On Love and Loss and a Man Named Quantum


mind of blazing sun
heart tender as the moon
may you soar the skies

My friend Lindsey Lane, a writer based in Austin, Texas, recently commissioned this piece for her teenage daughter. It was such a blessing to be invited to help create this expression of love. I learned how this mother sees her daughter, what she loves best about her, and what she hopes for her. Lindsey wrote, “Thank you for helping me make such an extraordinary gift for Gabriella. When she opened it, she cried . . . a sure sign that her heart was touched.”

I have been thinking a lot about parent-child relationships. My father died two weeks ago, at the age of 81. My two sisters and I were able to spend a wonderful week with him in Japan over the holidays. Though weak from cancer and sometimes mentally hazy, he was able to share stories from his past that we had never heard before.

Left to right: Yuri, Annette, Yoshi and Motoji Makino, in Chiba, Japan, December 29, 2011

Left to right: Yuri, Annette, Yoshi and Motoji Makino, in Chiba, Japan, December 29, 2011

We learned that as a boy growing up in Japan during World War II, he figured out how to build a crystal radio set, and he would sneak up into the hills to listen to forbidden Voice of America broadcasts. Later, once the war ended, rumors flew that when the Americans came to occupy the country, they would shoot everyone. Instead, according to our dad, the officers who arrived in his hometown were so gentlemanly and well-behaved that they transformed the townspeople’s fears and stereotypes of the Americans.

Based on this positive impression, after college my father decided to go to the US for graduate school. He studied first at the University of Chicago and then the University of Southern California, earning a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. Although he did not have a middle name, he decided he wanted a middle initial on his dissertation: he chose Q. for “Quantum.”

He did post-doctoral research on nuclear medicine at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, where, he told us proudly, he was one of the only non-American citizens to receive a security clearance to work there. He believed it was exposure to radiation in the course of his cancer research that later caused his own cancer.

Our father also told us that the time he lived with us when we were little, before our parents divorced, were the happiest years of his life. He said that after working hard all day, he loved to come home and play with us, because, “you were so cute!” A strong and vigorous man, he would walk on his hands across the living room to entertain us, or carry all three of us at once, or lie on his back on the floor, making us “fly” through the air and then somersault over his head.

Besides telling us these stories, during our final week with him our father was able to smile at us and hold our hands, to tell us he loved us and was proud of us. He lived an ocean away and was mostly absent from our adult lives, yet his death still leaves an empty place in my heart.

you stepped off the world
now it hangs

In memory of Motoji “Quantum” Makino, March 12, 1930-January 25, 2012