Thursday, January 7, 2010

Conversations with my Father

Over the past few weeks, my father and I have been meeting for random lunches, and during these meetings we would chat mostly about the logistics of business; the specific things I have to learn in the property management world. Like most discussions, what arbitrarily develops are side conversations, things that are related, but not directly. I discovered a lot about my father within these small conversational tangents. There's something about youth that makes us stupid enough to think our parents were never once like us, or that we are somehow existing apart from their own story. I think at some point, we are eventually able to place our own lives in the context of theirs, which in turn, make us more appreciative of all they've sacrificed for us.

My father came to this country when he was 24 with nothing more than $50 and a Ford Pinto. Comparatively, that is much more than other immigrants, but to most US Americans, it's nothing. From that he built what we have today. A tax firm, multiple properties and a damn nice house. Given the humble beginnings of his own family, it's quite a feat. I never knew this but my father came from a once wealthy family until the government came in and seized all the family's possessions. They were completely bankrupt. He would tell me how in the following years the question of their next meal would be a daily concern. He was five at the time.

That story is the driving fuel of my father's ambition. He never wanted to go back. He never wanted any us to go through that. Growing up, I've never questioned our standard of living. I just thought that was how it was. We actually grew up quite poor; my parents just never let me know. After working with my father and witnessing his day-to-day life, I realize how damn hard he works, and well, in reality, the relative luxury that I enjoy is nothing guaranteed. My father wasn't born into wealth, and apparently, neither was I. Instead, our livelihood is constantly upheld by years and years of toil. Never once has my father gotten lazy. In fact he still wakes up at 6am every morning.

The one thing I respect about my father compared to other Chinese/Taiwanese entrepreneurs is that he doesn't keep it within the culture. Don't get me wrong, he is still VERY Taiwanese, but in a business sense, he works with everyone, treats everyone equally and I've yet to hear him say something racially prejudice about any of his clients, business partners or tenants. My friend Mike said he really liked my father. He said my father never talked down to him for his dark complexion like other Asian parents have and that he always felt welcomed in my parents' home. For years I've studied ethnic studies and all the little nuances of race, yet somehow these small instances of change still go overlooked when they occur in my own household. I guess youth and aimless rebellion makes us ignorant our own lives.

These conversations with my father have garnered a higher respect for the code of life that he lives by. I've always been awed at the accomplishments of my father, like a kid would be to his favorite comic-book hero, but at the same time, hearing about his own struggles have made him more human in my eyes. He tells me of his failures, his foolish decisions and, to my discomfort, his fears. I've always viewed my father as an invincible and indestructible force. But I suppose everyone has their own fears, even super-heroes.

I guess you could say I've grown up in these conversations with my father. I can say I understand, just a bit better, of what my family has done to be here, and finally appreciate all the blessing I have in my life. Sometimes it's a bit saddening that I can't hold the same innocent and juvenile awe that I once had, but at the same time, who said humans can't be heroes too?