Why I Stayed

(Trigger Warning: Physical and emotional violence.)

I stayed because I was too young to leave. Because I didn’t want to cause my mother any more pain than she was already suffering. Because someone had to protect my younger brother. I stayed because I loved him. I still do. I stayed because he was my father.

It’s hard for me to classify my father’s behavior as abuse because hey, who doesn’t have a story about their parents beating them when they were younger? And shoot, we turned out fine, right? Wasn’t it just a different time? An Asian thing? A Christian thing?

But then, I look back on some of the things that happened and there really is no justification for what my father did to me.

I remember refusing to eat celery at dinner and my father just erupting into a rage, pushing my plate into my lap. I distinctly remember empty shrimp shells falling to the floor. I remember screaming at him and fleeing to my room, my father chasing after me. I locked the door to my room but he just kept slamming his body against the door that I was afraid he’d break down the door. I recall being more worried that the door would be broken. I was resigned to getting beaten and opened the door and scrambled into a corner of my room. My father grabbed the broken post of my four-poster bed and would have bludgeoned me repeatedly had my grandmother (his mother) not inserted herself between us. I remember being forced to apologize for making my father so angry.

Even thinking about this event over twenty years later, my stomach clenches, my heart races, my fingers tremble, and I want to huddle in a corner and weep.

This is why I recognize the defeated look on Cookie Monster’s face when I yell. It is like going back in time.

It’s hard to admit and really remember versus just reciting past infractions in a detached sort of nonchalance. It’s hard because who wants to be a victim? And maybe I was blowing it out of proportion? Maybe I was just super melodramatic and wanted attention? And if it was so bad, how come my mother didn’t know my father hit me when she wasn’t around (she maintains to this day that she didn’t – and I believe her, as incredulous as I still find it). How come my brother seemed to escape the worst of it?

I used to starve myself. Punch myself repeatedly in the stomach. Cut myself. Tear up my pictures. Destroy gifts my father gave me. I tried to slash my wrists but did it the wrong direction and too hesitantly. I tried to swallow a bunch of pills but was too afraid to die and of hell or purgatory or wherever it is that suicides allegedly go so I only took a few over the recommended daily dosage of Advil and then fearfully, prayerfully went to sleep.

I couldn’t even kill myself properly.

I still don’t understand why I would hurt myself as a way to say, “Fuck you” to my father. I’m not clear on how injuring myself would have done a damn thing to him, but that was my thinking at the time. I was only in junior high and high school.

But coping mechanisms are hard to shake. I starved myself when I was upset or did various forms of self-harm well into young adulthood.

And yet, despite living through what my father did to me, I still don’t understand why my mother stayed. My father smothered my mother with a pillow in some anonymous Chinese hotel until she almost blacked out. My father held a butcher knife to my mother’s throat while I called the police on a very memorable Father’s Day. Even when my mother finally was divorcing him last year, I feared for her safety.

But when I force myself to consider her situation, it makes a little more sense and I have more compassion. Likely, she stayed because she had two children. She had a mortgage. She grew up in a society that valued men over women, where violence against women was acceptable. She didn’t want her parents to be right (they didn’t approve the match). She was in a foreign country, away from all her family and support. She belonged to a church and a culture that considered divorce anathema and against God’s will. She was the age that I am now, afraid, alone, and so desperately sad.

I used to judge her so harshly. I still do, in my moments of frustration and anger.

The irony is that the main lesson I learned from my father was thus: Never be the victim. I refused to become like my mother, tread upon and used up by a horrible man. And so, I am become my father. (I hear this in my mother’s voice when we argue. I see it in her disappointment and despair. I hear this as a punishment in my depressed moments, when my brain only spews lies.)

But I fight the lies because I love my children. I fight my darkness so that my children will have less of this shit in their beautiful souls. I fight and fail but get back up because the same ferocity with which I used to protect myself and trammel over others in my selfishness has been transmuted to defend my children from my own worst moments.

I left my father three years ago around this time. My brother left a few months later. My mother finally left after that and the divorce finalized last March.

I don’t know how to end this post. It seems a bit artificial and contrived to take advantage of headlines and trending hashtags. I assure you, it is not. But since my last post, I have been thinking a lot and although I feel ill and trembly at the thought of pressing “Publish,” I also feel ill and trembly at the thought of not.

So, we’ll just leave it at that.

Not Ready to Make Nice

Every so often, I wonder to myself, “Why am I still not talking to my father?” After all, my parents are divorced, he is free to do whatever he wants. Shouldn’t I give him another chance? Shouldn’t I give him an opportunity to start over? I mean, if all children of divorced parents didn’t speak to their dads or moms because of adultery or bad behavior, there would be a lot of estranged families.

