Lessons From My Dad

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.

Enjoy Life

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.

Be Disciplined

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.

A Post About Grief

It’s been 10 years since my dad passed away and my mom is collecting memorial articles from friends and family to compile.  I thought I would share mine here.  There are two parts, so this is part 1 about grief and I’ll post part 2 about memories tomorrow.


Dealing With Grief and a Memorial to My Dad

After a dance performance at Cal
After a dance performance at Cal

This month marks 10 years since my dad passed away from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  I don’t think we ever fully get over the grief of losing someone you love, but time definitely helps with the healing process and it’s took me many years before I could even talk about my dad without breaking down.  I’d like to share with you my experience of going through the grieving process and a few memories of my dad that have particularly stayed with me.  The grieving process is important because without it I would not be able to sit here and write this memorial to my dad.  I hope it can help any of you when dealing with grief.

The last 10 years have probably been the most formative years of my life to date—my 20s.  It was 2003; I had just graduated college and was off in Hawaii with 2 girlfriends plotting how I was going to live there permanently when I got the phone call.  “The cancer’s back.”  After a week of tossing and turning, I took an early flight home; I couldn’t stand being away from my family during this time.  From September to January, I stayed at home and I’m grateful for those last 5 months.  My dad was taken so quickly so for a long time I was in denial.  After my dad passed away, I lived at home for 3 years, working and trying to be strong for my mom.  I had to be her rock, keep her company, and try to find a way for her to figure out how to live without my dad.  I felt it was my duty as eldest daughter.

In reality, I was incredibly lost and my escape was alcohol and partying.  Every weekend I would get so drunk I wouldn’t remember what happened that night.  It was unhealthy and I made a lot of poor decisions, one of which landed me in a Las Vegas hospital, and I’m lucky to be alive today.  I never talked about my dad with my friends or with other people and I always tried to keep my tears to myself.

I remember the moment I realized that it was time that I dealt with my grief.  My mom had left a newspaper article for me on the kitchen table and said, “I think you should read this.”  The author had also lost her father to cancer and I think I got to the third paragraph when I just lost it and couldn’t read any more.  That’s when I realized I needed help.  I couldn’t even read an article about loss!  A few weeks later, I went to visit a close friend in Santa Barbara.  She happened to be living with me in Hawaii when I found out the news 3 years back.  I told her what happened to me when I tried to read that article and broke down crying in front of her.  I apologized for crying and tried to stop.  That’s when she told me, “No, it’s okay to cry and I want you to keep crying.”  After I was done, she asked why I felt like I couldn’t cry.  I told her I always felt crying was a sign of weakness and you especially shouldn’t cry in front of others.  It makes people uncomfortable.  She said, “Well, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all and you need to learn that it’s okay to cry in front of your friends.  We are here for you.”  After that day, I made a conscious effort not to avoid conversations about my dad anymore.  I had to get to a point where I could talk about it without breaking down.  And it took a lot of tries and a lot of tears.  But I eventually got there and I am better for it.  Not allowing yourself to grieve creates a lot of pent up sadness that inevitably gets released in an unhealthy way.  I delayed my grieving process for 3 years while I was busy being “strong” for my mom.  And that’s okay, I don’t regret it.  But I am so happy that I finally became aware of what I needed to do and got over my uncomfortableness with crying.  There are still situations I can’t really handle: for whatever reason, that last scene in Armageddon where Bruce Willis says goodbye to Liv Tyler still gets me every time!  But that’s healthy and now Mike knows to change the channel when that movie comes on TV.

Crawfish boil!

At long last, I have attended a real crawfish boil!!  Never mind that it was on the asphalt along FDR Drive in NYC.  It was a great event.  Despite being slightly hungover, I managed to eat a belly full of crawfish with delicious sausage, corn, mushrooms, and onions.  I stayed away from those Hurricanes, though!