My Father — a 2017 Update

My father, Hao Zhang, is 61 this year. Three years ago, for his birthday, I wrote about what makes Hao so special.

This year, I’d like to give you an update.

After all, my father is always full of surprises.


1. My father is now, like many millenials, collecting crystals.

Hao likes to take walks around our home in Highland, Maryland, where there is a forest and a lake nearby. Every so often, he finds a shiny rock on the riverbanks. He takes it home, cleans it up, and stacks them around the house.

I am not sure that there is any rhyme or reason to his collection. They are all very large rocks and placed with no particular aesthetic balance. He likes to show them off to our guests.

2. My father has been farming in our backyard.

Our backyard is “unfinished,” which means that there isn’t a deck or patio, or lawn chairs, or anything fancy. Instead, there’s grass and a ring of trees.

And buckets.

You see, while my mother is planning to build a beautiful patio, my father is, in the meantime, growing turnips in buckets.

The buckets look a little wild, scattered, like some tribe of outcasts huddled around a campfire. Or perhaps they’re a little playful, like disorderly children trying to get into a circle.

Once again, I can find little rhyme or reason in the arrangement. Hao is a particular blend of spontaneous, experimental, and practical. I suspect he favors wildness over aesthetics.

(As do his children. It is a sore point for our mother, who often laments both the wardrobes and rooms of her children. She is a fashionable, tidy, and hard-working woman. She keeps the house like this. My father is the trickling water to her statues of marble, the entropy to her masterpieces).

Though, up close, they’re beautiful, aren’t they?

Perhaps Hao sees the beauty in little things.

3. My father is always making something new.

This year, Hao is enrolled in an online film course at the New York Film Academy. He writes every day, and sends his children emails to the latest chapters of his documentary about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and one scientist’s Herculean struggle to solve it.

He writes it in Chinese, so we usually ignore the email or reply in our heads with a, “cool story, dad.” (Like many children to their fathers, we are awful, but he continues to love us.)

In fact, Hao has a large body of literary work, including:

  • A book on Genomic Music
  • A Chinese translation of Catcher in the Rye
  • Countless sonnets about iPhones, rivers, my mother, and who knows what else

4. My father started a wine collection.

Coincidentally, this was around the time that he discovered that his children drank wine (and alcohol).

Ever since, Hao has kept the house well-stocked with bottles of wine. He once told me how he liked to select the bottle.

I asked my father how he chose his wines. This was his reply:

“First I look at the type. Borducks. Then I look at the year. Then I look at the region. Then I look at the price.” ($10)

That’s all for now, but I’m sure this won’t be the last of it. The life of Hao Zhang may require Encyclopedic, periodic updates.

Happy 61st birthday, Dad.

May this year be as full of surprises from you, too.


Clap to say happy birthday to this strange man who is full of joy and creativity.

Photo: Peter Zhang

Narrative: Mona Zhang