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A parent’s love is expressed in a myriad of ways, but the most powerful gestures are usually unspoken and leave a lasting impact.
On the popular Facebook group “subtle asian traits,” member Justin Tam posted about a small act of affection from his father Chung, who never said “I love you” or gave him hugs and kisses during most of his childhood.
“My father has never said ‘I love you.’ He’s never been into hugs or kisses or any emotional expression or affection of any kind. As a child I really resented him for this.”
A problem arose during his first internship. When he sought his father’s help, he thought his words fell on deaf ears.
“When I started my first internship during college, I had to wear a business suit everyday to work. My first week, I was reprimanded for wearing brown leather shoes because they were ‘too flashy.’ I told my dad about this and he just shook his head and watched his news. I went to sleep freaking out about how my attire was going to cost me my first internship.”
Then, a surprise came the next day.
“The next morning I woke up and got dressed. And when I went to put on my shoes, my brown leather shoes had been darkened with black toner. It wasn’t perfect, but the toner got the job done. No one mentioned my shoes again.”
Tam admits that while the act did not mean much to him then, he learned to appreciate his father more as he matured.
“As I’ve emerged as an adult, I’ve realized that my father loved me in his own way. He never asked for credit. He just did what he could to help me. He drove me to my violin lessons, basketball practices, school functions, etc. He sat there, often for an hour or more, before smartphones existed. I can’t imagine how bored he must have been.”
He ended his post by expressing gratitude for having the kind of parents that he had.
“I know many of us long for the intimacy and relationships that many of our white friends seem to have with their parents. But for me, I’m very grateful to my parents. Thank you for toning my shoes baba.”
Tam, the eldest of four kids, told NextShark that his parents, who are both from Taiwan, separated when he was only 4 years old. He and his siblings grew up in Tomball, Texas, first living with his mom, and later with his father.
“Growing up, I was the only Asian person in my school,” Tam shared. “Together with my two Mexican friends and one Black friend, we were the only non-white kids in my grade school.”
He noted that both his father and mother, Hui-Min, grew up in military families as children of officers in the Kuomintang Army.
“My parents both grew up in strict military households where they were expected to obey their elders. Both of them resented having overbearing parents. They got married through a matchmaker and moved to America soon afterward for better opportunities.”
Tam shared the different styles of how each parent raised them.
“My mother was all love. She loved us no matter what. Even when we messed up or got in trouble at school. So I want to be able to love my kids unconditionally like she did. My father was hard on us, he expected us to be the very best and he disciplined us for anything short of excellent.”
“Neither of my parents were really able to help me with my homework because they weren’t the greatest at English. I actually looked down on them for that growing up, which I regret now.”
He did note, however, that his father made up for his apparent lack of affection with simple gestures, which he did not realize then as love.
“He wasn’t very loving in the emotional sense, but he was always helping us in different ways, from cooking our favorite foods to driving us to all of our extracurricular activities or buying us toys and school supplies. He was also often away for work, which really strained our relationship.”
When he eventually came to appreciate all the things his dad did for him, he let him know how he felt about it.
“Four years ago in Los Angeles, we visited my grandparents’ graves and were able to have a long conversation about the difficult relationship we had. I told him I now understood why it was so difficult for him to be a parent to me here in America when I was an American speaking English all the time and he was a Taiwanese immigrant speaking Chinese and basic English. There were all kinds of cultural and language barriers that separated us. I thanked him for fixing my shoes, for always feeding me, and caring for me in his way, and spending so much time to help me with my school and making sure I had Taiwanese friends. He would drive me an hour twice a week to Houston so that I could play with Chinese/Taiwanese families because he was afraid I would lose my culture.
While his dad did not show any emotions during their conversation, Tam knew he was touched that his son appreciates his efforts.
“In that same conversation, he talked about how I was so much smarter than him, and that he never knew how to help me. That he wanted to help me more, but never understood what was going on in my school. He also said that he admired me because I was much gentler and kinder than he is. That it was good that I am able to cry and express emotion, but that I should be careful who I share my emotions with because there are people who wouldn’t understand. He told me that his generation and their parents’ generation grew up during war. They didn’t have the luxury of crying or being kind. Everyone had to just take care of themselves.”
Tam’s dad, who is now retired, lives in China while his mom still lives in Tomball, Texas watching over his younger brother.
”I have a good relationship with both of my parents now that I’m older and wiser. I understand so much more of what struggles they had to go through to come to the U.S. and start over. To raise us up in a foreign land, not fully understanding the language or culture.”
Featured Image via Justin Tam