The Happiest Refugee

by

Anh Do

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Happiest Refugee can help.

Tam / Anh’s Father Character Analysis

Father to Anh, Khoa, and Tram, and former husband of Anh’s mother. He grew up in extreme poverty in Vietnam, among ten siblings. He is also known as “Four,” given his birth order as fourth among the ten siblings. Tam is the one who oversees and directs the family’s dangerous escape from Vietnam on a small fishing boat, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War. On the journey he behaves heroically: he fixes a broken engine, and helps steer the boat through a violent storm, among other feats. Tam also acts with incredible courage at other times: one of his most daring acts of heroism consisted of walking into a Communist re-education camp in Vietnam to save his brothers-in-law Thanh and Huy. His boldness and courage are admired by Anh, who throughout his life returns to his father’s advice: “’There’s only two times in life, there’s now and there’s too late.’” However, Tam’s incredible courage and bravery is counterbalanced by his recklessness and irresponsibility. He loses all of the family’s money on risky farming and real estate ventures, becomes an alcoholic, and then abandons his wife and children to live in poverty. Upon the initiative of Anh, he eventually reconnects with his children, and attempts to show and communicate to them his love for them. His desire to have a relationship with his estranged children becomes especially pressing when he discovers that he is suffering from a brain tumor—but he eventually recovers. Anh’s feelings towards his father are ambivalent—he both admires his courage and bravery and is extremely angry at his abandonment of the family—but slowly comes to rediscover his father’s positive qualities after the two reconcile.

Tam / Anh’s Father Quotes in The Happiest Refugee

The The Happiest Refugee quotes below are all either spoken by Tam / Anh’s Father or refer to Tam / Anh’s Father. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Allen & Unwin edition of The Happiest Refugee published in 2010.
Chapter 1 Quotes

One sunny afternoon my father walked into the remote re-education camp dressed as a high-ranking communist officer. He marched right through the front door of the commanding officer’s room.

“These two men need to come with me,” he demanded. The commanding officer was bewildered. He was afraid to disobey such a high-ranking official so he did not resist. My father then walked my uncles out of the camp, right through the front gate.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father, Uncle Thanh , Uncle Huy
Related Symbols: The Re-education Camps
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

My extended family pooled all their money, called in favours with friends and relatives and sold everything they had—every possession—just to buy a boat. Getting your hands on a boat was an extremely risky business. They were only available on the black market and anyone caught trying to buy one could be jailed or killed.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Back on our boat one of the pirates grabbed hold of the smallest child. He lifted up the baby and ripped open the child’s nappy. A tiny slice of gold fell out. The pirate picked up the metal and wantonly dangled the baby over the side of the boat, threatening to throw the infant in. My father screamed at the top of his lungs, “We must save the child! We will fight to the death to SAVE THE CHILD!”

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Khoa, Pirates
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

As their boat veered away, one of the pirates did something strange. He was a young kid according to my uncles, no more than eighteen years old, and had been less aggressive throughout the whole encounter. Suddenly and for no apparent reason he threw us a gallon of water.

That water saved our lives.

You can’t drink jewelry or eat gold teeth caps, but that water meant everything because it bought us an extra day. That second pirate attack saved our lives.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Pirates
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“What a great country!”

Almost every day we discovered something else that made Mum and Dad shake their heads at how lucky we’d been. If you got sick, you could go to the doctor for free. If you couldn’t get a job straight away, the government gave you some money to help you get by.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Dad picked me up from school and, after I told him I didn’t win, there was no change in his demeanour, he was just as exuberant. Maybe he knew it was always going to be a long shot. I’ll never know, but he called up everyone to celebrate anyway […] my father treated that loss as if it were a win, and it was a lesson that stayed with me for a long time. If the worst happens, if you lose and fail, but you still celebrate coming second because you’ve given it a red hot go. There is no need to fear failure.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

