Thank Her

Growing up, I often told my grandmother that I wished she were my mom. She would laugh in her soft way and tell me that I was silly for saying that, though looking back I wonder if she had been pleased to hear that from me. My wish made sense to me as a child: my mother was emotionally abusive and yelled at me all the time, whereas my grandmother practiced nurturance and compassion in every moment, so of course I would want my grandmother to have more years to live and to raise me over my biological mother. I question now whether my younger self felt life’s unfairness while making that statement. Why did the universe give me such a horrible mother when it could have given me my grandmother as my mother instead?

I felt a somewhat similar sense of unfairness this past Mother’s Day weekend, about a week and a half ago. The Thursday and Friday prior to that weekend I ended my clinical internship and my therapy relationships with clients I had seen for almost two years. In reflecting on how my grandmother’s nurturance influenced my giftedness as a therapist, I felt a sense of loss and sadness and anger for all the people who have also experienced child abuse without having someone in their lives like my grandmother. To this day, I wonder about the Thomas I could have become without my grandmother’s influence. Would I have turned out less caring and confident in my femininity, more fueled by ambition to achieve and more adherent to toxic masculinity? Though I consider my mother’s presence in my life unjust, I also find it unjust that I got the opportunity to bask in my grandmother’s kindness while many others do not have a similar source of healthy attachment growing up.

I’m currently in Charlotte NC with one of my best friends and we are eating a lot of food together! Here is some delicious Korean BBQ we ate recently. My grandmother would be happy to see me eating so I’m appreciative of my best friend for feeling like a safe person to eat with yay!

The Thursday and Friday I ended with my most recent clinical caseload, most if not all of my clients thanked me for my active listening, nonjudgmental understanding, and ability to provide tangible coping strategies and new perspectives without enforcing a strict or rigid path to healing. Upon departing with this most recent caseload, I felt so appreciative of these folks’ willingness to share their deepest struggles and joys with me, both their trauma and experiences of oppression and their healing and resistance. Though I have struggled in the past to honor my strengths as a clinician, I feel more comfortable doing so by acknowledging how much my grandmother set the stage for me to practice unconditional positive regard and nurturance. When these folks thanked me for what I brought to our therapeutic relationships, in my head I felt that they thanked her, too.

I talked about this theme of helping others with my therapist the other day. I had made some offhanded comments about how I write on this blog, and she pointed out how I tend to minimize the extent to which this blog may have a positive impact on other people, despite the several kind messages I have received from a diverse range of folks throughout this blog’s history. Though it feels odd to give myself a pat on the back for over-disclosing about my life on the internet as well as how I have unfortunately not found a top/vers man of color with his life together to rail, I mean have a healthy relationship with me writing this pretty informal blog, I also feel that I can dedicate this blog at least in part to my grandmother’s memory. I hope that my writing has encouraged folks to practice self-compassion as well as to critique dominant oppressive structures such as amatonormativity and white supremacy.

I talk from time to time with one of my best friends about how we have lost the mother figures in our lives at a pretty young age. Though I miss my grandmother, I do not often experience sadness about her death because I still feel her with me in all the caring activities I do. It is unfair and unjust that not all kids have access to a healthy and supportive relationship growing up, and I am doing my best to counteract that through my clinical work, mentoring, teaching, friendships, writing, and more. A couple of academics have said that if I am serious about an academic career, I should give up my clinical work because it would reduce my focus on research publications, teaching, and grants. However, I’m respectfully disregarding that feedback because clinical work is congruent with my values and my grandmother’s legacy. By focusing on my value of providing compassion, I can tune out all the other distractions – men, awards, thinness or lack thereof – and prioritize what I have always wanted, to make a difference in people’s lives just like my grandmother and other supports have done for me.

Because I’m fruity and gay here is a picture of the smoothie bowls my friend and I ate! My friend referred to places that sell smoothie bowls as one of the four horsemen of gentrification which I mean, true, though at the same time I’m basic and I’d rather have a delicious pineapple/banana/peanut butter mix in my mouth over a mediocre man in my mouth so there’s that.

How have you coped with what unfairness in life, or grief? General reactions to this post? Until next time!



Filed under Personal

12 responses to “Thank Her

  1. priya

    omg love that fruitiness 🙂 your therapist is soo true about how your blog influences all your reader’s lives in such a positive way. your posts are always thought provoking and compassionate and you’re such an inspiring person overall. i’m really glad you had such a loving relationship with your grandmother and it’s great to see you continually honouring her spirit! and yes, it’s really unfair that a lot of kids don’t grow up with a caring parent 😦 hopefully your work helps these kids later on in life. also, i think you mentioned in a goodreads review (and i forgot), but what are you doing your dissertation on? hope you have a good week and get to read amazing books!

