I am sitting at the airport in Tokyo, waiting for my delayed plane to arrive so I can return to reality. I have spent a little over a week here with my brother-in-law and his son traveling the country and seeing the sights. We had an absolute blast, and it was worth every dime and second spent here.

I was supposed to do this with Mac over two years ago.   

Two days before he died, I pulled Mac outside, and we had a father-son talk about the Army, life, and how he was doing. He seemed fine, his usual self, not engaging, letting me talk and answering questions. I wanted him to know that we were getting close to him leaving home, I was proud of him, and he was so ready for that next phase: fit, handsome, smart…he had it all. 

At the end of the conversation, I asked him if we could visit Japan. You see, we had done an annual father-son trip together for the last three years. The intent was to build memories, spend time alone, and just hang out. 

We did some neat stuff in Australia and New Zealand, saw the pyramids, and went scuba diving in Tahiti. God had been good to us, and I wanted to ensure that he knew we were blessed but that this is what a Dad did, find time to spend with his son, to be there for him, and to love on him.

Sumo, we were going to watch giant men wrestle. Of course, COVID hit, and Japan closed down completely, but it was opening back up by September. So, I asked him, what about a trip? Fast one, you and me man, two dudes, 5 days, in and out, but we are going to watch big boys wrestle! 

We were supposed to go in March during Spring break of 2020, and I had it all planned out. We would take his best friend (sometimes you can have too much DAD at 17) and do an extensive tour. We focused on Samaria culture and were going to finish it with the Sumo National Championships.


He said thanks; he really did want to go, I think, he wasn’t just trying to make me happy. He was a fan of Manga and video games, I thought this is what he would like. But he said yes! I was pumped and started looking at my old Japan plans and when the big guys would be wrestling.   

He took his life two days later.  

Last year, my brother-in-law Daniel planned to take his boy, Baylor, on his father-son trip to Japan. One day, when I was staying at their house (literally one of my favorite places on earth to be cause of all the love there), they asked me if I could come along. I was floored; l was insistent that they go alone, it’s a father-son trip, after all, but they were equally insistent, and I didn’t need any pushing cause I was going for Mac! Since Mac had left, I hadn’t been psyched for anything, understandably. But this trip had me stoked; I was so looking forward to this. 

The big day came, and I took off for Tokyo. I met up with my brother-in-law Dan and his son at the hotel and it was 100 mph from there until I got back to the terminal to depart. These guys were pros, man. They had every day mapped out, from trains and cabs to locations and tickets. It was awesome. For once, I was along for the ride. And Baylor? Well, Baylor was astounding. I never knew a 15-year-old could walk around a foreign city as he owned it. Not just any city, but a city in a country where the language has no commonality and English is spoken very little. He was amazing and forced this old man to hump hills, ski black diamonds, walk for miles and miles and go on ass-kicking roller coasters. No sympathy for the old guy. They even had patches with Mac’s and my photo that my wonderful sister Suzanne made, so I saw Mac everywhere I looked.  

Over the next three days, we hit Tokyo, Hakone, and Mt Fuji, putting in miles and miles of walking each day. The sights were unbelievable, hell I never knew they had an amusement park on Mt. Fuji? We went skiing where Mr. Double Black Diamond had a meltdown over his complete inability to ski, freaking out the poor Japanese skiers watching an American tirade on the side of the mountain. We ate black eggs in Hakone and hit a pirate ship. Went visited amazing shrines, bamboo forests and miles and miles of Japanese shops.  

On day, we split up for the day as I wanted to get to Kyoto early and try to get a tattoo done. I have been putting tattoos on my leg for Mac for almost two years and they are getting on up there. I think I have 25 or so of them now. Since Mac has left, getting tattoos is part of honoring him and I associate the pain of getting the tattoo with some of the pain he was feeling before he went away. For some reason, I felt that getting one in Japan would be the icing as he was a big fan of manga and loved video games, and, it was the one trip we never took. Plus, I had a vial of ink in which some of Mac’s ashes were mixed, so it would definitely be a super special tat. 

After emailing every tattoo shop in Kyoto, one responded, and we made an appointment; this is where it gets interesting cause Mac let me know he was around. 

Since his passing, we have kept Mac’s phone as a link to our son. Every now and then, I’ll fire it up and play his playlists from his Spotify account and cry, knowing that I was listening to the same music that my boy listened to in the car, on the slopes, and in the air. Yep, it hurts to touch that stove, but I touch it all the time. That phone is my link to him. 

I had forgotten that, for some reason, I had brought Mac’s phone with me on this trip, and it was in his football backpack that I had brought as well. That day, I took the train from Hakone to Kyoto typing on my computer and texting and talking on my phone the whole way. The phone had been acting a bit wonky, but there were no issues with it, I had it plugged in and charging. Hell, I talked on it the whole way. 