Perhaps there are.

My uncle and his family came to visit us this Christmas. This is the first time they have visited (other than for my brother’s wedding) in approximately twenty-five to thirty years. My uncle had refused to attend my wedding because my father was in attendance. My father was not invited to my brother’s wedding.

At any rate, I feel as if all my uncle and aunt could talk about was my father. Perhaps they simply have no one else to talk to about it. Or rather, no one else can quite understand their situation. It’s like a survivor’s club. But I couldn’t help but feel as if just by talking about him nonstop, giving an unending relational post-mortem, that we were still allowing my father to hold so much power over us. I suppose it is somewhat better than not talking at all about my father and the havoc he has caused. I often forget that my immediate family was not the only family torn apart by my father. He also tore apart his original family, with his brother, mother, and father.

There is a power in us never saying anything about my father. There is also a power in us ONLY talking about my father. Quite frankly, I was incredibly sick of the subject.

I understand. My father has now made it one of his primary goals to make my uncle’s life miserable. He has moved to the community where my uncle lives and has started to intrude in my uncle’s social and religious circles. My uncle is afraid and unwilling to do anything. He is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t know why or what exactly the problem is – but I have ever been the aggressor. Also, I know barely anything about the situation. Perhaps my father really does want a public fight – and the only way to neutralize him is to ignore him and pretend he doesn’t exist.

I don’t know. I have always butt heads with my father. We are very much alike in temper and temperament. Of course, I am much better looking.

I confronted him on all the small things (except the only thing that really mattered – his lying, cheating ways). My mother and brother rarely confronted him. They just let him bluster on, unwilling (and perhaps, the smarter for it) to engage in an argument just to be right or be heard. I still haven’t decided which strategy was better.

I want to start a new conversation.

I want my children to go through life completely ignorant through first hand experience (not necessarily ignorant in general) what it is like to have an absent, unreliable, and selfish parent. I want my children to have nothing to do with violence perpetrated against them or their mother. I want my children to know peace, stability, love, and freedom.

I spent so much of my life afraid and hiding. Hiding my true feelings and thoughts about my father, my mother, my occupation, my studies, my everything. Because my family was built upon lie after lie to protect our dark secrets.

Such a fucking waste of time.

It was like covering up a cancer or a gangrenous limb. How can we get well if we pretend there is no illness?

Ultimately, that’s what it comes back down to. If my father were no longer a plague or a cancer, I’d consider allowing him into my and my children’s lives. He is still my father. But since he still is bent on revenge and only looking out for himself, it is my job – my duty – as a parent to shield my children. I am like Gandalf fighting the Balrog.

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

It seems a tad overdramatic and silly now that it is in gif form. But the sentiment remains the same.

Also, I am allowed some gallows humor, right? If anything, at least my crappy father has given me so much potential blogging and parenting material! Thanks, crappy dad!

I now have a blueprint for what NOT to do as a parent. I can now screw my children up in an altogether new and different fashion. Babies, consider yourself warned.

Nagging an Inattentive God

According to this Huffington Post article, nagging is one of the top reasons people divorce. (Incidentally, I’m obsessed with the HuffPo Divorce section. I find that sometimes, you don’t know what works until you see what’s broken.) I can tell you absolutely that if nagging is the main reason, I’m screwed because goodness knows I would never try to change my behavior. Everyone knows that Hapa Papa is the reasonable one in the relationship.

The main reason I nag Hapa Papa (other than, apparently, my being female – sexism alert!) is because I don’t feel heard. Hapa Papa has a bad habit of rarely acknowledging things I say to him. Of course, he claims that my heavy onslaught of orders/mandates/”conversation” makes it near impossible to acknowledge them all. I just say he’s a quitter.

So, I keep nagging Hapa Papa until he acknowledges me in some way (usually with annoyance). And then I nag him until he actually does what I want. (Two separate actions.)

Hapa Papa is not the only one in the family to bear the brunt of my constant nagging. So are my children. I constantly harp on Cookie Monster and Gamera to sit down properly in their chairs, (Cookie Monster falls out of his chair AT LEAST once a day. Like, seriously? No learning from experience, that child.) eat their food, pick up after themselves, put away their toys, hurry up, etc. The other day, Cookie Monster told me to stop talking and go away because he couldn’t stand hearing me tell him to sit down in his chair anymore. Then, he promptly fell out of his chair. Again. (I felt smug and vindicated; I am a small and petty person.)

