community and the fight against Communism. He had no other pursuits, no other hobbies, nothing to take his mind off his work.

He was curious as to how I knew so much about fashion, about history, about guns and militarism. I told him flatly that I wasn’t devoted to just one thing, like he was.

I took him golfing, because as a man in his 60s, he wanted to keep up with me in tennis, but his body wouldn’t let him. So what better sport than golf? Out in the sunshine, beautiful greenery and swinging a club …. he could actually relax and focus on something different entirely.

He told me he had fun.

I told him, that fun was crucial for a good lifestyle.

He desperately needed a hobby where he could detox away from his phone and responsibility, and thus learn to appreciate the small things in life, whether it be a fine wine, the sensation of club against ball or the scent of rain.

He had lost his zeal for life, and thus when his only purpose was taken away too … he had nothing to live for.

The classic salaryman issue that plagues a lot of Asia.

Working with him, to rediscover himself, won’t be easy. But he is a strong man, and I have faith in his strength that he will get over this setback. The war might be over for him, but in a way, I am sure, deep down he is happy he can finally retire from it all.

It is always a freeing feeling to be away from toxic people and there were no better examples that those in the community who cast him out, despite his achievements.

Perhaps one day, I shall go into detail why the Vietnamese Community in Australia (Victoria) is such a toxic and poisonous chalice, but understand that it has a lot to do with the fact that many of its members are older generations Vietnamese, who had arrived to Australia with little in common with the host country. From English, to possessions, many Vietnamese people scrabbled to make a living, with many successfully doing so.

But the issue itself are the members within this community organisation, whose Anti-Communist rhetoric often falls upon deaf ears on the younger generation of children who are born with a foot in both worlds.

But then who can blame the children, whose very existence never knew the humidity of Vietnam’s jungles, nor the waters of the South China Seas. They can only imagine the world their parents describe, and then count themselves lucky to be born in a country that is technologically generations ahead of their parent’s homeland.

This inflammatory rhetoric only serves to alienate the two generations further. The feeling of isolation and the peculiar sense that time is running out to see their homeland free, causes many members to develop strong fundamentalist and patriotic views towards a country long deceased and forgotten in history; South Vietnam.

This ironically leads to many people, including the President himself, to copy and enforce rulings that are often seen in place at Communist parties.

From restrictions on language, silencing those who disagree, creating an atmosphere of fear, the community has long turned its back on nurturing the younger generation to take over and now exist as a shallow version of itself, focused only on pleasing the egos of the hardliners within.

It is without certain ironic amusement, that I note how my father have become an almost Trotsky-like figure, in which his critiques of the current administration are scathing and annoying. Then there are his loyal supporters, who range from young to old, a far cry from the current President’s popularity which only exists in a opportunistic, and controlling sense from the more old, ultra-nationalistic side.

Now with his banishment, engineered by a Stalinist-type ruler, I can only say that history often has a cruel sense of humour about how things play out.

Irony, upon irony … it’s often funny how no matter whether you are communist, or anti-communist, betrayals and political machinations have the same flavour anywhere and any time in history.

Doubtless my father will probably give me the biggest scolding, for comparing the current situation he finds himself, to the one of the founders of the Soviet Union, but that is the historical comparison I can best find off the top of my head.

But then, the current community itself, is as splintered and dangerous as the Soviets were in their formative years, so perhaps I am not too far off.

On a more personal note, I have decided to resign from the Lunar New Year Festival that has come to define so much of my personality and drive. There was a key moment for this decision.

Shortly, after my father was hospitalised, I wanted to prove something for myself. Such a faux trial scheme clearly took planning and a certain je ne sais quoi to pull off. I would admire it, if it wasn’t my father in the crosshairs.

But what had eluded me was the motive. Understandably, some people need no motive to see a man suffer, but in the case of the President I had to know why he had chosen to take such drastic action against his mentor and former brother-in-arms.

