Where Was Dad?

Shyi-Dong and I invited some friends to our home for dinner. Just when dinner started, one of the guests looked very worried after he answered a phone call. Since it was his first time visiting our home, we felt uncomfortable asking him what bothered him. After dinner he finally told us that he had to leave immediately. All the friends tried to persuade him to stay for the party just started, but he muttered: My father is not home yet. I have to find him.

All of a sudden, the air froze. Everyone looked at him puzzled. It turned out that my friend just took his father home from the airport the night before and his father had not come back since he went to have a hair cut in the morning. My friend never thought it could be a problem to leave his father alone for he was very independent before.

What happened was that my friend’s father moved back to China after he lost his wife but he couldn’t wait to return to Taiwan after living there for a year. Coincidently, my friend moved his family to Taichung from Taipei a few months ago, so his high-rise apartment was like a hotel to his father. However, any hotel had a name but not the home. The father didn’t even know where the new home was located, not to mention not knowing the address. To make things worse, the father didn’t even have any chance to see the building because his son just drove him directly to the garage in the basement when they got home.

What worried my friend most was the previous phone call he received that his father’s mental condition had declined rapidly after he moved back to China. In fact, he got lost a few times, but was lucky enough to be found immediately because he lived in a small town. No one ever told my friend the problems.

After my friend explained what happened, the other woman shared her story: Her friend’s father went to the post office a few years ago, and he never came back. Literally, he just disappeared. Her friend was heart broken and felt guilty for not keeping an eye on her father.

All the guests worried the same tragedy might occur to my friend, and anxiously offered suggestions such as driving around the neighborhood, checking all the hospitals’ emergency rooms, and reporting the incident to the police. However, Taichung is a big city, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. My friend rushed out to look for his father. He didn’t even want to think what might happen to his father when he had no money or cell phone.

An hour passed, and good news came. Someone saw the old man repeatedly dialing a pay phone near his neighborhood, but he couldn’t get the line through. Even though the old man was still nowhere to be found, at least my friend had an idea where he was about.

Two hours passed, and my friend had circled around the neighborhood but still couldn’t find his father. The next clue was that someone saw the old man walking into a school, but my friend couldn’t find a soul there. The last piece of information was that someone saw the old man taking a taxi and disappearing into the pitchy dark streets. All of a sudden, the hope of finding the old man was gone. Who could guess where the taxi was headed?

It was sad that the happy gathering ended with bad news. The guests left at midnight feeling heavy. They couldn’t do anything except praying hard for miracles.

Finally the good news came the following day. The patrolmen spotted the old man wandering outside a McDonald’s restaurant on the other side of the city and contacted our friend through a Carrefour card they found in the old man’s pocket.

After spending the whole day and night on the streets, the old man had no idea where he had been. It seemed that nothing ever happened; however, he pleaded to go back to his home in Taipei. What he didn’t know was that there was no home in Taipei.

It was a great relief for my friend to eventually find his father. However, it was quite a pity that the old man could have been easily found if someone had just helped him make a phone call when he got stuck. Even the taxi driver could have sent him to the police office instead of dropping him off in the middle of nowhere, or the McDonald’s staff could have informed the police instead of kicking him out of the door.

Taiwan has become an aging society. What happened to my friend might happen to many other families. It is easier said than done preventing the elderly from getting lost. However, these kinds of tragedies can be reduced if people are more willing to lend a hand.

Bih-Hua Chen
October 23, 2010