Lately, I made the connection that my kids whine in due part because I nag. (Ok, I didn’t make the connection on my own. It was spelled out in this Parents article. More on this article in a future post.) My kids whine because they are afraid that they aren’t heard or acknowledged. So, they keep asking for the same thing over and over again, with greater and greater urgency. I really hate that they are learning my bad habits. I am hoping that if I stop nagging, they will stop whining. I think I made it fifteen minutes.

Anyhow, the other night, I was praying for my kids and I found myself repeating the same plea to God over and over again. “Please keep my children safe. Keep my children safe. Keep my kids safe. Watch over them and keep them safe from harm.” Sometimes, I varied it up and said the same thing but in different words. Or in a different order. And then I stopped.

Did I think that God didn’t hear me the first time? Or that God might have missed part of what I was saying? Or that God was stupid and required me to explain things repeatedly and slowly, as if God were a foreigner who couldn’t understand English?

When I thought about it, God doesn’t really need me to pray for Him to know what I want or need. And certainly not on repeat. Presumably, being omniscient and all, that’s stuff God would already know. After all, prayer is for the supplicant, to get to the root of their heart’s desire. So what did that mean when I kept praying the same thing over and over again, as if I were stuck in a loop?

And then it hit me. Some part of me thinks God isn’t listening. Or that if God is listening, that He doesn’t care. Therefore, the only way to get and maintain God’s attention is to whine and plead and cajole and just wear Him down until He’s like, “STFU! Here’s the stupid thing you wanted. Now, please STOP with the praying!”

If I were God, I’d have punched me in the throat. I’d be totally offended. And super annoyed. (I suppose who’s to say that God is not offended or annoyed? *slowly looks up and backs away*)

So I decided I’m going to try a new thing. I am only going to pray ONCE for something per prayer time. It’s really hard. It’s as if I am trying to fill up the airtime with God so that I don’t have to hear anything He has to say to me about my life or my desires.

It is hard to trust that God takes me seriously and wants me to have good things. It is hard to remember that God is the original Prodigal Father. That my love and desires for my children pale in comparison to how God feels about me. I find it incredulous.

Then, I find that the only prayer available to me is a short but apt one: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV)

About My Father

It has been a over two years since I told my father he and his mother are dead to me. Since then, I have had two additional children, caved on letting my grandmother see Cookie Monster, and though my parents officially divorced in March of this year, have yet to contact my father.

I don’t think I will.

In general, I don’t think of my father much, and when I do, it is rarely a good or happy memory. Of course, I have those types of memories, but mostly, they are buried under decades of disappointment, anger, and grief. But when I think of my kids and how my father has never even asked my mother about them (even before the divorce), I kick myself for allowing any of his actions to hurt me all over again.

My mother occasionally asks me if my father has tried to contact me since I more or less told him to fuck off and die. When I told her he hadn’t, she expressed surprise.

“Why would he contact me when I explicitly told him not to?”  

“If you think that, then you truly don’t know what being a parent is yet.”

“I think it’s the first time he has ever done anything I wanted.”

“A parent doesn’t stop contact with their child just because the child doesn’t want them to anymore. That’s not what love is like.”

“Hmph.”

I’m not sure I agree with my mother. I can’t decide whether or not it is a good thing my father is honoring my wishes. However, I honestly think that he just doesn’t think about or care about me, so it’s not that he’s abstained from emailing me or calling me out of any altruistic feelings of love. Oh, he hasn’t forgotten. He conjures me up as an example of how I have wronged him and how my mother has turned every one against him, but that’s about it. The reasons why I have cut him off have been rewritten into a narrative in which he is the victim and betrayed one.

Before my parents divorced, I would occasionally wonder what it would be like if my father actually repented of his actions, changed his behavior, and returned as an actual husband to my mother and father to his children. I seriously couldn’t even begin to fathom what life would look like. I simply lacked the appropriate imagination. My mind could not reconcile the fantasy with the truth.

Here’s the truth. Even if my father contacted me tomorrow and genuinely apologized (he has never once apologized to my mother for what he has done), repented of his action (I have no idea what this would even look like now that my parents are divorced), and somehow, became actually trustworthy versus just saying things to get me to do something for him (which he has done to my brother), it is too late.

Nothing my father does from this point forward can undo or fix the damage he has done.

He will always be the man who almost smothered my mother with a pillow in a Chinese hotel during the ’89 earthquake. That is what I always think of every October when my friends are posting about remembering the Loma Prieta Earthquake. He will always be the man who held a butcher knife to my mother’s throat on Father’s Day, forcing me to call the police. After which, he told me that when I point a finger at him, judging him, three fingers are pointing back at me.

