Zhou Dexiang worked overtime to forget the greatest loss of his life: his wife and daughter.
But the 45-year-old deputy headmaster of Dongqi high school in Deyang could not fight his emotions while visiting the makeshift classrooms on Father's Day yesterday.
"My daughter used to call me 'Teacher Zhou' jokingly," he said. "I will never get to hear those naughty words again."
His wife Wang Maoni and 17-year-old daughter Zhou Wencao died when their school buildings in Hanwang collapsed in the May 12 earthquake.
Zhou Wencao was a student of Dongqi high school, while Wang used to teach in Dongqi technical secondary school.
Wang was outside the school when the quake struck but ran into the building to help the students flee. She was hit by a falling slab of concrete on her way out.
Zhou Dexiang was in the administrative building when the first tremors were felt. He rushed toward the building that housed the classrooms to ask the students to run out to safety.
But the building collapsed before all of them could do so, burying more than 200 of the about 800 students. Zhou and other teachers and students pulled out about 40 of the students from under the debris.
Five days later, Zhou found his daughter's body.
"Although she will never say 'Happy Father's Day' to me, I have so many students who are like my children," he said.
Zhou found his wife's body the day after the quake, though he had to dig with his hands through the debris of her school building for more than an hour. "She was only steps away from the door (and safety)," he said.
Luo Jianping, deputy chief of the school's student section, said Zhou's daughter had a promising future.
"She stood first in grade 6 and everybody was convinced that she could enter Peking University or Tsinghua University."
Zhou did not sleep for three days after the quake. He was haunted by the images of his students buried in rubble. "I forced myself to work overtime to get the images off my mind."
Since his school in Hanwang town has been destroyed, Zhou is now busy trying to rebuild one in Deyang. "I see myself as father of all the students. I will try my best to help them make it to the new school," he said.
Father's Day was a day of full of sorrow for Liu Yuanjun, 16, too because she attended her father Liu Siyuan's funeral in the suburbs of Deyang just a day ago.
Her 45-year-old father had been teaching in Dongqi High School for 22 years. Liu Yuanjun is a student of the same school.
"My father used to treat all the students well He used to say all the students were like his children and he should be responsible for all of them," she recalled.
"I do hope my father can hear me say 'Happy Father's Day' and that I love him very much."
(China Daily June 16, 2008)