Lullaby To My Father
Updated: Aug 6
My father abandoned my family when I was three days old. There were no visits, no summer vacations, no holidays. My father simply disappeared from our lives. The only relationship I had with my father growing up were the Super-8 films he left behind. The films were of his military service during the Vietnam War that sat in our basement in a brown cardboard box waiting to be discovered.
Projecting the films onto our living room wall my sisters and I discovered things about a war that looked more like a vacation getaway to a tropical locale: swaying green palm trees, white sandy beaches, and fighter jets, dozens of them, grey and ominous, taking off and disappearing into a sweeping blue sky. The films became artifacts of my father’s past, clues into a man who was a stranger. My father appears only sporadically in the film wearing aviator sunglasses and a fitted grey uniform, his presence revealed only when an aircraft plane passes by on the tarmac and you see his reflection in the aircraft window holding his film camera like a budding film student, only to disappear from the frame seconds later as he had disappeared from our lives.
“Movies do not just mirror the culture of any given time,” bell hooks observes in No Love In The Wild, “they also create it." Take the last reel of film from my father’s movies: jump cuts of makeshift wooden barracks surrounded by swaying palm trees on the periphery of what appears to be a makeshift refugee camp for children. Encircling the camp is a barbed wire fence and pressed against its sharp edges are the brown faces of dozens of Vietnamese children, eight and nine years old looking terrified, dressed in tattered clothes and barefoot, their eyes pleading to the viewer to be saved from this dreadful place they are now forced to call home.
The images of these terrified faces haunted me then, leaving me with more questions than answers about my father: Why had my father filmed these children? Why were they imprisoned? Why didn’t he help save them? And why had he left it for me to discover? Was this a type of confession? And if it was a confession, what exactly were his crimes?
Sonic memories are auditory riddles that use a complex language to transfer sensory knowledge to the listener. Lullaby to my father is presented as a lilting soundscape where memory splinters and mythology forms. It is thus a sonic memory for a missing father who left behind fragments of his past for his son to discover, one bound by dreams and unified at the center by the paradox of absence.
Authors Note: Introductory remarks to the film Lullaby To My Father at the San Francisco Art Institute Art Talk, Osher Lecture Hall, December 2019.
Lullaby To My Father has been screened & exhibited at the Fotogenia Film Festival in Mexico City, (2019) The Center For New Music in San Francisco (2019), The San Francisco Art Institute (2019), and the de Young Museum of Art (2020)