Did you know that your parents are people? Me neither (I’m joking, kind of) until I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s masterpiece of a novel The Lowland a week and a half ago. In addition to her stunning prose, I love how Lahiri captures the choices, traumas, and resiliencies that comprise first generation Indian immigrants to the United States. After reading her book I reflected in a more three-dimensional way about my parents and what they gave me.
Even though I write a fair amount about my dad’s absence, he also provided me with a lot. The other day I stumbled upon the inanest Facebook post in which a queer Asian man mentioned liking tall white boys, and I thought to myself, wow, I’m so glad I literally don’t care about boys or looking attractive to boys, especially white boys, regardless of height. While I think I derived my rejection of internalized racism and heightism from reading feminist books, refusing these oppressive norms of the queer community reminds me of my father: he always did his own thing, wearing whatever clothes felt comfortable to him, developing his own political identity outside of the two-party system, and generally not caring about other people’s perceptions. My dad had always been smart, hard-working, and ambitious, and I think I got some of those qualities from him.
I remember positive elements of my mother too. In her more positive moods, she sang to trees while driving me to school and cracked jokes that made me laugh, more so than anyone else in my family did. In contrast to stereotypes about Asian American women’s submisiveness, she had been assertive – though too assertive with me and my brother – and unafraid of confrontation, like yelling at men who approached our childhood home from the window of her office, asking them what they want. I recall downloading pop songs onto her MP3 player because she liked to run: “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado, “Right Found” by Flo Rida, and “Glamorous” by Fergie. So my more outgoing personality, my assertiveness, and my love for pop music, at least in part come from her.
I got dinner with my father for the first time in five years yesterday and learned more about why he married my mom and stayed with her. This conversation and some of the phone calls we have had over the past few years have made me pause and reflect on how my parents suffered too – due to the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, heteronormativity and patriarchal gender norms, and the mistakes that humans just sometimes make. When one of my best friends asked me about what it felt like deciding to see my father, I told her that while I felt curious about him, I also wanted to know more about myself, my roots and who I came from.
Sometimes I get scared when I act in ways that remind me of my parents. Research, for example, brings to mind my father’s immense intellect and my mother’s penchant for detail, organization, and numbers, both at the expense of deeper emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I remind myself though that I can make decisions too, that I chose a PhD in Psychology because even though my profession includes rigorous research, which brings to mind my parents, it also includes the practice of empathy and care, which makes me feel connected to my grandmother. I like to think that I orient my values and actions to align most with her.
How do you make sense of traits you inherited from your parents for better or worse? General reactions to this post? Wow in like one month I will move to a new city screaming crying throwing up! I booked movers so now I need to like, actually start cleaning out my apartment a bit and figuring out where furniture will go lol. Also I am highly anticipating Le Sserafim’s debut in a couple of days so unless the title song sucks I will most definitely be jogging to it along the nature trail near my apartment yay. Until next post!