Michigan Grandpa’s Memorial

Michigan grandpa passed away peacefully just after 8pm ET on Thursday, October 7th, 2021. Aunt Jen and I were able to get to the hospital a few hours before he passed. He was surround by good friends and passed away just after they left the hospital.

These are the words I shared at his memorial:

Our father and husband, Hak Inn Rhee, was born on December 28, 1935 in Kwangju, Korea. His father died when he was only 3 years old, and thus he and his younger brother were raised by a strong, single mother.

He attended Korea University and served in the Korean Army before coming to the United States in 1961 to continue his education. He first arrived in Chicago, his US hometown, where he took classes and worked in the library at the University of Chicago. While I knew he studied political science later in his academic career, it wasn’t until recently he told me he was studying library science there. He was primarily trying to learn English.

He didn’t realize how expensive private education was and worked summers in steel mills to pay for his tuition and living expenses. Seeking a more affordable master’s program, he moved to Michigan to complete his masters at Eastern Michigan University. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment came early, when he convinced my mother to leave her relatively comfortable life in Korea in 1965 and join him in the US. Perhaps his second greatest accomplishment was convincing her to stay. They were married the following year and remained so for the next 55 years, through better and worse, and in sickness and in health.


Jen (then Jenny) was born later that year in Ypsilanti. After completing his masters at Eastern, the three of them moved to Detroit where my dad enrolled at Wayne State to pursue his PhD, studying Political Science. He started working part-time at Silver’s, a family-owned office supply business in Highland Park, to support the family. He told me the only job he could get with a PhD in Poly Sci was a professor. My mom told me he said he was doing well at Silver’s and could just work there full time and make a life. He did just that after about 2 years. I was born in Detroit in 1970 and in 1973, the family moved to West Bloomfield, where Dad lived in the same home for the remainder of his life.

In the early 80s, I remember him coming home and proudly showing me his business card, which had “Vice President” printed on it. I was too young to really understand what it meant, but it marked the ascent of an immigrant green card holder who started out on the stock floor and ended up running their commercial operations. This business, however, was run by a father and son, which ultimately left no where else for my father to rise to secure his family’s future. Dad told me the owner’s son, who I understood loved my dad, cried when my dad resigned.

Thus, in the mid-80s, seeking more for his family, Dad set out on his own and started a retail and commercial office supply store in Farmington Hills. Jen and I worked there after school, on weekends, and during summers. The business was called “JR & Company.” To this day, it’s still not clear if it was named after Jennifer or Jason Rhee, but Jen often reminds me that my initials are JJR, which is a fair point (Jen has no legal middle name).

As I was informing friends of Dad’s passing, almost all of them reminded me that they had worked for my dad at the store at some point or another. One cried, not just for my loss, but for theirs. A few years ago at my high school reunion, a friend with whom I was not close asked me how my dad was doing, which surprised me because I didn’t know how he would know him. He told me he was in a job program at school and my dad hired him through it. I have a pretty good memory and him working there escapes me because it was completely independent of me. He said my dad was awesome and that he was thankful for the job. In college, a van-load of fraternity brothers helped move my dad’s store to a new location. He took us all out for dinner afterwards. One of them reached out to me this week and recalled helping that day. I’m so glad so many friends got to know him as more than just my dad. Through his work, Dad probably touched a lot more people than we realized.


Outside of work, Dad had a lot of different passions and interests, which he was never shy to express with his friends and family.

His primary passion was for politics, and in particular, human rights in his home country of Korea. He got this from his mother, who was a formidable human rights activist in Korea. He valued fairness and equality, and always rooted for the underdog, whether in sports or in life.

In addition to his human rights campaigning in Korea from afar, he was also passionate about the Korean-American community in Detroit and was involved in many different ways. He was a board member of Sae Jong Society of Metro Detroit. Later, he volunteered at the Korean Cultural Center in Detroit. More recently, he volunteered as a translator for non-English-speaking Koreans dealing with immigration or legal issues. His dedication inspired me in my own service to Sae Jong Camp, which is now loved by Lucas and Olivia, too.

He was always up on current events, being very well read and informed. He could pass any amount of time, reading the paper, a magazine or a book. More recently, he spent a lot of time on his computer, reading news about Korea and getting spammed by way too many progressive causes.

I mentioned sports before and Dad loved many of them, including football, basketball and baseball. He rooted for the Bears and the White Sox, his hometown Chicago teams. He also rooted for U of M, which is consistent with his affinity for underdogs.

Dad also enjoyed golf and poker with his friends. Though he wasn’t very boastful ever, except about his own intelligence and cleverness (Sorry, Olivia and Lucas, it’s genetic), I do recall him flashing me wads of cash winnings from the prior night’s game. Ultimately what he loved about these activities the most was his time with his friends.


