My daughter grew up in a village without a dad, not raised by her mother but by her grandfather. Her mom had to work in a different district to make ends meet. Three years old in 1975, she didn’t know anything about a war that just ended. She knew only that grandpa was in a panic and burned everything. She was told later that everything related to America had to be destroyed.
As she grew up, she would ask about her daddy. Who was he? Where was he?
She was told to be quiet and not ask. She didn’t look like the other kids in the village and was taunted and called half-breed in her native language by the other kids. Her childhood was miserable. She worked in the hot sun in rice paddies to turn her skin brown so she would look like the other kids, only to burn and peel.
Her grandfather tried to protect her and isolate her from the outside world. She had to quit school by the fifth grade and help the family grow rice. At 17, she was forced into an arranged marriage to a man she hardly knew. Put to work by her husband’s family, she was treated like a slave, mentally and physically abused. So naive was she that she didn’t know she was pregnant for three months. Giving birth to a daughter, the mother was so malnourished that she couldn’t produce breast milk. With no end in sight and no future for her daughter, she prayed for a miracle.
That miracle came in the form of the U.S. Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982, which in Southeast Asia allowed sons and daughters of U.S. fathers to obtain visas. All of a sudden, there was a way out for her. And suddenly she was a valuable commodity to her relatives because Vietnamese families could escape their squalor and settle in America.
I was stationed with the U.S. Army military police in Can Tho, South Vietnam, from October 1970 to October 1971. While there, I had a relationship with a wonderful Vietnamese woman until I was sent back to the United States.
When I left Vietnam, I unknowingly left behind a beautiful daughter who grew up under the conditions I’ve described. After searching for almost 45 years, with little to go on, she found her daddy.
It happened after my three American-born daughters, who grew up in East Meadow and Deer Park, bought me an Ancestry DNA kit, ironically, for Father’s Day in 2016. My Vietnamese daughter purchased such a kit in March 2017. In May, I got an email from Thao Nguyen of Virginia that said I might be her father — our DNA showed a 99 percent match. She sent other details about her mother, dates and places.
I was convinced and emailed her to let her know that I was shocked but thrilled to find out. After a few tearful conversations, we finally met at her house in May 2017. Her dream to meet her father came true.
The news was also a little scary because I had to explain it to my mother and my own family. Everyone took it well, better than I had imagined.
Today, Thao and I see each other at least once a month. Our relationship has blossomed into a loving father-daughter dynamic. As a bonus, I’ve met Thao’s daughter and Thao’s three beautiful grandsons, all in northern Virginia.
There is so much more to this story, but suffice to say that my daughter’s journey, even after coming to America, has not been easy. She persevered, working hard to provide for her daughter as a single mom in a foreign country. She has become the owner of a nail salon.
She has told me time and again that the past is the past, and that we have a whole future ahead of us. She is just so happy to find that person to hug, touch and call Dad.
Reader Ed Mace lives in Deer Park.