My dad died on Saturday, September 11, 2021.

The guy lived a heck of a life and passed peacefully at home at the ripe old age of 93—so shed no tears, please. But even though I couldn’t have scripted a more appropriate departure for the pearly gates, there’s still an overwhelming sense of sorrow and grief surrounding his immediate absence. It’s impossible to pay homage amid the emptiness when the wounds are so fresh—but I’ll give it the old college try.

Back in 2006, as Bah-Bah was clinging to life support after undergoing brain surgery for a subdural hematoma, I wrote the following eulogy in preparation for his passing. After a miraculous recovery, I read to him what I had written. He listened stoically, inscrutable as ever, brushing it off as if somehow knowing that there was more to his story.

(Remember that the following was written nearly 15 years earlier. Please excuse the over dramatic narratives, false assumptions, and run-on sentences. As they say in the stock market, past performance is not indicative of future outcomes.)

When I was in the third grade at Picadome Elementary, our social studies class sponsored a school-wide assembly on ancient Chinese civilizations. My teacher asked if anyone in the class knew any real live Chinese people who could come and talk about their native culture and customs. I quickly volunteered my father, who after meticulous thought and preparation, pulled off a presentation worthy of the most prestigious Academy Award-winning performance. He not only kept hundreds of hyperactive elementary school kids enthralled with his pictures of ancient pagodas and his Chinese calligraphy skills, but he also dazzled everyone with his yo-yo talents and shuttlecock kicking acrobatics. Imagine the immense pride etched on the face of an insecure eight-year-old boy as 4th, 5th, and even 6th graders came up to me on the ensuing days and told me how “cool” my dad was.

OF COURSE I ALREADY KNEW I HAD A GREAT DAD. That was evident the minute he  decided to leave his native homeland, traveling a world away in pursuit of the American dream of creating a better life for his family. In 1961, while entrusting my mom, my older sister Mary, and myself to the care of relatives back in Taiwan, my father left for the United States, alone with only a small, packed suitcase and a handful of change. Today, as I gaze at my daughter Katie basking in the luxuries of American teenage life—as I stand here with my brother the compassionate physician, my sister the distinguished professor of pharmacy, and my loving and supportive wife Kanisa—I can only imagine the courage it took to make that momentous decision which would impact our family for generations to come. Visions of my father tug delicately at my heartstrings—all alone in a strange land, yearning longingly for his family back home, working diligently on his studies, while subsisting on his daily ration of tuna fish sandwiches and Ramen noodles.

I ALREADY KNEW I HAD A GREAT DAD. My Dad was smart. There wasn’t a mathematical problem that ever stumped him. Whether it was solving polynomial equations, analyzing modulus of elasticity, or calculating the area under a curve, my dad always had the correct answer. I think he secretly looked forward to helping me every day with my homework, and I now treasure every single second we spent together during those personal sessions. I remember frequently showing up in class the next day taking all the credit for solving the impossible problems no one else (including the teacher) could explain. 

I ALREADY KNEW I HAD A GREAT DAD. My dad never complained. Like the apostle Paul, he was always content, regardless of circumstances. The day-to-day stresses of raising a family in a strange country, language barriers, cultural prejudices, graduate and doctoral studies, occupational advancement, and health and financial challenges just never seemed to bother him outwardly. He had a peace about him, an omnipresent positive outlook, a type of concealed joy derived only from the belief that he was living a life of righteousness and virtue.

I ALREADY KNEW I HAD A GREAT DAD. My dad was such a hard worker, making the most of every opportunity afforded him to teach and study. He valued education and exhibited such a passion for his profession, working long hours into the night to tweak a lesson plan or to develop a new formula. Even his retirement years were filled with doing what he loved—authoring a leading engineering textbook that is currently used by universities worldwide. Throughout it all, he never boasted, never bragged, maintaining that same, simple humble servant spirit he exhibited while filling drink cups at Wednesday night church dinners.

I ALREADY KNEW I HAD A GREAT DAD. The greatest gift he gave us kids was loving our mother so deeply. They were inseparable for fifty-one plus years. Whether they were going for walks, serving dinner, vacationing, or watching television, wherever you saw Pete, you also saw Jane. My dad frequently conveyed the need for me to “love my wife unconditionally”.  He walked his talk, and the most difficult aspect of his passing will be the painful empty void left in my mom’s own heart.