He had many friends and kept in touch with college and even middle school friends here in Michigan. As one of the earliest Korean-American settlers in the Detroit area, he met most of his friends here.

Spencer left me a beautiful message the other day and reminded me what a good friend Dad was to his dad. The truth is they were good friends to each other and I’m glad they will be laid to rest next to each other as they had planned.

Because Dad’s family was so small and that his younger brother preceeded him in death by many years, his friends were his family. As long as I can remember, our holidays were shared with the Yoons, Parks and Nams, and later also included Dr. Rhee and our beloved Mia.

We shared a beautiful moment together at the hospital where the Nams, Parks and Dr. Choi and Dr. Choo came to his bedside together with us. Dad passed away peacefully just about 20 minutes after they left and only a few hours after Jen and I got to the hospital. He held out just long enough to see those closest to him and didn’t linger long.


As for our times together, as father and son, I used to wonder how he knew how to be a dad when he didn’t grow up with one himself. I have fond memories of him doing dad things with me. I remember the first time we went fishing together at Orchard Lake one day after work. I caught a sunfish and we put it in a fishing pail, which is still in our garage at home (the pail, not the fish). I played little league when I was younger and he would often play catch with me after work and come to my games.

It wasn’t lost on me how markedly different Dad was from most other Korean fathers I knew. His English was excellent and he spoke it to me exclusively my whole life. He also swore a fair amount. He was pretty funny, again relative to most dads. He liked to joke and tease, the latter not always being fun or funny. Once, when we were swimming in the ocean in Japan, he thought it was funny to throw jellyfish on me, and I had all these sting marks on my body. Funny, but not that funny.

He also had a warped sense of fun when it came to his grandchildren, where his teasing often ended in their tears. I would see him dangling their beloved loveys just out reach, shaking my head. They probably don’t remember that, but the trauma may have seeded their more recent annoyance with “Michigan Grandpa”, with his constant questions and re-telling of the same stories. His sweet spot with them was when they were babies and toddlers. He was great at strollering them around town, taking them to the park, and driving them to and from school.

He didn’t discipline me like other dads. I don’t really remember being spanked, except for a couple instances. Most of the time he just talked to me. When I did something really wrong, he just told me he was disappointed, and that was enough for me to learn from those mistakes.

It was also easy for him to tell me when he was proud of me. After speaking to so many of you yesterday, sounds like he told you, too. I knew he was always rooting for me. Recently we purchased our first home and he told me he was happy for us and that we deserved our good fortune.

Perhaps being raised by and married to strong women, he always treated Jen and me equally. If I was the favorite child, it wasn’t because I was the son or the youngest. It was probably because he and Jen were too much alike: stubborn, strong-willed, and opinionated. But, they also shared a love of all the sports I mentioned before.

He wasn’t a hero to me like some dads are to others. He was human, and made mistakes as we all do. Some of his were big ones, and for those, he also taught me indirectly about forgiveness and grace.


In 2004, he had a heart attack and quadruple bypass. He was pretty sick at the time, so I viewed his time with us since as a gift. He was able to attend my wedding the year after. When he came to see his first grandchild, Olivia, he cried as he was leaving from his visit. I’m so glad that he was able to spend good time with Olivia and Lucas, and helped to take care of them during his extended visits to California. I know he really enjoyed being a grandparent to them and was proud of them. More recently, he enjoyed spoiling Jen’s dog Blue from the dinner table.

It’s really my mom who deserves the credit for keeping him alive all these years, particularly the last few when his health issues started piling up. Mom, thank you for taking care of him for us. Almost every time I spoke to him, he told me how much he hated dialysis, which is understandable. When I talked to him after his last couple hospitalizations, he would pick up the phone and exclaim, “I’m alive!” and he told me, “As long as I’m alive, I’m going to keep fighting.” I’m glad he is now free from the fight and the struggle. May he rest in peace, knowing he made a good life, together with my mom, for his children and grandchildren.

We’ve only begun our journey without him. He will be very missed by all of us. We love you, Dad.

Summer Trip to Michigan – 2021

Our family made our first trip to Michigan together since 2019. I was thankful to visit my parents back in June. We also haven’t seen Jen and Blue since then, so it was a great reunion for our family.

The first week, we spent some time with Grace’s family in Ann Arbor. Delaney was still in town for school and Addy joined to help her move apartments. Grace and the kids spent time at Youngjoo and Il’s house, where they had the best time on the lake.

