My father grew up in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Somewhere along the way in his youth, he picked up smoking cigarettes, and there has always been something slightly and charmingly devilish in his smile, but by the way my eldest aunt speaks of him, and the way both sides of our family treat him, he learned responsibility very early on and has maintained that throughout his life.
Like my mother to hers, my father has always been an extremely loyal son to his mother. The fifth of seven children, he was my grandmother’s favorite, here in California at least. His father, like my mother’s father, died during the Khmer Rouge regime. My Grandmother Huoy lived with us until the end of her life, and after her death, my father built a cabinet specifically to act as a proper shrine to her where he and my mother still make offerings of her favorite fruit before consuming it themselves. A visit to her grave entails bringing not only incense sticks and flowers, but gardening shears, a brush, and mineral oil. He carefully trims away the grass that creeps up to the edges of her plaque, brushes away the debris, then polishes the plaque. Though her plaque shows its age, it also has the sheen of twelve years of care. She has never been forgotten.
This is the sort of piety that I know is taught in most Asian families, but I know few people who are as true to those lessons as my father.