So I rang him. I decided that I would not be angry, nor emotional. I was completely civil, earnest and polite.

I started with a direct question, unwilling to tolerate any bullshit. After all, the trial was already 4 hours of bullshit that I was sick of hearing.

Why do you hate my dad?

The President was silent for a heartbeat, no doubt incredulous. He asked me to repeat my question.

OK, look, I want you to be completely honest with me. I can take it. I just want the truth.

Why do you hate my dad?

I don’t hate your dad! exclaimed the President.

OK fine. A bit of a harsh question, fair enough. Fine. Why do you dislike my dad then?

I don’t dislike your dad either! shot back the President.

Then what was the point of this whole thing today? There was no outcome, the entire thing was pointless. You …

He cuts me off indignantly, about how he didn’t say much, despite my own eyes witnessing him take the mic more than 20 times the entire session.

I cut him off again, and ask him why he was avoiding question. He replied with the statement

Look you’re being too emotional. I don’t think you’re in the right state of mind.

I scoff at the obvious statement. “A son has his father hospitalised and he’s emotional. Quite. Yet here I am, sensing you are the emotional one.” I think to myself before saying soothingly.

OK fine, you don’t dislike my dad. That was wrong of me to assume. If you don’t dislike my dad, then just tell me a couple of things you like about him then.

The President goes silent. In my own mind, I’m laughing at the ease of the checkmate.

Look, your dad and I are very different people. We don’t have to like or dislike one another to work together …. I

I cut him off. Political speak has always given me a bad case of allergies. I didn’t want him to exacerbate it further.

OK, I see how it is. You can’t tell me. It’s alright. Look, I just want to say that I am resigning from the TET Festival, effective immediately. You understand?

I …. OK.

I see how this is now. Thanks. Have a good night *click*

As I hung up, I knew that I made the right decision to call him. I wanted to prove without a doubt, that I was dealing with a man as slimy as I saw up in front of 100 other people. I was offering him an olive branch, a chance to see his morals, and how he would react under real pressure. After all, this is the son you are talking to, the son of a man you hospitalised. I wanted to see if the man was as phony behind closed doors as he was in public.

A villain would have snatched the opportunity to rub it in further. He would have laughed at my pain, and explained his motive. I hurt your dad, because he once stole a candy bar from me!

A hero would have tried to lessen the blow. I didn’t mean for it to go this far. I only did this because I believed your father was stopping our community from progressing.

The President of the Vietnamese Community in Victoria, was neither of those things.

Even in victory, he was a coward.

I can work for a villain or a hero. They have motives, purpose … reason.

But I can’t work for a coward.

A man who idly let everyone else do his dirty work? A guy who stands from afar at the mess he creates, letting others fight his battles? That’s not a leader, that’s a hyena. A pathetic scavenger.

A coward representing me? That goes against every single piece of military history, advice, and rule I hold dear in my heart.

So I quit.

Even now, I am still shocked at my decision to let go of a festival that I have bled for (literally), for nearly 7 years.

But I knew that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I worked for a shitty boss. I am my own man for a reason.

And I’ll be damned if I let some spineless sonvuabitch throw me under the bus, much less be forced to have a conversation with that SOB lest my allergies crop up again.

The only issue is the team that have loyally helped and supported me over the years. They deserve to know everything and why I chose to quit and leave them alone finally for a year. I will make a solemn promise though to immediately call upon them and offer payment for services rendered when I am finally my own event manager. They are far too talented, skilled and studious to abandon to the whims of a madcap President.

After yesterday, there is definitely some bizarre trauma still etched upon my psyche. I have no doubt that I will get over it soon, judging from my own emotional performance yesterday, but like a scar, I will always look upon it and remember the circumstances that came with it.

But right now, it is not my mental well-being that needs help. It is my father’s.

If you are reading this, Dad, you should be aware of the Macchiavelli maxim.

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.

I think you should be proud that everyone you ever met, always experienced what you really are.

~ Damocles.

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