MEETING AUTHOR STAN CHUNG
As an accidental reader of STAN CHUNG’s column in the local paper (a copy of the Kelowna Daily Courier was put into my mail slot during a sales campaign), I immediately became intrigued. The particular essay that day talked about the need for parents to grow up and become a useful parent to their children, to deal with their own hurt and emotional deficits before their kids would need them to show how to live. Just the kind of thing I liked as a child protection social worker; it reflected my own mantra.
I went on line and googled his name. He had published with the local OKANAGAN INSTITUTE a book called GLOBAL CITIZEN, River Of Love and Other Essays, a collection of his essays. He also had a Facebook site, so I sent him a friend request and for permission to use the particular essay, to copy it and to distribute it to educate my clients. He generously agreed to both, even without asking me to purchase the book.
Then, only a few weeks later, the Okanagan Institute announced an event with Stan Chung: a reading of his work and a discussion afterward with Stan Chung to take place on a Sunday afternoon at the local college. I jumped at the chance, curious who this Stan Chung would be.
I was surprised that only two other middle-aged ladies were present at the designated time. We sat and waited. Two men stood talking softly beside the rows of seats, one of which I recognized from the photo on the website as Stan Chung. Then some more people trickled in, and some more and some more. After about fifteen minutes, we had a decent size audience when Stan went up to the front, sat down on the lecturer’s table in the centre, and started talking about his book. He chose to read a story about his father, called Father, Soldier, Revolutionary, Spy. The story was spellbinding, describing a scene in which somebody tried to choke another person: his father and his mother during a manic bout of mental illness.
When he had finished reading the story, he had left everybody in the audience quiet, astonished; I was crushed. His short essay—just over three pages–cut to the heart of the matter with great clarity and crushing honesty, leaving him an open book, vulnerable. It was an astonishing piece that talks about the mental illness of a father with the gut wrenching feelings only a son could feel seeking his father’s acceptance and approval, which he never got; instead his father instilled fear in his son.
Stan asked if his audience wanted to hear another part of the story about his father. He read a few nods as a yes, so he continued on with Part II. His father had been trained as a commando, was the head of the Korean CIA in the early sixties with thousands of employees; he later married his French translator, Stan’s mother.
This chapter explains more about the life with a person with schizophrenia who is also your father, and how the lines of reality and hallucinations blurred of what his father is experiencing. How he sought enlightenment and solutions in the occult, got obsessed and talked to the dead. A story about how Stan hired the paranormal society to ban the ghosts his dad saw to make the reality clear to him, turned hilariously funny when Stan’s father retorted in a manner much saner, really, than the ghost busters. It also has a memory flashback that explains how Stan as a young child came to terms with his dad’s craziness: it’s the disease talking.
In Part III Stan relates in beautiful prose his confrontation as an adult while visiting his father in the treatment facility, and later on the phone, about the question who had put his father in the institution, and why Stan had said to his dad that he deemed him not a good father. This part shows how Stan became his father’s protector, a role reversal that unavoidably will eventually come for all of us sooner or later, who live with an aging parent.
Juxtaposed to these heartbreaking conversations Stan relates a memory of his childhood, in which he first realized his father was also person, not just a father, when he asked about the scar in his neck, caused by a bullet.
When Stan was thirty his father become very ill and then dies in a remarkable, warrior-worthy manner.
Stan then asked his audience for questions. He answered everyone with honesty and with an openness that I seldom saw outside of a therapy group or similar, designated forum: extraordinary. I have never seen such generosity and wisdom in someone this young as demonstrated in the language in which Stan described his life with his father. These three stories are mandatory reading for all who wrestle with the issue of a parent with mental illness, or who has ever felt abandoned by a parent.
These essays promised a lot of enjoyment for the rest of his book. So I bought a copy of Global Citizen to enjoy, and a couple more, to give away as a true gift to dear friends. I left the building very satisfied and with great respect for this fellow writer who can get to the heart of the matter with unabashed honesty.
Stan is an author and the Dean of Arts and Sciences of Camosun College, Victoria.