This blog is dedicated to my parents, who won’t read this because they don’t know how to use a computer. It’s not that I haven’t taught them, it’s they refuse to learn. But when I think of major inspirations in my life I think of them.
Of course this comes in response to my reaction to the controversy that Amy Chua, author of her memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has created in the parenting world. I have not read the book, but I’ve read the articles surrounding the infamous book. I also read the article posted on WSJ.com “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”. It was my fiance that had me read it. So I do write this on the basis of reading response articles to the controversy. This is not about her but the topic she brings up in her book.
The excerpt I read from The Wall Street Journal made me actually laugh because I experienced some of what Amy Chua spoke of, from my own parents. They are filipino immigrants and when I say immigrants I don’t mean they came from the inner cities of the Philippines. They came from the farm lands, the country side. My parents worked the fields when they were seven years old. I know this because my mom has told me time and time again, hoping I would feel afraid of that lifestyle. Fearful enough to hopefully push me into greatness. But when I was young, I didn’t see it that way. I thought, here we go again, my mom is trying to make me feel guilty for having a better life as a child than she did!
And who were my parents kidding, I was no piano prodigy like Amy Chua’s daughters, but my dad forced piano lessons on me and my sister anyway. Yet, when I look back now, I wonder…did my dad actually really BELIEVE in us? Even though I never heard “I believe in you” from his mouth? Even when he called me stupid, worthless, and good-for-nothing? Did he force me to take piano lessons because he KNEW I could be great in it? Because what I believed as a child was the words my dad called me. Stupid. Worthless. Good-for-nothing. That’s what I believed in. That’s what I held onto for a very, very long time.
I laughed when I read that Amy Chua’s standards were that the only instruments her daughters were allowed to play was violin and piano. What is it with the damn piano? When fmy dad forced it on me I hated it. Yet deep down inside me, lesson after lesson, I felt proud of myself for knowing how to play. In “revenge” towards my dad…I played poorly. I didn’t practice so I could hear him yell, maybe hoping that if he heard himself yelling he’d realize how very stupid HE sounded. Finally my dad took the hint and stopped all piano lessons saying he was wasting his money on us because we didn’t practice at all. And my thinking was, AS IF I WANTED PIANO LESSONS IN THE FIRST PLACE!
In the 7th and 8th grade I ended up being the pianist for the Dole Intermediate School Glee Club. Our instructor Mr. Miyazawa thought I was talented, and it was the first time I loved piano. It was like a hidden door opened. I could actually have fun playing the piano! What an epiphany! After learning with Mr. Miyazawa I played the piano at home to practice for Glee Club without my dad yelling at me to practice. And one day I was so ambitious that I sat at the piano learning Fur Elise(Beethoven) on my own. I pushed past my frustrations to learn that piece. I was so determined. I kept hearing my dad’s voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough and it angered me so much, I tried my best to prove him wrong.
It was only later, that I learned from a neighbor that my dad had told him that he was very proud of me. My dad talked about how happy he was I graduated high school, that I graduated college even. He never told me in words. At all. But when I look past the hurt of his words, I have to remind myself no one taught him how to raise two girls. As a child, he had nine siblings. Who told him he was amazing? Who told him he was special? He wasn’t first born or last born, he was in the middle. They were busy farming. His harsh words were the words he heard from his own mother and eldest brother I believe.
When I look back at my childhood I see that he supported me the best he could. He gave me piano lessons. He took me to school events by driving me there and waiting for me at times. When I got older and had to do an orientation for a volunteer service helping people living with HIV/AIDS, he dropped me off to the orientation with my mother, and waited in the parking lot until I was done. But I remember that night I told them I was scared, to comfort me he said, “If you want to be a doctor, you have to be brave, now go.” LOL…that’s my dad. I didn’t want to be a doctor. He wanted it. I had no other choice. Nurse or doctor, nothing less.
He was not a Tiger Mother or Tiger Father, he was a Lion Father! Or maybe a Wolf Father. Josh tells me when I frown or get upset that I have my father’s angry look…a frown between my brows. He’ll say, “You look and sound like your dad.” And I get more upset because I picked all that up from him. I have the searing gaze to shut someone up. Bobby called it the Laser Eyes.
But my parents didn’t have the determination of Tiger Mother, Amy Chua, but they did believe in some of her parenting practices. They did restrict me from going to sleepovers, I couldn’t date(not that it stopped me)-but the rule was I could date AFTER high school, I couldn’t go out to the movies unless I begged and my mom could convince my dad. Most of the time I went shopping and movies and other activities with older cousins.
As for my mother, she wasn’t a Tiger at all. My dad did enough of the damage on us girls, that my mom just fell in line. She didn’t argue my dad but she did think I was sassy with her and I was. I didn’t understand their rules especially because I was born in America! I was American, not Filipino, I thought I should be raised with American values. I thought she should be telling me she loves me, that I am smart, that I am pretty, that I’m not fat and if I was, she loved me anyway. But that’s not her way, I didn’t get the praise. If I got straight A’s she warned me I better not screw up the next time. When I was about to graduate high school and college she asked me if it was true-maybe the school made a mistake and I wasn’t going to graduate (even as I put on my cap and gown!) . She had nine siblings also..and worked the tobacco fields at the age of seven. She has a high school education and cleans hotel rooms for a living. Yet she and my dad paid to put me through college at Mount St. Mary’s College in California which was not cheap.