I also loved it when Dad taught me things. I felt so privileged to be learning the secrets only a chosen few would ever know.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

The school had two mottos. First: “Men for Others”—done deal as far as Mum was concerned. Here was a school that was going to teach her boys to look after others and, if she hadn’t drummed it into us enough at home, we’d get another dose at school. The other motto was: “Born for Greater Things.” Boom! Dad’s happy.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Khoa, Uncle Huy
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

If he lays a finger on Mum, I will kill him, I said to myself. I took the largest kitchen knife I could find and stuck it under my bed. I was thirteen and at least as heavy as my dad, if not as tall. I figured I might stand a chance if I had a weapon.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Lucky for me I had my good mate Phil Keenan. Phil was the only kid in school who knew I didn’t have all the books.

“What classes have you got today?” he would ask. When it was English, for example, he would lend me his books for my period and I would return them to him in time for his class. I always had to be thinking about how to plan the day, when to meet up with him, how to make sure the other boys didn’t catch on. This concern totally overtook my life; it was all-encompassing and supremely annoying.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Phil Keenan
Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

It’s incredibly difficult to describe the feelings that go on inside you when you’re on your way to see a father you once adored, but for eight long years have been fantasising about killing. You play out the whole thing over and over again with different scenarios: a joyful reunion full of happy tears; an angry reunion where you knock him out.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

I realised that, when he wasn’t drunk, this guy was indeed the most wonderful dad in the world. Somehow, during the past eight years I had managed to block out all the good memories and focused solely on what he’d done wrong. I realised I still very much loved this laughing, beautiful, terribly flawed man.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father, Suzie
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Dad volunteered to go, but Uncle One insisted that Dad should stay and wait, and that he’d go. So Dad and Uncle One split up the boat money between the two of them, and Uncle One went with the men, while Dad waited. An hour later . . . no Uncle One. An hour and a half later . . . no Uncle One.

“I had an ill feeling in my stomach, Anh, like something was wrong.” Dad looked up to the ceiling, and his face turned a deep red. “I felt an urge to go down the track, to see what had happened . . . in fact, as soon as Uncle One left with them, I felt an urge to track behind them.”

I listened stunned.

“I didn’t follow. I just waited.”

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father, Uncle One
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Happiest Refugee LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Happiest Refugee PDF

