Charley Chan had two sons

Number one and number two son.

Charley Chan was a fictional character created by Earl Derr Biggers in 1923. The character was a Chinese-American detective who solved crimes with his intelligence and wisdom.

One of the most famous adaptations was the Charlie Chan film series, which started in 1931 and ended in 1949. I remember watching this series on TV, in black and white, when I was a kid.

The series featured Charlie Chan’s two sons, known as “number one son,” who alternately helped and distracted his father, in each of his murder cases, and “number two son,” who pretty-much did the same, but who was younger, hence the (perhaps not) unusual handle.

When Eliot came along several years before Dan, he automatically inherited the “#1 Son” moniker, for obvious reasons. This, more or less, left the “#2 Son” sobriquet available. To my surprise, Dan picked up on this and sometimes wrote to me, signing himself “#2 Son”. I often wondered if he knew where it originally came from.

The numbers simply signify which son was born before the other. Nothing more. In that respect, Eliot and Dan couldn’t be closer together. But, in almost every other respect, for many years, they couldn’t have been further apart.

Eliot started his life as a very premie baby, born two months too early, deep in the bowels of a huge hospital in downtown St. Louis, in the U.S. of A. For the first three weeks of his life, we didn’t know whether he’d make it, or not, while Shirley was stuck in St. Joseph’s Hospital 50 miles away, with her own medical emergency, unable even to hold him.

A rocky start in most people’s book, I imagine. But Eliot would go on to grow and excel at everything academic, and set an impossibly high bar of achievement, as an older brother.

Dan the man

Daniel’s start in life was very different. Yes, he also arrived a month early, but now we were back in England, so he got to spend the first few weeks of his life snuggled in his mother’s arms, in rural Hampshire, demanding to be fed every two hours, day or night.

Dan was a restless baby, didn’t sleep much, and always gave you the impression, even at that age, he was frustrated and wanted to get on with life.

He was so different from the way Eliot had been as a baby. Perhaps it was the contrast that made it so noticeable.

At eleven months, Dan discovered he had legs that could propel him at high speed, so he decided to find out just how far and how fast. The answer was just like in Forrest Gump — he kept on runninG.

He ran through Kindergarten, through kids parties and picnics, through all his schooling, through all the sports and activities he excelled at, but dropped almost as suddenly as he started.

Now Dan could run even faster backwards than I could run forwards, trying to catch him.

As he grew older, he kept on running, now around Australia then Papua New Guinea, through friendships and painful relationships, broken ankles, and fractured collar bones, until, working as a tree surgeon, a fall from a high tree, and a fractured femur, finally took the slack out of his rope, and forced him to slow down.

Eventually, he started walking again, and after walking through a three-year BA (Hons) IPhotography degree (cum laude), he walked a thousand miles around Spain. Later, he spent three months in a Japanese monastery, so by this time, Dan’s life had changed in many ways, but I think it’s safe to say, it had slowed down a lot.

BA (Hons) IPhotograqphy (cum laude)

To chart Dan’s journey would take a whole website, which was not my intention.

There is, however, one event that happened back in 2007 which would be remiss of me not to mention, and that’s when Dan and I decided it was time to do some father and son bonding.

We packed our bags onto my bike, and rode to the very north of Scotland, to a place called Cape Wrath. The weather was atrocious, but along the way, we discovered a log cabin where we could buy a fresh lobster dinner.

The cabin was located right beside loch Eil, and the evening sun was glorious, as Dan and I finished the lobster, then called for the Scotch and cigars.

Memories like that you never forget.

But the real point of this story is to let you know that, although life’s journey has been very different for number one and number two son, they have both become wonderful, intelligent human beings, full of compassion, sensitivity and humility.

A truly amazing and wonderful outcome, when you consider how different were their beginnings.

”A father can’t ask for more in life than to have two sons”

~ Terence Milbourn

3 responses

  1. Daniel Milbourn

    Dear Dad,

    It’s quite an something to read about yourself and about how someone see’s your life. It’s been interesting to see how you perceive how I move through the world and then how that resonates with how I see me.

    One thing that has caught my attention in particular was about the way in which I ‘run’ through life, picking things up and dropping them as I go. It’s something that I have taken to heart in the past and reading this story has encouraged me to contemplate a few things.

    I’m reminded of something that the Rōshi (the equivalent of a priest in the Zen tradition) once said whilst I was in Japan, he said that ‘we should only do one thing’. This confused me for a while but I guess you could hear that and think it means that from the age of three, ‘one’ needs to have chosen their career and stick with it until death. Or ‘one’ might hear that as more of an instruction to ‘ones’ connection to our ‘inner life’. Maybe our friend Forest Gump is a good/interesting example to try and blend in here. He too went from one ‘thing’ to another, but it’s more clear for me now that he was holding on tight to a thread that was guiding him to where he needed to go and wasn’t affected my all the passing external ‘things’.

    There’s a kind of non-attachment to Forest’s journey through life, but there’s certainly a strong force that was guiding him around the place which I have always resonated with I guess. Maybe that’s why I always liked old Mr Gump.

    I’m not really suggesting that Forest Gump is a Zen monk, or maybe I am…

    Thank you Dad. It’s been a pleasure to read this one and an honour to contemplate these things over something that you have shared.

    And no, I won’t forget that trip we took to the deep north either.

    Until the next one…

    1. The next one will have to be when you take me on your bike.

  2. My #2 Son. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I think the one thing in Forrest’s life was Jenny. Nothing else really mattered. Oh, there were other things, of course, but they were all incidental. The one thing that mattered was that human connection with her.

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