I should have written this a year ago. But, it isn’t until today that I am able to find the words to articulate what I feel.
Last year, I wrote about the Greatest Gift in the world – a mother’s unyielding love.
This year, I want to speak to the other Greatest Gift in the world – a Father’s strength and resilience.
I am sometimes asked, “What do you think you got from your mother and father?”
From my mother:
- Blind optimism – sometimes, this blindness keeps me from seeing how “bad” things really are. This drives me to fix things, say “we can do it” and try to find any sliver of hope possible.
- The desire to please – it makes me happy to see others happy. I’ve watched my mother do this all her life with her family. Every sacrifice was done without expectation. But every joy witnessed by others seemed to bring her more joy.
- Childlike humor – I love that my mom is silly. Like, oddly silly. She laughs at weird things and finds everything “cute.” I sometimes laugh at her and the fairytale world that lives in her head, but then when I find myself still wanting to watch kids movies, I realize the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
- The appreciation for Aesthetics – My mother is an artist. She likes pretty things (I guess we all do). My appetite for decorating stems from my mothers influence as she taught us to appreciate color, detail & structure in every refrigerator drawing or art contest.
From my father:
- The desire to tinker, build & create – My father is the OG upcycler – he was DIYing, upcycling and repurposing stuff waaaaaay before Pinterest made it cool. If he needed something, he didn’t always buy it. He looked around, saw what he had and made it. Whether it was a coffee table affixed from random furniture pieces, he was an artist who had an uncanny ability to imagine & re-imagine. And I am eternally grateful that he made us watch him fix things or learn how to use tools. From fixing the boys’ coaxial cable with duct tape, tweezers & scissors in the dorms (they were a suite full of engineers by the way) to conquering IKEA furniture, my dad taught me how to not to be a “damsel in distress.”
- A Curiosity to learn & A POV – My father is always trying to learn about something in life. Through books, movies or YouTube, he has an intellectual curiosity that I don’t give him enough credit for. And he always has a Point of View. On something. On everything. He’s not afraid to share it. And with that POV comes a sense of stubbornness. I inherited that too. It’s a part of our gene pool .
- The Feeler – This blog is the most vulnerable form of deep expression in my life. I feel more comfortable expressing myself through my mother’s form (positivity, laughter, silliness) but can get uncomfortable when it comes to sharing my deepest thoughts. I FEEL A LOT. I am susceptible to ALL the FEELS. I am sometimes empathetic to a fault. I’ll cry when I’m happy. I’ll cry when I’m sad. And when I do feel, I sometimes can’t express it in words and just express myself through shrieks, squeals or tears. So I sit in it. I write about it. I hold it in my head and heart. And sometimes you’ll be let into the cloudiness of my feels and sometimes I’ll just show you the sunshine. Sometimes I know what my dad is feeling but a lot of the times I won’t. But I know he’s feeling something, it just comes out differently each day.
But if you ask me what I got MOST from my Father, I get emotional.
If there was one word to describe my Father’s gift to me, it would be Resilience.
I didn’t realize this until I listened to Sheryl Sandberg’s speech on resilience. My favorite line in her speech notes, “You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience…It’s a muscle. You can build it up and then draw on it when you need it. And in that process, you figure out who you really are. And you just might become the very best version of yourself.”
My Father did not have an easy childhood. My Father did not have the childhood that I had. He had to grow up at a very young age, essentially raise himself at a very young age and learn how to trust and rely on himself at a very young age. I don’t doubt his family loved him (I believe they did and still do) but he was presented with the reality of adulthood at the age of 12.
When my Father was 12, he walked an hour to and from school in the rain and in the dark. When he lived with his Father, he sometimes came home to an empty house, tired, cold and hungry.
When I was 12, my mother shepherded me around between school, piano lessons, extracurricular activities and home. There was always food on the table and snacks a plenty. My Father and Mother were adamant that as they raised their children, they would be sheltered, clothed and fed to the best of their ability.
When my Father was 18, he joined the Taiwan National Army. He lived in jungles, learned survival skills and built physical resilience.
When I was 18, I went to UC Berkeley to pursue my dreams of being a journalist. I self-funded my education & was eager to take on the world.
When my Father was in his 20’s, he hustled to make a living translating foreign films, attending design school and put the scrap in scrappy as he tried to make a honorable life from the ground up in the states.
When I was in my 20’s, I worked and hustled my ass off to build my career and life. I worked but I also played hard. And I worked to enter a commitment that I thought would last forever.
When my Father was in his 30’s, he had to start over after leaving his old life behind. I remember him telling me about when he flew back to Taipei with very little material possession & dissolved emotional commitments. He was seeking to find himself again. He soon met my mother and renewed his life again as a Husband, a Father and protector.
For everything he didn’t have as a child, he made sure that me and my sisters had the opposite. Even though he didn’t have the most nurturing or present Father, he didn’t let that experience become an excuse for why he couldn’t be better. He didn’t fall victim to his circumstance. He didn’t make excuses for why he himself couldn’t be a nurturing Father. For every challenge in his life, he somehow found the RESILIENCE to come back, grow stronger and learn. As an individual and as a Father, he always tried. And I got to witness this resilience as I grew up with my sisters.
Now, here’s where our relationship gets complicated. My Father wasn’t always expressive. His love sometimes came off as tough. But as I look back at the intent and the motivation behind the way he raised us, he was teaching us resilience. He was teaching us to never give up. He was teaching us to never accept anything less than what we deserve. He was teaching us how to be strong women who could take care of ourselves.
And when I fell and went through one of the most challenging times of my life and the loss of love, he didn’t try to fix anything or toughen me up. He didn’t have to. As I processed what was happening to me, I think the reslience he embedded in us all these years started to flex its muscle. As much as I didn’t feel like as I was able to overcome at times, I felt his silent strength in me. My Fathers was present when I needed him- he waited patiently, listened and supported silently. I knew he hurt for me but oddly, he didn’t have to say anything. It sounds odd to say this, but I could feel his strength for me by spirit.
If my Father had the resilience to make it through all the hardships and challenges of his life, I could certainly weather the toughest season of my life thus far.
So now, here I am. I am starting over as my Father had to. I am discovering the life I never knew. And I am happy. I feel like I finally have permission to be authentically & unapologetically me.
So to my Father and all Fathers (symbolic or in the making):
“Thanks for all that you do to raise us. We are not easy. We are not simple. We will talk back, we will rebel and we will probably say awful things to you as we grow up. We won’t always understand you and we definitely won’t always agree with you as long as we know each other. We know you are not perfect and we don’t expect you to be. But as much as you don’t think we are, we are watching you. We are paying attention to you and through some sort of odd familial osmosis, we are learning from you.
Thanks for showing us strength and resilience. Thanks for showing us our worth, even if you weren’t always sure of yours. While our mother has taught us love for others, you have taught us love for ourselves.
And as we walk through life, we know that because you raised us, we will have tools to wade through challenges. But, also know that because of this resilience, we will also have the ability to create, seek out and live the joys ahead.
Happy Father’s Day.