I joke that my dad was the typical stony Chinese dad. I joke that the only time he spoke to me was to tell me that I was blocking the TV. My dad is a nice man. In hindsight, while he was the one that gave me most of my spankings, it was usually at my mother’s request.
Before the divorce, I can remember him laughing and joking with his friends. He has since lost contact with them. The divorce really sent him for a loop. He cried in front of me. I was a teenager. I was cold. I told him, if she (my mother) really wanted to go, let her go, and move on.
A positive byproduct of the divorce was that my father and I actually started speaking. I mean having conversations that went beyond the weather and whether or not I needed money. Unfortunately, now that we were talking, we realized that we didn’t understand each other. He couldn’t understand how I made sense of my world and I couldn’t understand how he rationalized his.
This doesn’t mean that we didn’t keep trying. We still don’t understand each other but the range of topics we speak about has increased as the number of “life decisions” I must make increases. Also, having met one of his college friends from Hong Kong, and sharing stories, I have come to realize that he and I aren’t that different. He was a big partier in college too.
Where my dad was not engaged, my mother was controlling. My mom and I had a great relationship until I learned it was OK to say, No, to her. Up until junior year in high school, when I discovered New Wave music and the school theater club, I didn’t really care about what I wore or how my hair looked. I had a terrible puberty and lost any feelings of attractiveness during it. So up until junior year I really didn’t care what I looked it.
I gave up on my mother my senior year of high school when I got my ear pierced. It was still pretty taboo then. She was furious. I joke with her now that by the time I graduated college, many of her male interns and even some of her male staff had earrings. They did the “Italian” (the one diamond stud in the ear). I had flamboyant hoops and expanded collection in college.
College was really the time I “grew up.” My parents were distracted by their recent divorce. I was eight hours away by car or bus and free to explore all of the things I thought an arty poet musician wannabe should be doing.
In adulthood, I have come to accept that my father and my mother wanted a different son. They wanted someone who better fit their mold of “All American.” In my mind, I did. I was very “American.” It just wasn’t the America they were hoping for.
I am scared now. I see a lot of my mother in me. Do I control my sons too much? Am I too demanding? I also see my father in me. My eldest son acts differently around me than around my wife. She says it is because he and I don’t “spend enough time with him.” I say, I do. But do I? She says we don’t interact when we are together.
Decades from now, if they are sitting, writing about their childhood, will my boys feel I controlled them or was uninterested in what they liked? Is knowing that the potential is there enough for me to stop and have a better relationship with my children than I had with my parents?