My Dad is the BEST. He is incredibly hard-working, super intelligent, has a wicked sense of humor, and a true heart of gold. Things haven't always been smooth sailing for us, but I am incredibly grateful for the ever-blossoming relationship we have.
You see, as a child, Dad was the BEST. As an adolescent/teenager, Dad was not perceived as the BEST. Being a first-generation Asian-American, I grew up conditioned with Western expectations of what "paternal love" ought to look like, but often forgot to take into account the very different, conservative Chinese culture my father raised in. Having a military father and being the oldest and only son, expressing sensitivity, vulnerability, or any emotions at all was certainly not encouraged.
As a young embodiment of all my father stands for, the good and the not so good, my innate endless curiosity led me to rebel in multiple (and sometimes very unskillful) ways. My father's endless devotion to his research would sometimes create a sense of disconnect for me. There were distinct times growing up where I felt I was competing for his attention. Who could blame him? His hard work was accelerating humanity's understanding of brain cancer. He gladly put in 50-60 hours a week, would occasionally work on weekends, and still continue writing grants and editing his publications after returning home from work. Let's be real, he was (and still is) working to save the world through his passions and talents. Ironically, this very same work ethic was what even led to the opportunity for my family to emigrate to the U.S. when I was a wee-baby toddler Tong-Tong.
In the 2-3 hours of the day where our times would intersect, we did our best to connect over dinner. When sharing my stories from school, he would be the first to ask what I could've done differently to affect the outcome. He wouldn't ever let me play the role of a victim in any story I told because this was the hallmark in helping him escape the oppressive environments and tyrants in his own life. Only later would I come to appreciate his well-intended critical eye. The realization grew into understanding and later accepting the fact that he was here to help me grow, not to coddle me.
My Dad didn't come to every tennis match, play rehearsal, dance competition, etc, but he did show up when I needed him the most, always. He would move to the suburbs and take on a 45minute one-way commute for almost 10 years so I could go to the best (most academically rigorous) public high school around. He would save every penny he could, alternating between the same 10 Ralph Lauren polos for years, so I could buy "Angel jeans" and "fit-in" in high school. He would drive 5 hours to come hear my name called at graduation when he had a multimillion dollar grant due the next day. He would take clear his schedule, take-off work, take me to my favorite childhood beach and sit with me when he heard I was coming into town after a big break-up. He would sit beside me holding my hand during the hardest court case of my life. Most importantly, he would forgive me for all of the trouble I would get myself into, all the dishonor I brought upon our ancestors, and he would continue to unconditionally love and accept me the best he could.
It took years for me to understand our vastly different environmental influences and upbringing led to a distinctly different language of love. Where I sought verbal affirmation and quality time, my father displayed his love in the form of gifts and acts of service. For him, growing up in scarce economic times meant fighting to survive. His tough upbringing motivated him to work incredibly hard so I and future generations would never have to endure the type of suffering he was all too familiar with. For him, financial security, having the BEST version of what I "needed", college tuition saved up, and always being there on the other end of the phone was the best type of love he could offer.
It was not until Spring of my sophomore year in college when I would come to the realization that I had been a little turd the years prior, and that I needed to step up if I wanted a better relationship with my father. I began taking initiative and calling my father for advice, to connect, to ask him about his childhood, to celebrate my achievements, to discuss my fears... Heck, I'd do anything just to get to know him and help him get to know the person I was becoming.
In the next few years to follow, our relationship grew exponentially stronger and stronger. There were a few brief moments of brutal honesty that were difficult to digest for us both. He shared his regret in me not attending an IVY League school, pursuing medicine, and being a "normal" Asian daughter. I shared my frustration with his emotional immaturity, inability to verbally apologize, and never hearing the words "I love you". Despite the rough patches, one fact remained the same- we loved each other unconditionally and always will. Time and time again, our mutual commitment to growing, both ourselves and our relationship paved the way for new behaviors, compassionate communication, and more love to take hold.
In the most recent years, the beauty of emojis has opened another channel for us to communicate our feelings and love without the "forced" pressure of an unnatural "I love you" to him. Recently, I remember calling my dad after a small discourse, apologizing for my own irrational words, and him immediately forgiving me on the other line saying, "You're always going to be the most important thing in my life, and I will always here to support you." To me, that was the same, if not better than any "I love you."
If anyone out there reading this feels some resonance to my story, from the bottom of my heart I encourage you to take action and reconnect with the male/father figure in your life. I've learned that people will live up to the stories you believe about them. Through small steps, beginning with forgiveness and then re-wiring our minds to hold nothing but positive, loving thoughts about them whenever possible, we are allowing ourselves to heal old wounds and create space for more love and new endings to be written.
Love & Light,
Welcome to the inner musings and mind gems that I've harnessed from the thought streams that scurry across mind. Here you'll find the experiences, reflections, and learnings I feel worthy of documenting as my journey unfolds.