A week and a half ago, I got an email from my father that contained 17 full sentences. I counted; my father has never said that many words to me in the span of one conversation throughout my entire life. The email evoked a lot of emotions: gratitude for the care he expressed, sadness at the struggles he experienced and how they affected our relationship, and annoyance that I had to email him first for him to send me this information.
I developed a sense of my father’s personality early on in my life: hard-working, intelligent, and a free thinker. He always returned home from work past 10pm; I remember myself around the age of five or so, waiting on the hardwood steps near my front door and then running to hug him when he opened the door, the sky outside already a dark black. My grandparents always referred to him as their favorite son-in-law out of the four men their four daughters married – they said that they loved his smartness, which they thought exceeded that of their other son-in-laws by far. I remember reading an article about my father, written by some of his coworkers, in which they described him as an innovative and team-oriented leader who built camaraderie while advancing their company’s status in the field of software development.
Growing up, I idolized my father and then I resented him. As a child, I heard many older family relatives praise my father’s work ethic, and I too saw how hard he grinded to give material comforts to me and my brother and my mom. Over time, as an adolescent, I grew annoyed with his aloofness and detachment from my emotional life, though I still appreciated his way of caring through his financial support of me and my brother. When I went to undergrad, though, my resentment toward him blossomed into an almost alkaline rage: how could this man have stood by and done nothing while my mother emotionally abused me for almost every day of my life for 18 whole years? When he sent me a personal request over email a few weeks before my undergrad graduation, I refused and said he could ask again if he ever went to therapy and took steps to mend our relationship. Since then, we have exchanged a few short emails a few times a year, until the longer email he sent me earlier this month.
I think it will take a lot of time for me to process my feelings about my father. Yes, he failed me by not protecting me from my mother, and he also did and does his best to provide me with financial support, a way he feels comfortable showing care. He went through a lot, like immigrating from the American War in Vietnam and leaving his home country behind, working at a predominantly white company where I imagine he experienced overt and covert racism, and bearing the brunt of my mother’s emotional abuse too. My father told me once that when he dropped off my older brother to a playdate in his early childhood, my brother told my dad to stay in the car because he did not want his white friend and his white family to hear my dad’s Vietnamese accent. I feel sad when I think about what my relationship with my father could have been if not for imperialism, toxic masculinity and patriarchy, and racism.
I guess I write all of this because of how the media and white supremacy often erases the complexity of Asian fathers and many times portrays them as just cold, abusive, or enforcing of hierarchical relationships. I’m not saying that those types of Asian fathers don’t exist, because they definitely do. However, I find it frustrating how people generalize that image of Asian fathers to all Asian fathers while ignoring the racism and gendered racism that Asian fathers experience in the United States. Furthermore, in my experience as a therapist and even simply talking with my few white friends, there are a lot of manipulative, cruel, and toxic white fathers, however, I rarely see the one-sided portrayals and generalizations of white fathers that I witness in relation to Asian fathers.
My father’s most recent email reminded me of the complexity of our relationship. While I still harbor some negative feelings toward him, as I get older, I recognize that for better or worse, I did inherit some of my greatest strengths from him: my independence, my questioning of the status quo, and even though I try to downplay it, my intelligence. Unlike with my mother, I still feel some attachment with my father. Where that attachment will go? Right now, I feel okay that I don’t know.
Have your relationships with your parents shifted at all over time? How do factors such as racism, gender, sexual orientation, as well as imperialism and capitalism influence your relationships with your parents? General reactions to this post? I found this heartwarming article featuring an Asian man reflecting on his relationship with his father which I resonated with a fair amount. Hope you are all well and until next post!