When I was nine, I started cello lessons. Barely taller than my one-eighth sized cello, I clumsily grasped the bow in my right hand as my left wriggled up and down the fingerboard. A few weeks later, my father bought a second cello so we could sit side-by-side and practice together.
Growing up, I remember my dad played every sport and instrument I dabbled in. Cello, piano, percussion. Volleyball, soccer, badminton. Grinning from ear-to-ear with mischievous eyes that crinkle ever so slightly, he was often mistaken as my older brother by teachers, classmates, and friends.
To this day, Mom jokes that Dad is like a little boy trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. We used to play hours of Frisbee and Tag at Kelsey Creek Park, and even when the sun had gone down and we were all drained to our bones, my dad would still ask everyone: “How about just one last game?”
One could say that my father’s devotion to spending time with me was a true testament to his paternal love. Of course it was. But let me tell you —there was another part of it. He also loved butting heads and picking fights over the smallest things.
Perhaps the one person who knew how to push my buttons, my dad was particularly brilliant at evading fault. Late to a potluck party? Mom and I spent too long getting ready, so of course he fell asleep on the couch. Spilled juice on his new pants? Obviously because I poured his cup too full. Missed an exit on the freeway? Well, duh — my music was too loud and distracting.
Even when I was in high school, my father and I would have chopstick battles over who got the last short rib or juiciest piece of fish. I used to get asked all the time, “Is it lonely being an only child?” No, it’s not. Not when you have a dad like mine. Between the playing and the fighting, the laughing and the crying — I never once felt like I missed out on having siblings.
But my pop was far more than just my greatest playmate. As I grew older, I quickly learned my dad, equipped with more than thirty years of teaching English, is also the world’s longest lecturer. He speaks in proverbs, quotes, and colorful analogies. He likes to talk in riddles. Almost every conversation we have seems to transform into a mini life lesson.
When I moved out of state to attend college in California, I’d call my parents every other week, and my papa would always tell me to keep three things top of mind: 1) Health. 2) Safety. 3) Happiness. On the other end of the phone, I’d roll my eyes because it became such a broken record. Health, safety, happiness. Health, safety, happiness.
It wasn’t until I got into my first car accident earlier this year that I felt a small pang of sorrow mixed with enormous empathy for my parents. They spent years taking care of me and teaching me how to be smart and independent. But how much could they really prepare me for the real world? How could they shield me from every heartbreak? Apartment fiasco? Discrimination in the workplace? These are things they can neither prevent nor control, but as long as I am healthy, safe, and happy — they can breathe a small sigh of relief.
Looking back, my father played a huge role in my critical childhood and teenage years. We both knew I would never become the next Lang Lang or Yo Yo Ma, but he still paid for all my music lessons. Even when he didn’t have his own class to teach until 10am, he woke up at the crack of dawn to drive me to and from school every day. And when I went through a particularly difficult time in high school — sometimes skipping lunch to hide in the bathroom — he would stop by with a surprise visit and my favorite Banh Mi sandwich.
As such, my parents were never “crazy-strict Asian parents.” They expected a lot, but hardly pressured me to get straight A’s or attend an Ivy League. When I got accepted to USC, I was thrilled but gave myself mental preparation that it might be too expensive for our family to afford. But my dad pulled multiple all-nighters in a row, calculating how to pay for my tuition with two jobs, two mortgages, and two retirement funds to worry about.
By attending the “University of Spoiled Children,” I am quite certain I set my parents’ retirement back a few years. But I am 100% sure I would not be as confident, driven, and self-assured as I am today if they hadn’t let me leave home. By giving me wings to fly, they allowed me to embrace the world.
My greatest memory with my dad will always be our summer road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, before my last year of college. Three days, two stops, one long Pacific Coast Highway. He drove all the way down to USC with me just so I could have a car senior year and secure a prestigious internship. I know many fathers wouldn’t mind this long drive with their kid…but how many would let them take a brand-new car to LA (of all places) after they only had their driver’s license for ONE month?!
Sometimes, it still blows my mind how much my parents have let me get my way. Attending USC, studying abroad in Madrid, living by myself in Los Angeles. I realize they have never said “no” to me, and I have never taken the time to truly thank them. But yesterday, I turned twenty-four years old. 24. Still young and naïve in many ways, but incredibly, incredibly grateful.
Thank you Mom and Dad for sacrificing so much to give me everything I have today. I may not be making six figures, buying my first house, or anywhere close to getting married with four kids (lol), but I am living my dream in LA.
And I owe it all to you guys. Happy Father’s Day.