On fathers

My friend Minh wrote an emotionally charged entry on his relationship with his Dad. I was typing my comment over there until I realised it was becoming as long as the main post. So I’ll refrain from taking over Minh’s own “house” with my ever-growing tenant and post this over here instead. Because this is as much a conversation with myself, as it is one with him. Part of this was also taken from a half-baked piece that’s been sitting in my Drafts folder since um… the crack of time. Minh’s thoughts are just the right catalyst for it to come to life. Thanks buddy :).


The hardest truth is — I’ve told this to myself and my siblings a thousand times — that in life you only get to do things ONCE. And that includes being a parent. To each child. Yes you can have more than one child, but still, each one is unique. I keep remind myself that, to calm down every time the frustration with my Dad, and at times, even my Mum, becomes to much to bear. That they’re only human, with their flaws and inexperience. And what is parenting, if not an ultimately important, yet crushingly burdening task? Another old cracking record that gets repeated all the time in my head is also that if I, at not even 30 years old, cannot change my views, then how can I ask my parents, approaching their sixties, to change theirs?

If my father didn’t think he was up to the task or knew that he didn’t have the sensibility to care for someone else’s child as if it were his own or had brushed off the unavoidable differences between us, then he shouldn’t have adopted me.

What if he thought he was up to the task, Minh? Only to find himself stuffing it up along the way? (That is, if he even admits that he stuffed up in some sense.) But what gauge would he use to measure his effort? Does he know other adaptive parents in the EXACT SAME situation to compare himself with? And even if there is, it’d still be different, wouldn’t it? Because you yourself are a unique person. So unless he could live this exact same life again, adopted you again, only then could he do things differently, and had something to measure himself against. This echoes my reasoning on your other post, about us only being to do what we think is best at any given time. About the priceless luxury of retrospect.

The distance between you and your father, surprisingly, in some ways aren’t different to mine and my Dad’s. And as you already know, our family is probably your most typical conventional (Asian) one. One that looks perfect from the outside. My Dad and I can’t talk alone for more than 15 minutes without wanting to shout at each other. His way of educating us is leaving the task solely to Mum, and working 70+ hours a week, for 30 years and counting, to “support” us. Our efforts to try and make him see that the word “support” means a lot more than just a financial sense is pretty much water down a duck’s back. His style of encouraging me is to tell me I suck at whatever it is I was doing. His expectation for me is impossible. Not just in its scale, but in its diversity, its contradiction. That is, he wants me to be both like him, an immensely successful businessperson who knows nothing but work, and like my Mum, a smart dedicated wife & mother who would forget herself for the sake of her family. I’m neither. I kinda see (some) faults in both. So imagine his frustration!

My Dad is a conservative person to the max. It doesn’t help that he belongs to a generation, and a cultural tradition, who would not admit their faults. At least not publicly. Pointing out their wrongdoings is like hitting one’s head against a rock wall. Let alone getting an apology from them. Don’t even THINK about it. Many Asian parents follow the “parents are ALWAYS right because they only want the best for their children” line of reasoning. In Vietnamese there’s even an old proverb to “prove”:

Cá không ăn muối cá ươn,

Con cãi cha mẹ trăm đường con hư.

Which is loosely translated to “A fish that isn’t cured in salt will rot. A child who doesn’t listen to his parents will definitely turn into a bad person.” So you can guess how it is, trying to reason with them.

Another point is that I believe you are your own person, too. Circumstances only shape you partly. You parents only influence you to a certain extent. But you yourself play a vital role in shaping who you are, what you believe in, how you live, how you treat others. So while it’s good to realise what makes you feel the way you do, it’s also liberating to know that you can change it. I guess it’s like forgiving but not forgetting, accepting but not condoning.

There’s a lot I’d change about my Dad but I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s a futile pursuit. These days I just nod along. then I’d go and do my own thing in my own way. I may not like part of his personality, but I still love him with all I’ve got. He’s my Dad, my family. On the other hand, there’s also a lot that I admire in him. So I try to focus on those qualities, and ignore the rest. Easier said than done, obviously, but at least I’m making an effort.

It’s late and I’ve ranted enough I think. Good night world.



2 thoughts on “On fathers

  1. One more thoughtful post to add to your many others, T.

    There are many things I wish my dad could have been to me and things I could have told him so that we could have at least understood each other better. Some people would tell me to just be lucky that I had a dad who stuck around and did stuff for me. Some people would tell me to get over my feelings of being wronged and appreciate that my dad is flawed but that he did the best he could at the time.

    And, I would agree with that kind of wisdom. But, I would also tell them that I know a little more about my relationship with my dad than they do.

    They weren’t there when my dad would pick me up by my neck, hoist me up against the wall and get within an inch of my face and threaten me.

    They weren’t there when my dad accused me of telling another boy at school that I was going to rape my sister, all based on hearsay.

    They also weren’t there when my dad pushed me and tackled me (at 20-something years old) to the floor just because I turned and walked away from him during an argument.

    I hold onto these memories because I do not want to be fooled again and I’ve grown out of the illusions that dominated my childhood.

    One of these days I’ll write about what the phrase “I love you” has meant to me over the years.

    I guess you can look at it this way when it comes to my dad and I:

    I love my dad, but not really, because he loves me, but not really.

  2. Thanks for writing back, M.

    I totally agree with you that no one really knows the relationship between 2 persons except for those 2 persons. To judge someone based on the little info one knows, is nothing less than inconsiderate. So just to clarify, I’m not here to judge. And those who told you to “get over it” should just have their tongue chopped off. Ugh!

    Back to the topic. No one can choose their family. Which, in your case, is a little different because your parents chose you. But the “same difference” is that they also wouldn’t be able to choose how you’d turn out to be. And personalities do clash. I’ve found that sometimes in life we need to learn to distance ourselves from certain relationships, so as to protect our emotional balance, and to make it easier for everyone else, in this case other family members. There are certain members of my (extended) family that I chose not to get too close to. Looks like that’s what you’ve done as well.

    At the end of the day, life’s just too short. Spend more time with the company you enjoy and less with the opposite, huh. If only the guilt would stop gnawing away at the back of one’s mind…

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