When I got to Kyoto, it died. Not just died, it like wouldn’t work. Showed a dark green screen, something about a custom IOS, I could barely read it cause it also dimmed the screen. I was freaking out, I had a tattoo appointment in an hour, no phone, no google translator (which is brilliant to have in a foreign country), nothing. I was in downtown Kyoto and needed to figure out where to go.  

So I found a bench and sat down. If you have ever been to Japan, you will quickly notice that they lack two things, benches/seats and trash receptacles…oh..and paper towels. At the bench, I pulled out my computer, hoping that I could get an email off the screen, and I was fishing around Mac’s backpack when I found….that’s right, his phone. Of course it was dead, must be 6 years old so I didn’t help me at the time, but I went into a store where a kind, older man, wrote down the address in Japanese so I could give it to a cab driver.  

So I find a cab, give it to the cab driver, who doesn’t understand it, and calls the tattoo artist. They had a 10-minute conversation (there are no brief conversations in Japan), and we went to the location. Once there, he informed me that tattoos were inappropriate in Japan (which are associated with organized crime) and that there wasn’t going to be a store, like a shop. When we couldn’t find the place, the taxi driver phoned him again and left a message. His plan was to leave me at the curb and tell the guy where to come get me. Once I tipped him (tipping is also not approved in Japan) he tried again and behold! The artist was able to answer. So the taxi driver gave me some last-minute instructions and left me to find some lunch. At 12 PM I walked into the door and met the artist, we talked about the tattoo placement, size, and colors, and then, while he was working on the template, I went to sit down and charge up my phone.   

Well, it was still dead, not only dead, but now the damn thing is in safe mode, which means I have no apps, no nothing. I can’t do anything and I don’t have an Apple charger for Mac’s phone, but right in front of me on the table was one of those triple cord chargers, you know the one, with a USB-C, micro USB and that’s right..an apple charger. So I plugged in Mac’s phone, and while I waited, I tried and tried to get my phone to work, everything was on it, email, tests, apps. But nothing would work, my sister was texting me options to turn it on and I tired them all. So I figured, hell, guess I’m using Mac’s phone. 

So I turn on my boy’s phone and not only does it come on, but it is connects to the cell service in Kyoto! I couldn’t believe it. I think either my wife or I may be paying for this. I have no idea, but it was working. So I texted my sister back, careful not to text my wife from Mac’s phone cause I thought that would be pretty freaky. But, I had a phone now so that I could maneuver and connect my earbuds to it. Soon, the tattoo artist notified me he was ready, and got to work on my tattoo for  six and a half hours. 

So I turn on my boy’s phone and not only does it come on, but it is connects to the cell service in Kyoto! I couldn’t believe it. I think either my wife or I may be paying for this. I have no idea, but it was working. So I texted my sister back, careful not to text my wife from Mac’s phone cause I thought that would be pretty freaky. But, I had a phone now so that I could maneuver and connect my earbuds to it. Soon, the tattoo artist notified me he was ready, and got to work on my tattoo for  six and a half hours. 

And as I was lying there, listening to my son’s music on the last trip we were to take, getting his manga tattoo with ink that had his ashes in it, I was blown away by the fact that it all came together. Even after, with no comms and a dedicated taxi driver, I found the door to the one tattoo artist that would take me in with no appointment and do a fantastic job. How my phone stopped working the second, I got off the train in Kyoto but found my son’s phone, and it still would work. I stifled my tears as I didn’t want the artist to know, but I had never felt closer to my son since he left me than getting that tattoo. He was there, he let me know it, and I love him even deeper for helping me keep going. 

The rest of the trip was awesome, every day I used Mac’s phone to stay in touch and I know his sisters and Mom were watching me as they have that secret “I know where you are “Apple circle going on.  

Finally on the last night we watched the big guys roll! SUMO! If you have never seen it, it’s amazing. Danny got us great tickets in the box where we sat on mats and watched the matches. We must have watched almost 40 matches, talked and had a great time. On the last night, Danny and Baylor looked at each other and me and said that their phones were dead. Mine was too, but we all had Mac’s phone and for the last night, his phone guided us to the taco bar for dinner and home for our last night in Japan. 

To me, finishing this trip was, above all, about keeping a promise to my son. A promise I made to take him on our last father son trip in high school. A trip that would have been the last one before my son became an adult. I miss him, more than I can ever say, but in times like these, I feel that our dedication to him and the cause of his death has his support. He keeps showing up in little ways to let us know that He loves us, is waiting, and wants us to remember.   

I know we will.  

Bruce Parkman