It was January 2016 and tickets to Vietnam were on sale. My wife and I discussed quickly and decided to take our two young daughters during their spring break for their first adventure in our native country. That same night, I phoned my parents and asked if they would join. My father gave a quick and resounding Yes! and just like that, the trip back to Vietnam was in motion.
Months of planning and anticipation later, we arrived in Đà Nẵng. I had been gleefully waiting to experience the day-to-day life of Vietnam with both my parents, children, and wife.
The flight from Sài Gòn to Đà Nẵng was not what I had expected; the passengers were almost entirely tourists! Since our last visit 14 years ago, it seems Đà Nẵng had transformed into a tourist destination. Still, the atmosphere was festive, the locals were friendly, and the weather was mild with a slight salty breeze from the ocean. Beaches were busy with kids and their parents and restaurants lined the shore, offering delicious local seafood.
I was eager to introduce my daughters to Vietnam and to start the sight-seeing. However, the next day, my father complained of fatigue and we had to forego our plan of visiting Huế. He mustered up his strength the following day and accompanied us to visit Bà Nà Hills, a majestic area once used by the French as a vineyard. The local caves were ideal as natural wine cellars. Left untouched for decades, a local real estate developer hired international architects to construct the longest cable car in the world, a theme park on top of the mountain, and a German-styled castle that sits atop it all.
My family enjoyed a nice lunch above the clouds and took a tour of the mountain. As the day came to a close, I realized my dad was very weak and I held his hand to help him walk up the stone steps. Little did I know that this moment – the wonderful lunch, the surreal scenery, my dad holding my hand – would be imprinted in me for the rest of my life.
That evening, my father writhed in stomach pains. We rushed him to the emergency room where the doctor gave us the worst diagnosis anyone can hear: cancer.
We flew back to the States the following evening and headed straight to the hospital. The doctors confirmed the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and stated that my father had possibly up to two months left. He passed away one week later.
Since then, it has been an emotional roller coaster. I tried to think only of the good memories, of how close and loving our relationship was. He was a man I cherished, respected, and admired. I aspire to be a father figure for my children like how he was for me, and a husband to my wife like he was for my mom.
My family and I found comfort in the immense show of support we received after his death. I always knew my father was respected by many but I never knew how much he touched everyone personally. One by one, each person offered condolences and shared their personal stories of my father.
Still, other thoughts and questions continued to run wildly through my mind. What if we found out my father’s condition earlier? What if I knew in advance this was the last trip I would ever share with him? What would I have done differently in those few days in Vietnam?
As time moves ever forward, I am beginning to see that these questions aren’t important. What is important was the lives he impacted, the legacy he left behind. What is important is that my father got to visit his native country for the last time and that I spent a day with my dad at Bà Nà Hills.
My journey with my dad may have ended but, like all the other good memories I have of him, that day in Vietnam will live forever in my heart.
Peter Hoang Dinh is from Seattle, WA. He studied at the University of Washington and proceeded to work in the family’s real estate business, which he took over in 2003 when his father retired. In his free time, Peter loves golfing, playing volleyball, and traveling with his wife and two daughters. He is grateful for receiving daily support from amazing family and friends.