Unlike most students her age, 17-year-old Chen Wen-yu (陳玟宇) rarely hangs out with friends after school, because she has to care for her disabled father — bathing him, emptying his urine bag and helping him with physical therapy.
Her devotion to her father, as well as her work tutoring children from disadvantaged families, led the Ministry of Education to pick her as a role model of filial piety this year.
Chen was seven years old when her father, an excavator operator, sustained a severe spinal injury while working on a road repair project in mountainous areas in Taitung County’s Yanping Township (延平) and was left paralyzed from the waist down.
The accident left her family dependent on her mother’s salary as a kitchen maid at an elementary school. In an effort to help her mother, Chen assumed responsibility for caring for her father.
Chen would step in for her mother whenever she was working to bathe her father, in the hope of “making him feel better about himself by helping him maintain a clean appearance.”
“My father became depressed after the accident and even attempted suicide, but my mother never gave up on him. As his daughter, the least I can do is provide whatever assistance my father may need,” Chen said.
When she was little, carrying her father to the bathroom and bathing him was physically demanding for her, but it became more mentally demanding as she grew older, Chen said.
“Awkwardness is unavoidable in this kind of situation, but that is no excuse for me to shirk my filial responsibility to my father,” Chen said.
Thanks to his daughter’s years of dedicated care and encouragement, Chen Fu-kuei (陳富貴), now 46, has gone back to work and his hobbies. He is the proprietor of a lottery store in Taitung City’s Nanwang Community and an amateur calligrapher.
He said he was so afraid of being treated as a “cripple” after his accident that he did not leave his house for two years.
“I remained housebound for quite some time until one day when my daughter, who was in elementary school, came home weeping because one of her classmates had made fun of her for ‘having a father who cannot walk,’” he said.
“It was not until then that I realized I couldn’t live like that anymore,” he said.
Chen Fu-kuei, who uses a wheelchair, began going to his daughter’s school every morning just to “say hello” to her classmates. At first, the students ignored him, but as time went by, they began to return his greetings and also became friendly to Chen Wen-yu.
After overcoming his mental barriers, Chen Fu-kuei, encouraged by his wife, became determined to beat his physical problems by undergoing rehabilitation therapy at a facility in Taoyuan County.
“I originally thought that the hospital facilities would automatically improve my condition, but it turned out that I only had myself to count on,” Chen Fu-kuei said.
He said he was once instructed to travel from a Taipei MRT station to another location on his own as part of his therapy, but he got stuck at the station because he did not know how to move around in a wheelchair.
“In the end, I mustered up my courage to ask a stranger for help and finally arrived at my destination,” he said.
He said physically challenged people who criticize society for being indifferent to their needs should be willing to ask for help.
He said he also found new meaning to life after an unexpected encounter with a proficient calligrapher, who was attracted by the calligraphy he hung at the entrance to his lottery store and offered to mentor him.
Taking pride in her father’s improvements and perseverance, Chen Wen-yu said: “It’s comforting to see my father going from a bedridden patient who seemed like a vegetable to a optimistic man who is capable not only of writing calligraphy, but also of playing table tennis.”
“My family may be different from those of my peers, but it is those differences that make my family so special,” she said.