Anh’s father Tam is incredibly optimistic. Two of his favorite sayings are “You can do anything,” and “There’s now and there’s too late.” When the duck farm was doing well, Tam and his brothers Three and Nine had invested in several properties. Eventually, however, interest rates went up, and they had to sell these properties at a huge loss. Tam—who had instigated both the duck farm and the property buying ventures—not only loses all the family’s savings, but also the savings of his two brothers.
The loss of the duck farm, as well as the family money, marks a turning point in the family’s fortunes in Australia. Tam is largely responsible for this loss. While optimism and courage are among Tam’s more admirable qualities, at times they tend to tip into recklessness. Here his boldness has led the family to bankruptcy, and has jeopardized even the fortunes of his two brothers.
One night, not long after the family has lost all their money, Anh wakes up to find his father engaged in a physical fight with Uncle Three. Soon after, Uncle Three moves back to America. From this point on, Anh’s father begins drinking heavily.
Tam’s loss of the money leads fractures to emerge among the family. That he and Uncle Three end up in a physical fight suggests just how deep, and serious, these rifts are.
Uncle Three had left Vietnam with UnclesFive, Seven, and Nine six months before Anh and his family made their voyage of escape. On the journey, Anh’s uncles had also been caught by pirates—who sank their boat. Only Uncles Three and Nine survived. The two surviving uncles ended up in America, before joining their brother Tam in Australia. But Tam lost all of their money, so now they are returning to America with nothing.
The death of Uncles Five and Seven during a previous journey with Uncles Three and Nine suggests the extent to which luck is responsible for the survival of remaining family members, including Anh and his family. It is simply a matter of chance that Uncles Three and Nine survive the pirate shipwreck, just as it is a matter of chance that Anh and his family survive their own journey of escape.
Anh’s father Tam has become an alcoholic. He no longer helps Anh’s mother with the garment business and is even occasionally violent towards his family. At times he disappears for weeks. One day, Anh’s mother announces that Tam has returned to Vietnam. Anh is relieved to hear this news—he is glad not to have his alcoholic father in the house.
Tam’s turn to alcohol marks the beginning of the end of his position as a positive role model and inspiration to his children. The fact that Anh is relieved to hear that his father is away in Vietnam also reflects the fact that his view of his father has changed drastically for the worse.
Six months later, Anh’s mother tells the children that Tam is back from Vietnam, but she refuses to have him in the house. Anh, too, doesn’t want him back. He takes to sleeping with a knife under his bed, to protect his mother and siblings in case his father shows up at the house.
One day, Tam indeed shows up at the house. Anh’s mother is terrified. Anh gets his knife and goes to the door. There, he finds his father a wreck: he is sobbing, and walks away. Anh doesn’t see him for the rest of his childhood.
The turbulence that Tam’s alcoholism and aggression occasions amongst the family is apparent in this scene. Anh’s family feels so threatened by Tam that Anh is pushed to the brink of doing violence to his father. Yet his father is also clearly suffering, as his weeping reveals.