Tam / Anh’s Father Character Timeline in The Happiest Refugee

The timeline below shows where the character Tam / Anh’s Father appears in The Happiest Refugee. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...130 km per hour. He is crying as he drives. He’s going to visit his father, whom he hasn’t seen for nine years, since he was thirteen years old. Anh is... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...woman opens the door. He can hear a baby screaming. The woman calls for Anh’s father. He appears, and is happy to see his son—reaching for him with affection. Anh is... (full context)
Chapter 1
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Anh’s father grew up in extreme poverty with his large family. In spite of her poverty, his... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
After his marriage to Anh’s mother, Anh’s father Tam rescues his brothers-in-law Thanh and Huy from the communist re-education camp to which they... (full context)
Chapter 2
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...a boat, and therefore dangerous, so the family must carry out the purchase secretly. Anh’s father huddles together with Anh’s uncles, planning the family’s escape from Vietnam on the boat. Anh’s... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...Indeed, as they approach the border, they find themselves pursued by a patrol boat. Anh’s father, who is in charge of navigating the Motherfish, cracks both boat’s engines, but the patrol... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...to find that not only are her brothers and brothers-in-law alive, but also her husband, Tam, has survived the storm. (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...the big engine but thankfully miss the small broken engine in the back. Now, Anh’s father Tam turns his attention to fixing it. Miraculously, he manages to get it going again... (full context)
Chapter 3
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...amazed by the many privileges to be found in Australia—including free healthcare and welfare. Anh’s father Tam finds a factory job, and the family soon moves from the hostel they had... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...he wants to be prime minister. From this early age, Anh is already absorbing his father’s attitude of “You can do anything.” However, he is influenced by his mother’s advice that... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...to earn an income as she looks after Anh and Khoa’s newborn sister Tram. Anh’s father soon quits his factory job, and he and Anh’s mother launch a business making clothes... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...Anh and his family for two years, but then disagreements erupt between Anh’s mother and father and Uncle Two and his wife. Uncle Two and his family leave, but are soon... (full context)
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...by his other classmates, who cheer him on. Anh doesn’t win school captain, but his father Tam nonetheless throws a big celebration. This teaches Anh an important lesson: that what matters... (full context)
Chapter 4
Family and Community Theme Icon
Anh’s father goes to Melbourne on a work trip. Anh and Khoa accompany Uncle Six on a... (full context)
Family and Community Theme Icon
Anh’s father Tam and his brothers Two, Three, and Nine buy a waterfront farm. Tam wants to... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
One day, Tam buys cheap feed for the ducks the family is rearing on the farm. The feed... (full context)
Chapter 5
Family and Community Theme Icon
Anh’s grandmother—Tam’s mother—is a big part of Anh’s childhood. Not only is she a passionate gardener, but... (full context)
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
When the time comes for Anh to go to high school, his mother and father, who value education highly, begin looking around for a good school. On the suggestion of... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...to win partial scholarships. Even though they have not won full scholarships, Anh’s mother and father are ecstatic. Anh begins to realize that his parents are working so hard so that... (full context)
Chapter 6
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anh’s father Tam is incredibly optimistic. Two of his favorite sayings are “You can do anything,” and... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anh’s father Tam has become an alcoholic. He no longer helps Anh’s mother with the garment business... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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,... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
One day, Tam indeed shows up at the house. Anh’s mother is terrified. Anh gets his knife and... (full context)
Chapter 8
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...his mother suffering so much over the theft of the sewing machines, and curses his father for abandoning them and not being there to help them. He wants to make his... (full context)
Chapter 9
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...months into his relationship with Suzie, Anh realizes that he’s very happy, and remembers his father’s advice that if he finds the right woman, he should marry her. Anh proposes, and... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
At his father’s house in Melbourne, Anh sits for an hour talking to him. It has been nine... (full context)
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Nonetheless, Anh calls his father again. This time, on the phone, he notices that his father’s speech is not quite... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...school chapel of St. Aloysius, his old school, with their families. To Anh’s relief, Suzie’s father has insisted on paying for most of the wedding expenses. At the church wedding, Anh... (full context)
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...with his comedy career. At times, he travels to Melbourne for his shows, where his father takes to accompanying him to the performances, helping to carry his props. After one show... (full context)
Chapter 10
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...that Anh appears in, which also features the American actor Will Smith, he and his father Tam spend the evening drinking. (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
On that evening, his father reminisces, remembering his eldest brother Binh, or Uncle One. Uncle One had been the gentlest... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
On this evening, Tam also tells Anh that, in spite of his repute for courage and daredevilry, he has... (full context)
Chapter 11
Family and Community Theme Icon
Anh’s family are ecstatic over Anh’s newly-found celebrity on “Dancing with the Stars.” Both his father and mother host big gatherings whenever he’s on television. (full context)
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Uncle Six tells Anh he’s been watching him on television. Anh had heard from his father that Uncle Six, who is adopted, had turned his back on the family—even ignoring his... (full context)
Chapter 12
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...sees Uncle Two on television. He is in a mental institution. When Anh calls his father to find out more, Tam informs him that indeed Uncle Two has been suffering from... (full context)
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
When Tam falls quite ill again with the brain tumor, Anh finally convinces his siblings Khoa and... (full context)
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Six months later, Anh receives wonderful news: his father is healthy. The doctors have reassured him that his brain tumor is benign, and he... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anh finally confesses to his mother that he is in contact with his father. She tells him that she knows this already. She also knows that he has children... (full context)