We didn’t get to see too many friends on this trip, though we did have a nice dinner with Frances and Jon in Ann Arbor. We had a great weekend away in Chicago at the end of our first week. The following week, my aunt and cousin’s daughter, Sara, joined us in Michigan. This was also the first time my mom has seen her sister during COVID-19.

We were super happy that SJC was back on this summer, though it was quite different experience, starting with the drive-through drop off. It was great to catch up with lifelong friends at Dairy Queen before heading our different ways for the week. Thankfully, everyone has been surviving the pandemic and now our kids were spending a week together as second-generation campers.

Grace and I headed straight from Higgins Lake to Traverse city. We dropped off Jen at her friends Jen and Dan’s house. We checked into Grand Traverse resort and got in about 10 holes of golf before heading in to meet Jea and Eddie’s family. While it was great to finally meet their newest addition, Bella, it turned out she wasn’t welcome to stay at the resort, so our couple days of golf and hanging out were blown up. We had a quick dinner together before the mosquitoes came to eat us alive. We were mostly able to avoid the rain and got in a couple rounds and a nice dinner at the resort before leaving for home. We met Jen and the Lipfords for lunch in Traverse City and then drove home before the Haus started arriving.

Myung and Millie arrived in style as Myung piloted a single engine plane from New York, with a stop in Ohio. They took went flying around Michigan and up to Mackinaw Island and now have been to more places than me. Andrew and Clarence drove from NJ. We spent some time exploring Detroit and reminiscing about how our uncle terrorized us in the glass elevators at the Renaissance Center.

Halle, Liz and Mochi flew in on Friday. The main purpose of their trip was to show Halle U of M and show Andrew what he missed out on. We will probably never let him live that down.

On Saturday, Clarence and I went to pick up the kids at camp. We brought Zoe home with us and dropped her at her grandmother’s house. It turned out that everyone, including Lucas, had the best week/year at camp. I’m so glad Olivia and Sara were able to spend this precious experience together. I hope she’ll be back.

It was now a full Hau-Rhee family reunion, like so many we had in the 70s and 80s. We made full use of my parents’ back yard with some serious kickball and whiffle ball. This is the last time we’ll ever be able to do this as my parents will be moving next year.

My mom shows her love in many ways, but especially through cooking. While we told her to take it easy, she was set on cooking her delicious food for us. We went on yet another tour of U of M. Clarence and I overlapped while he was in graduate school and we had a lot of fun reminiscing about our time together. He knows a lot more about electrical engineering than I do. We gave them the full experience with a stop at Zingerman’s and the Big House.

We took a lot of family photos and had one last meal together at Benihana. We celebrated my Eemoh’s birthday and the big ones we weren’t able to celebrate together during the pandemic. We had such a great time together and it would have been even better with Lou and Sandor’s families. Hopefully we’ll all be together again soon.

Weekend trip to Chicago

Although we’ve taken some trips during COVID-19, my parents have been pretty locked down. While we were all home in Michigan, Grace wanted to take a trip with everyone to give them a change of scenery. After considering some destinations, we decided on Chicago as we haven’t been there together in forever and the kids have never visited.

My dad is on dialysis and his treatments are M-W-F, so we left directly after his Friday treatment. All 8 of us (including Blue) fit nicely in our rental Suburban and we made the trip to downtown in good time. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, which is not only beautiful, but in a quiet and accessible part of town.

Our first dinner out on Friday was at Prime and Provisions, which was kind enough to let Blue eat indoors with us. It was loud, but the food and service were great and I think everyone enjoyed their meals. Olivia especially enjoyed taking in a new big city.

On Saturday, we went on an architectural boat tour, which I think is the best way to see and learn about Chicago and its beautiful skyline. The kids enjoyed it and learned a lot. We spent a little time at Navy Pier before heading back to the hotel.

In the evening, Jen’s friend Kim came to the hotel to sit for Blue. My cousin Sunyong and his family also met us at the hotel for a visit and we went to dinner together. We haven’t seen them in a long time and I’m certain the kids don’t remember meeting Noah when they were all very little.

On Sunday morning, I took Olivia and Lucas to meet her school friend, who was visiting his sister in the city. The Starbucks reserve on Michigan Avenue is a sight to behold, but I don’t really recommend trying to eat there on a busy morning. Our last meal was at Joe’s, which reminded us of our meal there together in Miami.

After lunch, we picked up Jen and got right on the road. We were home by dinner time. Everyone had a great time on our excursion, especially my mom, who appreciated the luxurious time away.

