This is part two of the memorial article I wrote for the 10-year anniversary of my dad’s passing. You can read the first post about dealing with grief here.
Things I Learned From My Dad
Every parent wishes to impart on their child some values they will take with them through life, and hopefully it guides them to good decisions. I was extremely lucky to have been raised in a loving family and I couldn’t have asked for a better mom and dad. There are certain characteristics of immigrant parenting that I find to be universal. There is always this drive to do better and to make sacrifices for future success. I think a lot of this impacted what my parents taught us and I’m grateful for it. Some of it may seem reminiscent of “Tiger Parenting,” but I think there is some good in those tactics. I often try to put myself in my parents’ shoes. Flying on a one-way ticket from Taiwan to a foreign country you’ve never been to must have been terrifying. On top of that, you didn’t really speak the language or have much money, but you knew that was potentially the ticket for your future success. I’m amazed at how they went from renting a freezing attic and eating canned Spaghetti-Os, to saving enough money to live in a neighborhood with a good school and send their three children to college. I once asked my mom how they managed, and she replied, “It’s simple, we didn’t go on vacation for 10 years.” I think this paints the picture of how they came here, assimilated into American culture, and tried to set up the best possible future for their children. It’s incredibly humbling.
My dad worked a lot when I was young, and he often came home from work after we were already asleep. It was hard to get quality one-one-one time with him. I was very lucky to have done an internship at his startup company the summer before I started college. It was an hour commute, so I got a precious 1 hour slot with him twice a day. There is a certain way you talk to your dad when you’re a child and then suddenly one day you find yourself speaking with him as an adult. For the first time, we talked about things beyond, “what did you score on your test?” I remember talking about having priorities in life and needing to make choices. I will always hold those drives close to my heart; you can never get back quality time after someone’s gone. Three themes hold strong when I look back at what my dad tried to instill in us: enjoy life, have discipline, and make your own opportunities.
My dad had very much a mantra of enjoying life in the moment. This meant that whenever we went out to dinner, you could order whatever you wanted without worrying about the cost. The same went for when we were on vacation. I know my parents budgeted meticulously in order to be able to provide these luxuries for us, so it meant a lot to me.
I have to say, I think the most fun I’ve ever seen my dad have was at a Father-Daughter Day for my sorority. He made the trip up from LA to Berkeley my junior year and the Father-Daughter event took place in the city. Our sorority had reserved a fifties themed diner for dinner and dancing. If you could have seen my father dance! Wow, he really was jumping all over the place and everyone was saying, “Now I see where you get your dancing genes from!” I don’t think he ever stopped the whole night, grinning ear to ear. It surprised even me because I had never really seen him let loose like that before. Perhaps I got a glimpse of the supposed party animal he was back in the day? It makes me really sad that I couldn’t share a dance with my dad at my wedding.
If my dad taught me to enjoy life’s moments to the fullest, he also definitely emphasized discipline. My dad was always a bit extreme like that. Sometimes I joked that maybe that was why he went into computers, it’s always 0 or 1 with him. He either did things all the way or not at all. With our schooling, it was your typical Chinese immigrant family upbringing: summer school every year, Kumon after school, Chinese school on weekends, piano for 12 years, etc. When I was in junior high, I remember he was resistant to me getting my ears pierced. The reason? It might make me too vain and thus, not focus on my studies.
When I was applying for college, my dad of course researched all the schools and decided that being a Business major at Berkeley was the best for me (which is what I ultimately ended up doing). We took a trip to visit the campus, just the two of us. What he didn’t find out in all his research beforehand was that we happened to be there during the 30th anniversary of People’s Park! If you’re not familiar with People’s Park, it pretty much epitomizes the hippy-ness of Berkeley. What that means is while we were touring Berkeley, we encountered lots of naked and homeless people. You can’t imagine how uncomfortable it is to witness unattractive naked men in line for a public bathroom in front of your dad when you’re 17. Looking back it was hilarious; I think both of us just said nothing and turned back the other way.
Discipline didn’t just apply to studies, it also applied to being physically active. In that sense, I think we departed from your standard immigrant Asian household which stressed academia only. From a young age, I was in dance class all the time and my brothers and sisters played soccer and tennis. Every morning before work without fail, my dad would go for a run in the neighborhood and do sit-ups and pushups. Knowing now how hard it is to get up every morning to exercise, I have huge admiration for his discipline in staying in shape. This has definitely rubbed off on me now and keeping active is very important in my life.
Live Life to the Fullest
When someone so close to you passes away, you really inherit a heightened sense of mortality. Life really is so short, and you never know when your time is up. This has affected me a lot and it manifests itself in strange ways. I will get antsy around the house on the weekend unless we have activities planned. Part of me can’t sit still and do nothing. I need to be teaching dance class, learning how to draw, maybe taking online courses, or learning a language. What results is I always have the urge to do these things but then I find sometimes my body really does need down time, and so there are a lot of half-finished projects, goals, resolutions. My dad always felt that idle time was wasted, and almost every waking minute he dedicated to either being active or furthering his knowledge.
As an example, my dad always read non-fiction books, whether it was biographies, histories, or technology books. It wasn’t worth reading unless it was real. I remember I went through a phase like this too—only reading non-fiction and thinking, “why would I ever waste time reading made-up stories instead of learning something practical?” He also refused to watch what he deemed were “silly” movies, usually animated movies and comedies fell into this category. I remember back then I didn’t understand why he was so rigid in his choices, but now I can see that he was forever driven in always pushing himself forward in the best way he knew.
Another way my dad made sure we got the most out of life was planning annual vacations for us. My husband and friends always laugh at how I keep detailed spreadsheets for our trips, but you should have seen my dad’s! They put mine to shame. His was down to the minute: set up tent at 11:37am. He claims it was from his two years in the Taiwanese military. But all the research and planning I think came from a drive to get the most out of our trips—after all, that was hard earned money and precious time. There was not a wasted minute. We went camping every year and visited a lot of the National Parks in the West. It really instilled a love of the outdoors in all of us. During the winter break, we would go skiing and snowboarding. I remember when snowboarding got really popular and all the kids wanted to try it. My dad took the lessons with us! He was the only parent to try it. He was never afraid of trying something new.
All of this has really influenced me in a great way. Whenever there is something I want to try or learn, I always feel that the resources are there if only I just put my mind to it. If you want to try something, you should just go ahead and do it. Why not? Be brave and don’t make excuses. I’m so lucky to have had such an amazing dad, and I’m eternally grateful for all that he has taught me in life. While 10 years have passed, I still feel his influence on me all the time and I can only hope to carry on his teachings to my own children.