My mother and I had a big blow out after Bobby died. It was loud, it was full of tears and it was full of regret. My mother thought I was a screw up for not being a nurse or doctor, regardless that I graduated with a degree and had a full-time job. Fine, whatever, I said it for her. I said, “Fine mom, I’ve disappointed you. I’ve said it. I’m a loser. So what I actually have a degree, it doesn’t make you happy and never will. Get over it, I’m not a nurse and I’ll never be a doctor, and I never wanted to be!”
My dad called me ungrateful and I was incensed. At that point I realized, nothing I was ever going to do would make them happy and I had to start making ME happy. Needless to say, my relationship with my mom is better. We’re closer, we said what we wanted to say, I’m still her daughter, she’s still my mother, with many differences in between us. She is happy for me, I know. She worried a lot after Bobby died and I think she sees me with Josh and is relieved. My dad and I have had better days, the wounds are deeper with him, but I think he’s relieved also that I have Josh and we have our own home. I think they are very proud of me because I always wanted to break free from them and I finally did it.
The consequences of my dad being a Wolf Father was that I resented him. I was disgusted with him and ashamed he was my dad. I kept a distance knowing if I got close something he’d say would hurt me. I’m female, I have hormones, I hurt easily, but he doesn’t get that and I’m not about to educate him. I was mad at him enough to play the piano on my own (which he secretly enjoyed-he would sit in the living room as I played). I was mad enough at him to show him I could be a high school honor grad and get a scholarship…mind you it was only $250, but I got it without applying for it. I was mad enough to apply to an out of state school to get away from him. I got out of Hawaii and graduated from college with a degree, thinking all the while, am I stupid, dad? Have you got a degree? I could care less that 4 years garnered me a Bachelor’s Degree that doesn’t guarantee me a job, but I stuck through 4 years of being away from family, studying, finals, and actually learning something (because I love to learn). I was mad. And in that madness I succeeded to attain these achievements, just to throw it in his face that I was not worthless. Isn’t this what Amy Chua, the Tiger Mother advocates? Reverse psychology? Teach your child they’re worthless and they will prove to you later that they are not, because they are NOT worthless and you know they aren’t…they just have to get through their tantrum! haha…but what if it backfires?
But after all that, the words my parents stuck. I hear it all the time in my head. I never wanted to do medicine. I wanted to be a writer. But my mom once said “What’s that? You can’t make money doing that!” And yes, that’s so true, so I made money doing other things, Massage Therapist (close to medicine I’d get), and a library manager (closest to a career I’d ever get)…because I hear their taunts in my head, about them not believing in me…I fear success in the thing I would love to do. Write. That is a consequence and a sad one at that. I am working through it. It took me until 2005 to say out loud to someone I wanted to be a writer. I told Bobby and he said he believed in me. I was stunned. Every since then I’ve told others and weirdly enough, everyone says they believe in me. Sadly, I have a hard time believing in myself. I learned this from my parents. Josh is chipping away at my fears and he’s made me believe that what my parents said when I was young wasn’t because they hated me but just the opposite. It’s just that some people only know to show love in the harshest sense of the word-especially if they weren’t taught how to show love in the kindest sense.
My parents inspire me. They raised me for one 🙂 And I think I turned out pretty okay. They raised me in a country foreign to them. They left their own homes to carve out a life in Hawaii, poor. They stuck with back-breaking jobs because it was all they knew to do. My dad only has a 6th grade education. My parents still work hard and they’ve done their best by me. They raised me strong, they raised me to be practical. I would not have survived Bobby’s death if they didn’t instill strength in me.
Josh is amazed to know how much I love to read and learn. I’ve read over a thousand books in my lifetime and I still read about one or two books a month. I can’t stop. He wondered how with my upbringing in Kalihi and parents with poor education how I learned how to love reading. I thought about that. The image in my head is my parents reading a newspaper in the evening. Just because they had a poor education doesn’t mean they didn’t want to learn about the world. My dad is an avid National Geographic watcher and he took us on family trips around the United States. I come from a family of farmers…farmers create life with the natural elements, they help seeds grow. I come from a family of builders and artists also-all about creating and creation and caring for something with our hands. It’s the Lacar legacy. It’s in my blood. It’s a wonder that I like to create stories, out of words. It’s part of me. My grandfather wrote his own ilocano music as well…so maybe the writer part in me is not so unbelievable. And here I am blogging 🙂
I will remind myself of the Wolf Father parenting and why he did it. I will TAKE with me the lessons I’ve learned from their parenting. The good things. Because of their hard-working ideals, they inspire me to continue to be motivated to be productive and create. It’s made me what I am and no one is perfect. Not even parents.
Now as a home owner I find myself always thinking, what would my dad do? LOL…oh he’d love to hear that!
And the other day as I talked to my mom telling her I’m about to attempt planting flowers…I thought later, I learned that from her. My mom loves her flowers and I watched her water them after work. I told Josh I loved cooking for him and he was surprised, he said “you love to cook?” I paused then said, “I do. My mom always cooked and I want to be like her.”
They grow on us even if we try not to be them. But I’m tickled by the idea…that no matter the issues and trauma they foisted on me, I love them deeply and I’m more grateful than words could ever express.