Saturday, August 20, 2005

After wife's death, father balances life as a single dad

From Daily Republic // Aug. 20, 2005

By Sarah Arnquist
SUISUN CITY - When Johnny Nguyen rushed his 8-year-old son, Thomas Nguyen, to the emergency room in early August for an appendectomy, a wave painful memories overwhelmed him.

The sterile hallways haunted him as he remembered his wife's last days before she died in April 2004. Just like when she died, though, Nguyen had little time to grieve. He rushed home to care for his four other young children.
"I'm the only one to take care of my kids right now," Nguyen said.

Nguyen (pronounced win) feels exhausted and exasperated. His wife of 11 years, Huong Nguyen, died at 40 on April 19, 2004, after a two-year battle against breast cancer. She left him with five children, ages 3 to 10.

Nguyen cooks and cleans. He shuttles children to and from school and activities. He cuddles and comforts. He cut his hours in half at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery to take care of his family.

Fairfield resident Annie Hutchinson said her heart breaks when she thinks of the young family struggling day by day without their mother. Hutchinson, a cancer survivor, befriended Huong while she fought cancer and then adopted the family after she died.

"Johnny is working and trying to keep the family together, and he's just worn out," Hutchinson said.

Nguyen, 47, emigrated from Vietnam and moved to Suisun City in 1982. He began working at Anheuser Busch in 1987.

"I try to be a good citizen. I try to be a good father," he said.

He speaks of his wife in glowing terms, but feels overwhelmed by the task of caring for five children. In July 2004, Nguyen took his family to Vietnam. There, he met Pham Thi Xuan Tuio, a woman with whom he and his children instantly connected, he said.

Nguyen proposed to Pham and asked her to move to California to help him raise his children. She accepted his engagement proposal and planned to move here, but the U.S. Consulate in Vietnam rejected her Visa application. All the paperwork on the American side was approved, but the U.S. Consulate in Vietnam won't budge based on its decision "that this relationship appears to exist solely to convey immigration benefits upon Ms. Pham."

Nguyen's friends in Fairfield rallied behind him, stating otherwise. More than 30 of Nguyen's co-workers signed a letter supporting his love for his family and good marriage intentions.

"We, as Johnny's co-workers and friends, can assure you that this marriage is no farce," the letter said.

Nguyen also mailed the consulate letters of support from his children's pediatrician, their school principal, the priest at Our Lady Mount Carmel Catholic Church and the hospice worker who cared for his wife into her final days.

He mailed letters to Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, pleading for help. Representatives from their offices wrote letters on his behalf and said they could do no more.

Nguyen feels he exhausted all his options. The days ahead look long and difficult, he said.

"I don't know what I can do," Nguyen said. "I just think that there is someone out there that has a heart."

Hutchinson said she wishes someone with ties to immigration would sweep in and help this family. She asked people at church to help them out, but "when you say five kids it scares the heck out of people," she said.

Vivian Nguyen, the oldest child at 11, said she wishes Pham could move here right away.

"She's like another version of my mom," she said.

Pictures of Vivian's mom hang all over the Nguyen house, including a poster-size portrait surrounded by flowers. Vivian said she can't pick out her favorite memory of her mom because she has too many good ones.

Their household still grieves, but his family must move on, Johnny Nguyen said. For his children's sake, he prays immigration officials change their position.

"We can't live like this."

Reach Sarah Arnquist at 427-6953 or

Those interested in helping the Nguyen family can contact Rick Siefke, a social worker at NorthBay Health Care. He can be reached at 429-7961 or

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