A couple of years earlier, my sister relayed to me stories of my grandmother—a deeply devout Christian woman who took it upon herself to pray daily for the presence of the Holy Spirit in her life. I frequently picture her in my mind, a feeble, stooped, well-weathered matriarch out in the bucolic countryside of a fog-shrouded Chinese river valley, surrendering herself in prayer every morning so that the salvation of her family and future generations would be secured. Today, in this bittersweet moment—a time of mourning and celebration—standing amongst a priesthood of believers, I take great comfort in knowing that my grandmother’s prayers were answered—that although we will miss my father dearly on this earth, that one day we will all experience  the inexpressible and glorious joy of being reunited as a family. I ALREADY KNEW I HAD A GREAT DAD. The angels are rejoicing! May the gates of heaven be graced with your presence! I love you Baba.

Left to Right: Number 2 son (Michael), Number 1 grandson (Gabriel), Bah-Bah, Number 1 son (me), Number one granddog (Bingo)

Of course, my dad didn’t die in 2006. In fact, he survived another decade and a half, teaching me more lessons about unconditional love that would resoundingly resonate within my own personal life and marriage. Despite everything I had written in my dad’s premature eulogy—up to that point—I hadn’t really seen anything yet!

Because almost immediately after my dad recovered, my mom started showing signs of dementia. For those not familiar with the devastation of Alzheimer’s, let’s just say that it sucks. Watching the matriarch of our family—someone so vibrant in her youth—slowly and agonizingly lose her memory, her mind, her bodily functions, and eventually her life is beyond gut-wrenching. My heart still aches just thinking about it. For you see, up until that time, my mom handled everything in our household—from the daily chores, to the grocery shopping, to the social calendar, to paying the bills, to organizing our lives. My dad, on the other hand, would have been hard pressed to balance a checkbook or set the thermostat.

And yet, when the tables were turned, my dad rose to the occasion. He was there at my mom’s side every step of the way—from the early days of trying to keep her mind active by memorizing Scripture together, to later on by driving her to appointments and cooking her meals, to near the end where he had to spoon feed her and change her diaper. All the while, he maintained that same positive contentment that I so much admired. In caring for my ailing mom, he taught me the greatest lesson of my life. He became the inspiration for me as I struggled in dealing with my wife’s ongoing depression and mental illness. As well-meaning friends encouraged me to consider abandoning ship, there was Baba—a rock of stability in the shitstorm of life.

In the years since my mom’s death, my dad has also taught me much about two traits which I sorely lack—compassion and generosity. As I was sorting through his mail a while back, I often wondered why he received so much junk mail. It turned out that all those free gifts were due to the multitude of random checks he had given to all the various charities over the years. His philanthropy was punctuated recently by the donation of his life savings to the university and church he so dearly loved.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t bristle a bit at having my inheritance given away. But those dollars pale in comparison to the values he taught me in his life here on earth—a life lived with industriousness, integrity, fidelity, humility, and love. Yep, there’s that word “love” again. My dad loved life, he loved his work, he loved people, he loved his family, he loved his community, he loved his church, and he loved the Lord.

I picture my dad in heaven now, finally reunited with my mom—holding hands, going for walks, and pouring drinks at that great Wednesday Night church dinner in the sky. Well done, Baba. Well done! It’s not a bad way at all to spend eternity, eh?

May your legacy here on earth live on through all those you have so graciously touched.

A big shout out to daughter-in-law number 2 (Michelle), who sacrificially provided Bah-Bah with all the daily comforts of home for the past three years

Me, Bah-Bah, and granddaughter number two (Katie) in our last photo together

Dr. Yang Hsien “Pete” Huang Obituary

48 thoughts on “Bah-Bah

  1. My heartfelt sympathy for your loss. It is hard to lose our parents, but eased when they have lived a good life. Pete surely did that.


  2. So well written John. For me, what I will remember about your dad is the love he had for his Lord and how he passed that love on to you and so many others. I praise God for Pete and his outstanding legacy. Continued prayers go to you and all your family.


