ALLEN SAY is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. He has received many awards including the 1993 Caldecott Medal Award for Grandfather’s Journey. The following essay was written by Allen Say’s daughter when she was 13 years old (reprinted here with Allen Say’s permission):

MY FATHER
By Yuriko Say
I spend half of my life with my mother and the other half with my father.  My father lives with a twenty-pound cat named Tofu.  He calls me his favorite daughter.  I am an only child.

My father's apartment is quite different from any other person's living space.  Except for my room, there is no furniture.  He doesn't like sofas or any comfortable chairs, so he has only a drawing table, a desk, and his bed.  For three years he has resisted buying a stereo because he thinks it's ugly and will mess up his studio.

But Tofu has a scratching post and a cat bed, where he snores very loudly when he sleeps.  He follows my father around the house until my father says, "Stop giving me the evil eye!" and gives him food.  Tofu gets fed three times a day.

From my father's studio window, you can see a large part of San Francisco.  I like to watch the colors change in the bay when the sun is setting.  All the walls are white, and framed posters of my father's last three books hang side by side.  He spends a lot of time lying on the studio floor.  That's how he thinks, he says.  Then he does yoga.  He has a big kitchen, and on top of the refrigerator is an old clock he winds every week for good luck.  The last time the clock stopped, my father's car was towed and some other terrible things happened, so he has become very superstitious.  When he goes out of town, he hires someone to feed Tofu and wind the clock so it won't stop.

The one thing he has plenty of is house rules.  You have to take off your shoes when you come in.  He won't allow anyone who wears a baseball cap into his house.  He says only baseball players should wear baseball caps and only the catchers should wear them backward.  Every time I go to stay at his house, he makes up a new rule.  "House rule number 579, no television programs with laugh tracks!" he will say.  But then he can never remember the numbers, so they change constantly.

The rule that he always enforces is the one that requires me to write a two-page essay anytime I want something.  He didn't speak English until he was sixteen, and he had a hard time learning to write it, so he wants me to become a good writer at an early age.  This ritual started when I asked him if I could have my ears pierced when I was nine.  He said it was barbaric and told me I couldn't do it until I was thirty-five.  But I kept asking him, and he finally said that if I wrote an essay and I could persuade him in writing why I wanted holes in my ears, maybe he would say okay.  I wrote my first essay for my father, and after one month of writing and rewriting, he finally gave me his permission.

Proper etiquette is another thing my father insists on.  I have to eat properly and speak correctly, or I get demerits.  He went to a military academy when he first came to America, and his superiors gave him lots of demerits.  But because he's never given me a demerit, I think it's just a threat.  If I ever got sunburned, he says he would court-martial me because that is what they do in the army.  He buys me a lot of sun block.

The first time he took me to a sushi bar, he said it was very rude to rub chopsticks together, and you never order more than one thing at a time.  Just as he said that, a couple sat down next to us and rubbed their chopsticks together and ordered five or six different pieces of sushi.  My father was very pleased.  He is right most of the time.

When I began this profile, I started to think about all the things I remember about my father.  After I put two thoughts on paper, I got stuck and couldn't think of anything more.  I went to my father and asked him what I should write about.  He thought for a moment and said,"If I were to die tomorrow, what would you remember about me?” I went downstairs and thought about what he said.

My earliest memories are the stories he used to tell me.  When he read a book for me, he would always change the story, and we would laugh hysterically.  But my favorites were the stories he made up himself and drew pictures about while he talked.  I still have the drawings he did for me.  And I remember the little storage room where he used to work.  Until he moved to his new apartment, the little room was where he worked every day, as long as I can remember.

What I admire most about my father is that he always says exactly what he thinks. When I was seven years old, I dragged my father into a Hello Kitty store. After I had picked out the things I wanted, we walked up to the cash register. The lady at the register rang up the purchases, and just as she was about to put them in a bag, my father said, “I really wish this place would burn to the ground.” The lady gave him a blank look. I was very embarrassed. But that’s the way my father is. He’ll say anything to anyone. I think a lot of people are afraid of my father because of his honesty. Some of my friends are afraid of him, and some of them think he is very funny. My father doesn’t think he is funny. But he is, most of the time.

My father has given me many things, but I think the most important gift I have received from him is respect. Many adults treat young people in a special way. They never tell us certain things that they think are too “adult.” My father tells me everything. I can ask him anything, and he will give me a straight answer. My father treats me as an adult, and he has been doing so for a long time. Perhaps this is because it’s the only way he knows how to deal with anybody.

He is my favorite father.

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