After flying into DC on Monday, I spent the two days leading up to Christmas hanging with my dad. Honestly, I’d been dreading this trip home for a long while. In the past year, every time I’ve spoken to dad on the phone, he has not sounded well. About a week ago, he asked me to research a few things, and I gave him pushback, telling him that he ought to be Googling these things on his own before asking me for help. My reluctance to help upset him. In my defense, my point was that he’s a smart, resourceful person: he is entirely capable of typing something into Google to locate initial info. He responded, explaining that he’s not in a good state mentally… I, of all people, understand how a shitty mental state can be debilitating and paralyzing. But fuck man, how long is this going to continue without him trying to change the situation? He’s given up on life, but you know what? Life is not over yet, so unless death is coming very soon, figure out a different approach to change the result. Sure, maybe all these tasks are actually ways for him to create some kind of conversational topic with me. That’s certainly very possible considering we don’t really have engaging talks. Still, something’s gotta give.
For my visit, I set a few goals in my head to 1) try and get him out of the house to do new things and explore new places 2) get him exercising again 3) discuss reaching out to his old friends to refresh his old networks. In the two days, we got along pretty well and got a lot done. We handled my grandfather’s car– getting it towed, serviced, and then driven back to Frederick in the pouring rain, tried some new restaurants, walked around the neighborhood, and did some Chinese calligraphy together. I realized that my father is actually a very solitary person: he enjoys introverted activities like reading Chinese history and philosophy, playing Sudoku and Chinese crosswords, watching Chinese soaps, and following Taiwan politics.
In true conflict-seeking fashion, we did talk a bit about his unhappiness. As I suspected, it’s related to failed/unmet life expectations. It always blows my mind how potent the desire is to have a family and grandkids. I know that this wish is not limited to my dad. I think in both cultures, it’s a really strong force. On one hand, the defiant part of me is quick to dismiss this high value being placed on something that is overly controlling and unfair, but the truth is: dad’s not unhappy bc he wants to upset me or blame me. He just truly values family, and the thought that neither child will continue a legacy strips meaning from his life, bc that was so much of what motivated him to accomplish and succeed in the first place. For me, in some overly simplistic view, I acknowledge being directly responsible for thwarting his dream. It’s a burden that I just have to bear. Sure, I feel frustration and anger that his happiness depends on my and Johnny’s actions. And yet, if I reflect on my own issues this entire past year, similarly, I have chosen to let external factors (say, my shitty job) dictate my mood and happiness. If I chastise him for choosing misery, I must blame myself for doing the same.
The other day, we were out in downtown Frederick, where I saw all these people walking their dogs. I so wanted to touch and pet all these cute fur balls. Seeing these sprightly pups made me miss my Marty and also think about future doggies I might adopt. When I see kids, I don’t really have that same instant affinity. Sure, sometimes those kiddos (esp the interracial ones) are fucking adorable and cute, but generally, I don’t gush about kids. I realized that my reaction to seeing/having dogs is probably just as strong and natural and instinctive as my parents’ (and most people’s) feelings about kids. Likewise, my (non) reaction to kids is like my parents’ disinterest with dogs.
When I was a child, I never planned on being child-free. I do think witnessing how my parents raised my brother and seeing other very complicated parent-child relationships in my family, I just got really turned off. As an adult, the allure of kids simply doesn’t exist. With my parents, they don’t understand why anyone would invest the time, energy, and money into raising pets– esp since they live such short lives. Frankly, I don’t understand why people commit to kids– they are such a gamble and then the whole situation lasts a lifetime AND is totally irreversible!!
It’s hard to see my father unhappy. He probably thinks that having a grandchild would cure him of his misery, just like when I was a kid, I thought all would be right in the world once I got a dog. If only life were so easy. I’m sure that if he had a grandchild, something else would be unfulfilled or worth complaining about. That’s the thing about unhappy people: they fail to really appreciate all the good things in their lives; rather, they just obsess over everything that is wrong. I feel sad that I have disappointed my parents and my family, but what can be done: I don’t want children, and this has been true since my early 20s.
All I can do now is try to change my own actions and outlook to improve my own happiness. I am hopeful for 2016.