Yes, there are many happy memories of my father as well. But they are made all the more bitter when I think of what he has become. The happy memories taste like ash in my mouth. They mock me because I don’t ever really know if the memories were genuine, or if they were just my father manipulating and lying to us as he has been wont to do.

It is too late.

I ask myself if I would even want to be restored to my father. Of course I do. My children only have my mother and my mother-in-law as involved grandparents. (My father-in-law died three days before Cookie Monster was born. He was a good man and would’ve been a good grandfather.) It grieves me that they have no grandfather in their lives. But because I love my children, I will never allow them to know my father unless he truly changed his life. Even then, I doubt I would believe it. Even then, I would require years of careful proof before I would consent to the possibility of him being in our lives. Even then, I would feel as if I were betraying my mother.

You know, before I had children, I was a little more sympathetic to my father. I could see how he felt as if he never got what he thought he deserved. How he strove and grasped for his ambitions and his lusts. But as soon as Cookie Monster was born, I ceased all my sympathies. Once I laid eyes upon my beautiful boy, I could not fathom abandoning him the way my father abandoned us. The thought of hurting Cookie Monster, even when trying my best to do good to him, was inconceivable.

That’s the thing though. My father has only ever thought of himself.

The problem is, once you get married and have kids, you give up that privilege to only think of yourself. This is not to be confused with being a doormat and denying your own needs, etc. But much of marriage and parenting is selflessness – a daily dying of your self to serve the other person.

There is no way Hapa Papa would put up with a 3 hour commute, long hours, and constant travel if it were not for the fact that he sacrifices his own pleasures for the sake of our three kids and I. He purchases nothing for himself (except food and gas) all in order to provide as much as he can for our family. I’m sure there are plenty of things Hapa Papa would rather do with his time and his life, yet daily, he pours himself out for us.

That is love.

What my father does? That is the opposite of love. He may claim he loves our family, but for someone to continually choose himself over others, that tells me that the only person he truly loves is himself.

Why would I ever want to put my children in the way of that?

Will You Still Love Me When I’m No Longer Young and Beautiful?

I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge. I think I’m beautiful. It sounds so wrong to say it, but I have eyes. I can look in the mirror. (I won’t kid myself and say what I really mean is that I’m beautiful on the inside. We all know I am the vain, flighty sort.) Sure, I’d look much better if I made any sort of remote effort to dress well or wear makeup, but I am really far too lazy and practical.

I used to tell Hapa Papa all the time that I was the better looking half of the relationship. He would retort, “For now…

Don ‘t all fight for him at once, ladies. He’s all mine.

Because although it may not be objectively true, it certainly is culturally true. (The only thing I’ve got going for me is that I’m Asian so I should age well. But Hapa Papa is half Asian, so it really could be a toss up.) After all, men allegedly just get better looking and more attractive as they grow older. (Personally, I think the thicker bank account has more to do with this “attractiveness,” but I digress.) Women, on the other hand, do not. Apparently we shrivel up and turn into desiccated old-lady husks as soon as we hit twenty-five.

Sometimes, I really despise American beauty standards.

Anyhow, I bring this up because a few weeks ago, I heard Lana Del Rey’s song, Young and Beautiful, on So You Think You Can Dance. I know I’m the leaky sort anyway, (from many parts of my body – but I blame that on babies and hormones. Too much?) but I teared up. I found the chorus particularly sad, lonely, and true to the insecurities we all have from time to time.

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

– Young and Beautitful, Lana Del Rey
(You can find the full lyrics here.)

I initially heard it as more of a woman desperately trying to convince herself that the person she loves will still love her. But perhaps it is more the quiet declaration of a woman confident in her lover’s long-spanning love. I don’t know. Personally, I tend towards the cynical, but that’s a different topic for another day.

What this song really does, though, is make me feel sad and melancholy.

I think of Fiddler On the Roof’s song, Do You Love Me?

I remember the vows people make when they marry – to love and cherish the other person for better or worse, until death do they part – and that these vows are supposed to be the answer to the poignant question, “Will you still love me?” And yet, the question still has to be asked because in our American culture, people are disposable and vows aren’t really all what they used to be. 

I think about infidelity and how people always ask if the other woman is younger and more beautiful as if that’s a valid reason to leave a wife. 

I think of Hapa Papa and how I was a little dismayed after having Cookie Monster because my stomach got all poochy and my body was a little lumpier than before and how Hapa Papa told me he thought I was beautiful because my body grew and birthed Cookie Monster and wasn’t it worth it to have him even if my body had changed?

So is it any wonder that the song stirred up a longing to be loved that deeply and steadfastly? I’m just so grateful that I am.

Here’s the song for you to enjoy. I’ve also included the video for the dance. I won’t tell if you get something in your eyes.