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My one and only memory of my dad giving me affection is perhaps not a memory at all. I just know it happened because there’s a photo of it sitting in his office. It’s a picture of him squatting in front of our old house with a 3-year-old me in one arm and my older sister in the other. Presumably, it’s my mom taking the photo––and presumably, she’s the reason why that photo still exists. That’s probably the closest I’ve ever physically gotten to my dad. I attribute this as the reason why I feel uneasy showing emotion among family members, which is weird because I feel totally fine when talking among friends or acquaintances––so I don’t think it’s just my personality.

He’s never been good at directly talking to either of us, nor has he ever once given us a hug––and honestly, it’d be really weird if he did it now. Despite never saying it, I know he cares about me because I’m the only son in the family and Asians care about that, right? Still, it was awkward growing up and never fully knowing whether my dad was proud of me or whether I was doing things right. If he needed me to know something, my mom would usually be the one to tell me and often, it wouldn’t be till years later. One example I can think of is during my freshman year of high school, my mom let me take guitar lessons and I’d often practice in my room and sing along. Years later, after I had already graduated from college, I was having a conversation with my mom about my dad and she revealed that he had suspected I was gay because I sang and played guitar. (I guess heterosexual guitarists don’t exist in Taiwan.) Fortunately, I relieved his worries a couple years later when I got a girlfriend. Wouldn’t it have been easier if he had just asked me?

Anyway, I’m now a fully-grown and healthy adult helping my dad fulfill his legacy by developing the company that he built––the very company that paid for my education and kept food on our dinner table. In my 7 years, I’ve built infrastructure way beyond my dad’s own capabilities and with the help of my sister, we’ve quadrupled the company’s business. I know he’s proud of us by the way he talks about us to business associates or friends, but he only does it when he thinks we’re not listening and I’ve never heard him say it outright. In a way, I almost don’t want him to because I wouldn’t know what to say back. In our family, verbal affection is almost as awkward to receive as physical affection is. A common scenario is each year on my birthday, my dad will wander into my room and make up some weird excuse to be there. Somewhere between telling me to clean my room and make sure the outside gates are locked, he’ll mumble an almost unintelligible “happy birthday” and toss a red envelope onto my bed. Trust me, it almost always feels as awkward as it sounds and the best I can usually do is stoically mutter a “thanks” as he walks away.

Growing up, it never occurred me that parents actually show their kids emotion. I just thought that was something only Danny Tanner and Uncle Jesse did on Full House. Don’t get me wrong––I’m not complaining about my parents. I had a happy childhood and they’ve given me everything I could ask for. I just know now that my family’s parent-child relationship is not that of a typical American family––but I don’t blame my parents one bit. After all, that’s how my grandparents raised them.

Now that I’m an adult, I know it’s within my own will to change things, so I’ve consciously made an effort to change the relationship I have with my parents. I started by writing semi-sappy stuff on their birthday cards, but haven’t yet graduated to physical or verbal communication. My sister is way better at it, but I do what I can. It’s been years and it hasn’t gotten any easier––don’t think it ever will. It’s strange knowing in retrospect that I didn’t have a “normal” relationship with my parents and I often wonder whether or not I’ll end up being the same way to my kids––I can only hope not. (I secretly want to be Uncle Jesse, but I guess I’ll even settle for being Danny Tanner.)

 
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At The Laundromat is a supportive online community that exists to challenge the taboo of talking. We welcome you to air your dirty laundry – your past, your emotions, your fears, and your questions – in a safe space. ATL is also an online extension of Vanessa A. Yee’s documentary featuring young Asian Americans breaking the silence that takes hold of their lives and their families. So speak. Write. We’ll listen.
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