Sunday, January 16, 2011
How My Chinese Dad Saved My Life...
Everyone loves my mom for roasting me in an email according to Chinese Mom Tradition. So, after the email, a writer from Town & Country sent me a copy of Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which included this article for WSJ about the superiority of Chinese Moms and they wanted my feedback. I didn't put two and two together until tonight. So the question still remains, do I think Chinese Moms are Indeed Superior? Well, I like my mom and her shape-ups, but if it weren't for my DAD, I would have been destined to a life of violins and Izod shirts. Chinese moms love buying izod cause it's cheaper than polo and people laugh at you, but for the record, looking like an ass clown and not having friends definitely doesn't help your SAT scores.
My dad is the homie in the photo with a snap back Magic hat. Like father like son... He tried to be a Chinese mom and break my spirit, but it never worked. When he decided I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he put me at the top of a hill and told me to pedal fast. For 3 hours, I looked like a human egg roll falling down the hill. My mom came out and saw me bleeding all over the place so she powdered me with a bottle of yunan baiyao. It was settled that day that my dad couldn't teach a crack head to spend money. So teaching became my mom's domain.
Like a lot of kids, I grew up really not liking my dad. But when I was around 8 years old, my dad left home by himself and set out for Orlando to make a living. He worked two jobs at Steak & Ale and L&N Seafood at the same time. After the first month, he opened his own: Atlantic Bay Seafood AND Grill. Your dad bootlegged DVD's? Deuces... My dad bootlegged RESTAURANTS.
Once pops left, I really missed him. Even though he was a irresponsible dick, he was fucking hilarious. My mom was always responsible, put food on the table, made sure we weren't cold, but she had no jokes! I remember when my mom had my dad beat us up for getting "B's", she'd stand on the side talking shit. "I was the salutorian at my High School and I didn't even speak English!" My dad would try to school us about the importance of good grades and we'd cry back "Dad wasn't a salutorian!" And of course he would respond with something like, "This fucking belt was a salutorian!"
My mom wouldn't let us watch R-rated movies so of course when she went on vacation, pops rented Coming to America and put the "Royal Penis is Clean" scene on loop. He said, "Boys, in Taiwan, girls don't give it up. But in America, you have an opportunity. It's ok to have sports sex. Just for fun, you should practice as much as possible." I'm not paraphrasing. This was the quintessential Louis Huang breakfast speech. I have to give it to the man, he was a shitty teacher, but that one night he had a plan when he rented Coming to America.
By the time my mom came back from her vacation, my name was Eddie (govt is Edwyn), and my brothers and I were re-enacting the "Good Morning America... FUCK YOU TOO" scene every 5 minutes. Of course, my mom got in an argument with him about having a united front and being irresponsible, but he'd wink at us and let us know he had it under control. The best part was that he'd prep us for the showdown. He knew she'd go off so he would have Emery and I stage remorse by telling us that he was going to call us stupid rice buckets (fan tong). After wards, we'd have to eat vegetables, play piano, and practice kumon so that our mom wouldn't go nuts. But we knew if we did all that, he'd let us watch WWF and practice DDT's on our youngest brother, Evan, when she wasn't paying attention.
My dad wasn't a dad at all. He was our older brother and it's exactly what I needed. He encouraged us to be friends with all different kinds of people. He worked with Haitians and Mexicans at the restaurant all day and told us to respect every one. The Head Chef he trained and hired was Jamaican. In a lot of ways, he was the most futuristic Chinaman I know. He was charged with the task of doling out punishment on us, but his heart wasn't behind it. He loved us whether we were A or B students. I mean, C's, come on, he's still Chinese.... But the point is, he just thought we were cool fucking kids and that was enough for him.
I remember in 3rd grade. A kid named Edgar pushed me down in the lunch line at school and said, "chinks get to the back." My dad had told me the meaning of the word since I was young. I knew exactly what that fucking kid was saying to me so I took his arm and slammed it in the microwave. From that moment on, my life changed. The teacher bugged out, locked me in the principal's closet, took away my lunch, and left me to piss all over myself. I went to a new school, but some kids had heard what I did and I was stigmatized as a deviant. Every one treated me like a crazy person when all I did was stick up for myself. I ended up going to 6 schools in 6 years, but my parents had my back. They still beat the shit out of me if I got B's, but if it was a fight that got me kicked out, they always said "You're too good for that school." They knew that my brothers and I were the only Chinese kids at every school we went to (except one) and they didn't want me to roll over for anyone.