    • awwww this is so sweet thank you Priya! I’m really grateful to have a kind blog reader such as yourself who also really questions systems of oppression and points out how those systems manifest in the books you read (and I’m sure in other areas of your life too though I know you mostly from Goodreads (: ) Yes, I hope my work can help folks too. And I developed a measure to assess positive body image among Asian Americans, specifically about racialized physical attributes. you can check out my google scholar or research gate profile if you want updates on it or if you let me know I can probably send you a copy of it once it comes out, though that probably won’t happen until 2022 if not later (:

  2. Pineapple is one of the few fruits that I really enjoy, so it looks delicious! Definitely understand what your friend means about smoothie shops being one of the signifiers of gentrification, but also, I’m really bad at eating fruit on my own so I appreciate the presence of smoothies and bowls.

    Definitely agree with your therapist that you sometimes minimize the impact you may have! You might see it as oversharing, but I think a lot of people benefit not just from you (as a non-heteronomative Asian man) but also from someone in the therapy field being so open about their thoughts/perspectives and how they themselves handle therapy. Currently reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb) and this reminded me of her talking about her practice/clients alongside her own therapy and personal journey.

    Also, wanted to leave some warmth and support – Mother’s Day is always a weird one for my feelings, and it sounds like it’s been that way for you too. Your grandma would be touched and proud of where you are!

    • Yessss we love this mutual appreciation of pineapple! And yes that is a good point about the presence of smoothies and bowls, relatable. Thank you for your validation about my sharing about my therapy experience on the receiving end, I do think there’s still stigma and confusion about the process so I hope my openness does help folks. Yes, I saw your rating and super thoughtful/intelligent review of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and I will respond on GR soon. (: We love this camraderie of Vietnamese folks seeing therapy yay! Thank you too for the compassionate words re: Mother’s Day and my grandmother, they mean a lot.

  3. I’m grateful to have found your blog among the thousands of blogs here on WP. I don’t even remember how I found it. Usually one of the first things I do is to check out a few older entries. I remember you writing about your mother and grandmother. This has been a strong undercurrent in your life. I’m grateful that your grandmother gave you so much comfort and emotional support. I get the feeling she is a very modest woman and would probably wonder why you are writing so much about her.

    If you feel your calling is not writing papers, teaching etc… that’s fine. Perhaps one day, you might even feel the urge to leave the academic world and be a full time therapist. I also want to say I admire your self discipline and determination. And finally, I’m glad you feel that your grandmother is with you in the caring activities that you do …. although she is probably puzzled by those strikethroughs in your blog. (j/k…)

    Take care – keep enjoying those wonderful foods.

    • Awwww however you did find my blog I appreciate it Matt, our e-friendship has been a wonderful presence in my life! Yes my grandmother and mother have both been influential forces in my life in different ways as you can discern. My grandmother was a modest person so I think that’s where I get my own modesty from perhaps, though I am more outspoken given my socialization within more western feminism. Thank you for your validation of my different potential career paths and for appreciating my self discipline and determination. Yep my grandmother probably wouldn’t have understood the strikethroughs which is fine though if she did I think she would’ve laughed along. Hope your week/weekend is going as well as possible (:

  4. Kartavya Ratate

    I am glad you have prioritised your ethics and your goal of continuing your grandmother’s legacy and helping others over professional gains. This post resonated with me on an emotional level. Thank you for this post, & have a great time!

    • Thank you so much for these words of support Kartavya, they mean a lot to me! I’m glad this post resonated on an emotional level and I hope your week/weekend are going as well as possible. (:

  5. I don’t want you to give up the clinical side, either: i think you do amazing good in the world and can continue to do so, and you can give people who didn’t have them that person in their lives who is non-judgemental, kind and listens.

    I had a neighbour in my life growing up, she never acknowledged that I was having trouble at home but I could always go round whenever I wanted. She showed me an alternative politics that was lacking in our area, and I could read anything off her bookshelves as long as I talked to her about it, so she introduced me to several of my now still favourite authors. When my parents left me alone to go on holiday, she would have me round for my evening meal and make sure I was OK. Unfortunately, after I’d left home I was told she’d passed away when she hadn’t and so I lost touch with her in her last years, which hurts. But she lives on in my memories and my way of being.

    And I love your blog and it shows me a different life and gives me hope that people can heal.

    • Thanks so much for your warm response to this post Liz! And I loved reading your story about the neighbor you had growing up and how she influenced your life in a positive way, both in terms of your political orientation and in terms of providing you with a safe space. It’s bittersweet to hear about her passing away though I’m glad she lives on in your memories and your way of being which I can totally discern through your commitment to kindness and social justice! Appreciate all the years we’ve spent reading one another’s blogs and hope your weekend is going as well as possible. (:

      • I’ve read, got in the weekly fresh food shop, written two reviews, had a reading session with my best friend (remotely) and popped up the road to see Claire who was pruning her hedge and knew I wanted a cutting for my garden, so all good so far, thank you. Oh, and carb-loaded a little for my half-marathon attempt tomorrow …

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