By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
How many of you have been alienated from your father, or even hate him?
Many expect our parents to be no-nonsense, loving, kind, protective, responsible, moral, successful, and present. Think twice about what those descriptions mean in real life. Aren’t we a bit naive?
How many of you long for a father you never had?
President Obama’s memoir, titled “Dreams from My Father,“ wrote in his introduction that it “is a record of a personal, interior journey — a boy’s search for his father, and through that search a workable meaning for his life as a black American.”
The number of unwed mothers, among the college-educated, has increased for a number of years. My friend, who has never married, decided to get an artificial insemination. Her kids are now college students, happy, and have no issues about being fatherless.
I was raised fatherless (since my parents divorced when I was 5, and my stepfather was constantly working overseas). My interactions with my two fathers were so limited that I didn’t really miss them during my childhood. Actually, I was uncomfortable when my stepfather was home. It was only after I returned from America as an adult that we became close.
Yet, I never pondered the question, “What if?” What if my parents were never divorced and we lived happily ever after? What if I never blamed them for the messy relationships they created, which affected at least five families? It was only in the last 15 years that my step siblings and I were at ease with one another — enough to freely share our feelings.
The fact is, our parents are flawed, and they are human. I am not saying the impact of our fathers, on us, is light. It is profound and can be life-lasting.
However, being fatherless, I quickly learned to be independent. At the age of 7, it took me more than an hour to ride two different buses to school in Hong Kong. I figured out what bus to take, and how to transfer from one end of town to the other. The first few months, I had a hard time getting on the bus, as my legs were not long enough to climb the steps. I was afraid to go to school by myself. But I never complained to my mom. I solved my own problem. My mother served both parents’ role, and I didn’t feel deprived. Still, I considered myself fortunate that food was always on the table, and I was in a warm and safe home.
Perhaps because I was a girl, I was resilient under the worst circumstances. Studies have found that fatherless sons tend to be aggressive, depressed, and have low self-esteem. And if you have a choice, would you rather have an imperfect (abusive and negligent) father or be fatherless? I choose the latter.
A couple of years ago, I was at a roundtable discussion four days before Father’s Day. The topic was about sharing memories about your dad. It was supposed to be full of fun anecdotes, joyful experiences, and the lessons he taught you while growing up. Yet the white man who sat two seats down exhibited zero emotions. He shared with us something he had hidden for years — his resentment towards his old man. When his turn came, his initial whisper suddenly became loud, his voice cracked.
“My father’s a bigot…racist.” It must have been painful for him to say, but in some way, I imagine it was also liberating, as he had never shared it before. His courage was felt because he spoke the truth in front of strangers.
Afterwards, I chatted with him privately. Instead of condemning your father, I told him, we as children need to place things in perspective.
His dad was born in the 1930s, a different era. Most folks who were racist in those days, would be unlikely to recognize their own contribution to society’s ills, or cultivate a conscience for the betterment of society.
When I explained his dad’s environment, he seemed to soften.
However, my friend could certainly do better than his dad by being a wiser father, and teach his kids to be open-minded and inclusive.
My relative hates his late father so much, he can’t even talk about him.
It’s true his father made a lot of mistakes in his lifetime, including gambling and being too lazy to work. When they were in each other’s company, they were at each other’s throats. But the last straw was more personal — he left my relative nothing in his will, but gave his valuables to his brother. The relationship between a father and son is never one-dimensional.
Another friend often complained that his late father was never present.
Let’s face it. When did men become aware that they need to be active fathers and engage with their own kids? If men could provide for their family, it was perceived that they have done their job. Only in the last two decades has society’s perception of a man’s role in the family changed, especially in raising kids. Men are now encouraged to participate in the family and embrace fatherhood.
In the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and even to this day, men, especially in Asia, seemed to spend more time working or having affairs. Those were the characteristics of both my biological father and stepfather. Yes, they even gambled. But I loved them both, not for their weaknesses, but for their strengths. They were basically good people. I harbor no bitterness towards my late parents. It is counter-productive to dwell on an ugly past — I am a better human being because of my past.
Not everyone shares my rationale, though. What saddens me most is, if we let the kids get stuck in hate, and unable to let go, we chain ourselves to be victims of suffering, unable to move on and sometimes become like the person they hate. The cycle will continue unless healing is done. Seek counseling. Get help to rewire your brain so you can be happy and live at peace with your past.
On this Father’s Day, it’s a signal for those who have a tough time forgiving or reconnecting with their dad. Perhaps, it’s time to forge a new beginning. May sunshine be with you always.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.