  3. Your gift of painting such a beautiful picture with your words gives me a glimpse into this beautiful human aka “Your Great Dad”.
    Please accept our deep sympathy and prayers.
    The Staiti Family


  4. John, this is so touching. You have of course learned from him, shadowed his acts and his wisdom. We have all lost a great example of Gods work. His legacy will live forever. May God Bless you all.
    Donald and Carol Douglas.


  5. John
    I saw Pete many times in the CE building and of course at Church. I never had him for a course n engineering but always respected Pete and Jane. I also saw you bring him to Church and have so appreciated your doing so. I, too will miss his presence. Know that I am thinking of you and Michael who was my doctor until he left UK. Please give him my condolenses also.
    Herb Southggte


  6. Yes, John, you will continue to miss your father. At the same time you will rejoice in knowing he is in Heaven with our Lord and those who have gone before him. May God grant you peace, comfort and His presence.


  7. John, that is such a well written tribute to your dad. I feel honored to have read it. My dad passed away before my mother, with all his mental powers still strong. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and just died last Spring. Good to “see” you on here.


  8. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing man. I can feel the love you had for each other from your words. Wishing you peace and comfort during this difficult time.


  9. John, what an amazing story. Your parents set an example for us all.
    I know you miss them as will everyone that had the privilege of knowing them.
    God grace be with you and the family.


  10. John, this is simply beautiful. I relate to this in so many ways. Only in reverse. It was my father who had Alzheimer’s. But I had the same respect for him that you did for yours. My prayers are with you and your family.


  11. This is a testament of love, loyalty and Christ-like characterics. I didn’t know your Dad, but I feel like I do not. Thank you for sharing this story and legacy. I pray for all of you at this time of grief.
    Blessings while you are on this path.


  12. I read the words about your Father , a beautiful tribute. I am honored to have read about this man, your Father , BaBa Sincerely, Barbara Jenkins – Ky


  13. My deepest sympathy for your loss John. It’s gut wrenching when especially a person so close to you as was your Dad has to get off the train of Life that we all have to go through in our Life’s journey. But as promised Christians will meet again. I will keep you in my prayers as well as the rest of your family. Oc and Letty


  14. Thank you John for allowing us to read such a wonderful tribute. As I read this I thought of my Dad that passed several years ago. Like you, I treasured my time with Dad. Blessings to you and your family!


  15. John, I only know your father through your photos and writings about him. It was so obvious how much you loved and honored him. You have written a beautiful tribute to him. May God support you and your family as you learn to live each day without him. He patiently awaits the day he sees each of you again.


  16. John, that is a Wonderful tribute to a true Gentleman. I never attend a Wednesday night dinner that I don’t think about and miss your Mother and Father. They were faithful servants for the Lord. Thank you for sharing this with us.


  17. John, I always look forward to reading about your thoughts. This one was bitter sweet. Thank you for sharing something so very personal. My prayer is that you and your family are surrounded by that heavenly peace which surpasses all understanding. Blessings.


  18. Dearest John and all blessed Huangs,
    Thank you for sharing this tribute to not just your dad but your whole family. What a tremendous legacy you, Mary, and Michael have! Good bless you all. Phil 4:13. I love you.


  19. Dear John, Mary, Michael, and families: We are sorry to hear the sad news about loosing another cousin. On the other hand, we are glad your father went peacefully in his sleep. We will miss him dearly. John did a great job to share the tribute of your family. It brings back all of the memories as I know you when you were a baby. I have to state that your parents raise you successfully and have such a lovely family. I enjoy your pictures very much. We love you. May God bless you all.


  20. John – my sympathies to the family. I too lost my Dad this year and so understand the feeling of loss. Your story described a wonderful Father and Christian example of a life well lived. I also know he is proud of the person, Christian example and writer you became. Proud to call you my Friend.


  21. Dottie and I offer our condolences. I can see where you are thankful and proud of the man your father was, and the faith he displayed in leaving his homeland to pursue a better life for his family. Of course, acknowledging Jesus as his Savior and Lord already gave him the best life. My parents are 82 and 80 and in good health, but I sometimes wonder exactly what it will be like when they are gone from this earth. So, I will lift you and the entire family up in prayer in the coming days, weeks, etc as I think of you. I don’t know you well, but in just the short time in NAMI meetings and in brief emails, I am pretty confident of the man you are, and that your father (and mother) were very proud of you.
    Take care


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