I also shared this in a different post:

When my dad immigrated to the US in 1961, he landed in Chicago and spent a few years studying at the University of Chicago. He has always considered it his home town, despite living in Michigan for over 50 years. He roots for the Bears and the White Sox. Jen, Grace and I also have lived in Chicago post-college. We spent a quick weekend eating, touring, and reminiscing our way through the city with Olivia, Lucas, and Blue. It was us vs. 400K Lollapalooza attendees.

4th of July in Tahoe with Moons

You know things are getting back to normal when we’re in Tahoe with the Moons for 4th of July. We had intentions of setting out early on Friday morning, but didn’t quite make it. It didn’t seem to make much difference because traffic was bad.

For as many times as we’ve passed Ikeda’s on the way up, Grace has never been. The kids and I stopped on our first Airstream trip, but they don’t really remember. We had a good stop for lunch and groceries.

When we’re at home, the kids spend most of their waking hours gaming with the Moon boys online. In Tahoe, it was the same, but in person. Just kidding – they spent time playing chess, ping pong and a little time outdoors, too.

Our biggest excursion was tubing down the Truckee river. We have done it in the past with rafting operators, but Mike had the gear for DIY tubing thanks to a pickup from Clara and Grace at the end. Speaking of pickups, Mike’s Ohio roots are starting to show with his new Ram truck! Grace has been informed that we’re getting a Raptor so we can duel.

My tube started to deflate on the first leg, which was exciting. I also spent the first leg of the trip Googling “Is the iPhone 11 waterproof?,” but I never had enough signal. It turns out it is! The kids worked well together to keep us out of danger. We ran into a couple friends on the river, which was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday evening, we couldn’t convince Clara and Grace to head to the barn to see Wonder Bread 5, but Mike and I wouldn’t miss it. Sunday was pretty chill as we celebrated America’s birthday. Olivia caught a fish (they’re not smart this early in the season).

We were able to squeeze in a little Thando baseball after dinner before getting in the car to return home. We were talking in the car about how we never really make it a point to see fireworks on the 4th and we’re often driving back from festivities at that time. This time, we saw ALL the fireworks on the way home, which really didn’t end as we arrived before midnight.

Thanks to the Moons for hosting us again in Tahoe. It’s always beautiful and relaxing. The kids (and adults) have been having fun together since birth and I hope they never outgrow their special friendship.

Visiting Mom and Dad for Father’s Day

I went to visit my mom and dad for the first time since the pandemic this past weekend. I was glad to be able to spend Father’s Day together, which we don’t often get to do. It’s a relief that they are hanging in there. Big shout out to my sister Jen, who had spent the better part of the past eight months in Michigan helping to care for them (or was my mom caring for Blue?). We’ll finally all be together again in a month. 

Mother’s Day in SF with the Moons

Last year, the pandemic interrupted our tradition of spending Mother’s Day with the Moons. This year, with things getting back to normal, we met in San Francisco for brunch at Barcha. The weather was perfect for dining outdoors and the food was excellent.

It was determined that Beard Papa was too far, but we decided to check out a beautiful urban park on top of the new Transbay Terminal – thanks, Salesforce! Grace and Mike are both getting into plants and trees, so they were geeking out on everything along the loop. The kids explored and caught up and a couple hours flew by.

We grabbed one last drink on Market Street before bidding farewell. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of them and everyone we love more this summer and beyond.

It was a wonderful family excursion to celebrate Clara and Grace. Cheers to these great moms and also to keeping traditions alive.

Spring Break in LA and Palm Desert

Grace’s parents have thankfully been fully vaccinated, so we planned our spring break around seeing them and also celebrating her mom’s 80th birthday. Dave planned to come out and join us. At the last minute, Addy decided to join us as well. Bummer that Charles and their kids couldn’t make the family gathering complete.

Grace got lucky with her first vaccine shot a few weeks ago, but that put her second shot in the middle of break, which couldn’t be changed. She also hauled to Sacramento to get it, so that meant a 2 day delay and 3 hour diversion on our drive down to LA, which was a problem worth having.

Grace hemmed and hawed (never does that) on where to stay. Ultimately she picked West Hollywood to stay at a hotel she enjoyed in London. It was nice and quiet, but a little out of the way and not really walking (for me).

Chosun Galbee isn’t open on Mondays, so we went to some other place, which was fine. Benjamins were distributed by grandpa. Tuesday, Addy was flying in, and she had never been to Manhattan Beach, so we all met up there for lunch. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but it’s always nice to visit.

We had dinner at Ann and Jeremy’s. Grace and I have watched Queens Gambit three times and the kids twice. They are obsessed with chess, which seems like a much better use of device time, so it is usually allowed. Lucas is improving against Jeremy in their matches and can hopefully make a strong showing in a visit or two. I’m 0 for 2 against Olivia already.

