Before I was a parent I used to joke: “That’s how Chinese people show love.” I made that joke every time my friend complained about how critical her mother was of her. We were in our 20s then. It is curious just how much impact “mother” has on a person. I am just over 40 and my mother still knows which buttons to press to upset me.
I also used to joke the difference between a Chinese parent and other parents is when a Chinese parent sees their toddler run and then fall, her first words are: “Aiiyah! Are you kidding me? Two-years old and you still don’t know how to run?” or “See I told you not to run! I told you you would fall!” A non-Chinese parent would run over to her fallen toddler and coo, “Are you OK baby? It’s OK at least you tried.”
It was OK for me to want to be an astronaut when I grew up. It was OK for me to be a baseball player, a rock-n-roll star, a cowboy, a Kung Fu hero like Hung Hei-Gun. It was OK for me to dream about traveling to far off places, invent amazing machines, rescue damsels and whole worlds. My potential seemed limitless. And then I grew up.
And when I grew up what seemed limitless had become very narrow and very specific and frankly very boring. I was made aware of my maturity in the last years of middle school. My maturity was my sentence in high school. Where I once could be anybody or do anything I imagined, my choices now had been limited to a very specific criteria and bound together by a dingy band of what I was told was pragmaticism.
It wasn’t until I was in college and away from home for the first time that I would unbind myself. With my regained freedom I forsook my math and business classes for poetry and film making courses. I exploded cognitively and socially. At times, it seemed I would never get myself together again. But I did eventually.
Now a parent having gone through what I went through I understand my own parents’ binds as being well intentioned but ill advised. As a parent I understand it is my responsibility to give my children the strategies they need to deal with disappointment and the chores of living in the “real world.” However, as a parent I also understand I have a responsibility to inspire my children to do great things.
Talking the neighbors, friends, and family, I know that the times ahead will be tough. On the morning news, it seems the great motivator is not “things will get better” but “be thankful you’ve got what you got.” A historical precedent has been overshadowed by old societal ills.
While I need to provide my children with the skills to tend to the practical realities of life, in lieu of current events as a parent now more than ever my children need to dream. They need to know that they may live in a time of great improbability but not the dead ends of impossibility. In looking towards the New Year, my one resolution as a father is to give my kids the skills and strategies they need to fulfill the dreams that expand beyond the four walls of their bedroom.