Wednesday was moving day, so we took advantage of the empty roof-top pool. Our teenager wasn’t interested and Lucas asked me to join him. It was warm enough, but once the sun was hidden for the foreseeable future, it was time to go. We did get to have Chosun Galbee for lunch on our way out of town.

Our family road trip was to Palm Desert. I haven’t been to Palm Springs in almost 30 years and I don’t think anyone else has been there recently either. The weather was a little dodgy when we arrived, but it cleared up nicely for a couple days of golf and pool. Grace played 18 holes for the first time in forever and held up great.

The resort was nice enough, but was a little too big. I believe it peaked in 1983 and was a little understaffed for the number of guests. The food there was great and we had some meals in town, including Grace’s mom’s birthday dinner.

We had ambitions of going to Joshua Tree, but it turned out to be more effort than was wanting to be expended. I saw a lot of people posting from there the week before and the same week. Grace’s parents, Addy and Dave stopped there on the way back to LA and we headed straight home after our last brunch together. We’ll have to come back to check it out.

Happy to be spending quality time with family again. Can’t wait to see my family next.

Birthday Weekend in Lake Tahoe

Even though we’re still in pandemic mode, Grace planned a weekend away for our birthdays, which was in stark contrast to our last birthday at home. The kids were remote for school last week, so we went up on Wednesday night and they attended school from the room. I got in a few runs in the morning before work and meetings. It was nice that I had pretty much the mountain to myself and was the first one down on Drifter towards the backside at Northstar. At the end of the day, we rode the gondola down to the village, which was quiet and mostly closed.

On Friday, the kids and I skied together. We met Grace for lunch back at the hotel, which was the first of several meals at the only restaurant. On Saturday, Grace joined us on the slopes for the first time, which was huge given all she’s been through this past year. She did great and said she was feeling fine. She didn’t push too hard and went back after lunch.

Clara decided to come up and visited us for a bit before dinner, which was so nice of her. It was good to catch up some more after seeing all the Moons briefly while we were in Napa. Thanks to her for one of our few family photos during the trip (year).

We celebrated Grace’s birthday (and mine) at dinner, which was excellent. Together, we’re 100! This also means I have one year to plan for her milestone next year. I don’t know if we can top her 40th, so we have to set expectations low.

On Sunday, Olivia went to ski with some friends from school in the morning, so Lucas and I went out alone. We had planned to stay until Monday morning, but the kids were anxious about homework and getting to school. We packed up and made it home by dinner time.

It was a relaxing and beautiful weekend up in Tahoe, which was our first in over a year. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for 3 days and the snow held up nicely in spring conditions. It was awesome to ski with Grace. I think this is as good as birthdays get, as long as we’re all together having fun.

Long Weekend at Carneros Resort in Napa

A month or so ago, Albert was telling me that we were going to Carneros Resort together in March. I guess I’m always the last to know. It is one of my favorite places in Northern California and I think I did say that I would love to visit more often. Going there is the vacation equivalent of camping in your backyard, if your backyard was the most beautiful backyard ever. Also, it’s ski season. WTH?

The Lees had to come up a day later than planned, but this was a third night free type of situation, so we enjoyed our free third night anyway. Friday was supposed to be work and school, but somehow the kids got out of school and I didn’t get out of work. It was fine.

We haven’t seen the Moons since right before the pandemic when we were at their place for ski week. They braved the drive and us crazy pre-spring-breakers to come hang out for the afternoon and dinner. Our kids have been hanging out a lot online, but there’s nothing like spending time IRL. It was so nice to see everyone.

Because Carneros is also one of my favorite places to take pictures, I decided it was a good reason to end my Leica experiment and go all in on a new (used) SL2-S. They were making me go, after all. I won’t go into it much except to say it is low-light sorcery and I could not love shooting it more, even after just a few days.

It is technically winter, but the kids didn’t care and went swimming anyway. Despite having their own pool, the Lee kids think this was their first time swimming since we were last here in July. Thankfully they’ve outgrown the kiddie pool because Albert and I are convinced it is 80% full of pee. Also, it isn’t a real Rhee+Lee vacation unless a Lee kid shows up with a cast.

Saturday night dipped down into snow temperatures, which made it too cold to eat outside. We ordered in instead, which was just fine. The kids roasted fancy marshmallows on a Duraflame. It was weird.

Sunday was daylight savings and half our crew slept in right until brunch. We had one last meal before saying our goodbyes and heading home. Olivia said she wanted to get home to do homework, but I hear her cackling with her friends online playing games.

It was a short but welcome getaway. If we don’t come up with a plan A, we’ll be back there for Memorial Day weekend. I won’t say no.