Life isn't about A's, making National Guild, or paying back your parents. When I got my first pay check as an attorney, my mom demanded a Judith Lieber bag. I bought it. To this day, my dad hasn't asked for shit. I love them both. But my point is this, Chinese Moms and the Model Minority Chinese kid get too much play. For every National Merit Scholar (my brother is a Nat'l Merit Scholar who failed gym and then won the Fantasy Writers of the Future Award), there's a kid who beat up your honor student, won the Zora Neale Hurston Award, opened Baohaus, and there's a Chinese Dad who had his back.
None of this happens if my dad didn't let me live. I remember the day in high school he found out I was doing e. Instead of wildin out or bringing the belt, he put my ass on the canoe and we rowed out on a lake. I thought he was gonna end me like Fredo, but he talked to me like a man. He made it very fucking clear, this was my life. I'm not doing this for anyone but myself so if I wanted to be self-destructive and break the model minority stereotype by ruining my own life, it didn't prove anything to anyone. I was mad conflicted. I wasn't like the white kids, I wasn't like the Chinese kids, I was just me: a self-destructive teen ager who knew he wouldn't live up to anyone's expectations. I had posters of other unwilling individuals all over my room: Allen-I, Chuck Barkley, Mark Twain (for real, had that), and Big Sheed... I was a fan of those brothers, but they didn't do shit for me. Charles Barkley was right, he wasn't a role model. My pops was my role model and he was my biggest fan.
We still have lapses... When I gave up the law to do stand-up comedy and sell buns, he didn't talk to me for 3 months and surprisingly, my mom switched roles. She became the supportive one telling me to follow the dream and that she believed in me. There has to be some middle ground and my parents as a team understood that. The "Chinese Mom Method" doesn't consider the big picture... If Kennedy and Cam'ron formed one Chinese Voltron Dad, he'd say, "Amy Chua, ask not what your children can do for you, but what means the world to your children?"
Amy, mami, I love you, but I'm pretty sure your kids hate you from time to time. And when they're wearing pencil skirts, working at Goldman Sachs, going to places like Harry's on Pearl, they'll hate you even more for driving them to it. But of course, that's your point. Let them hate because you know best. In a lot of ways, your like Nas and Diddy on "Hate Me Now" so I fux with you. I think you make great points about how kids need to learn work ethic. They need discipline, they need practice, they need repititions. I also love Malcolm Gladwell and "Outliers" has your back. Repetitions usually lead to success.
I think that the lack of political correctness in your article is brave, honest, and welcome. You put yourself out there, said what you believe, and I think it's great. My mom pretty much had the exact same approach to kids as you. I owe a lot to moms like you. But there really needs to be a balance. Booker T. Washington needed W.E.B. Dubois; Hulk Hogan needed Andre the Giant; and sometimes a chink wants his homies to stay over and play mortal kombat. re: amy chua no sleepover rule.
By no means is this point I'm about to bring up a propagandistic appeal to emotion, but amidst the hoopla and celebration of your article and Chinese motherhood. I have to point out... Hating moms is fine, but what happens when kids start to hate themselves?
"Asian American women 15 to 24 lead in the highest suicide rate amongst all ethnic groups, according to the Department of Human Health and Services." The model minority stereotype is a problem and perpetuating it just makes life harder for those of us who don't want to be gunners and work behind the modern great wall (cubicles). Some of us aren't cut out for the Ivy League, but it doesn't mean we can't be succesful in our own ways. A lot of us find our way late. It took going to law school, working at a firm, and hitting rock bottom for me to finally rid myself of Asian Expectations. No, Dickens didn't write that shit, Confucius did and he's a fool for it. I have friends in their 40's that still resent putting their parents' expectations first and break up bud on the Analects.
But what did I do after leaving the law? I came back to my roots, repped my family, our food, and did what every Chinese mom wants their kids to do... buy Judith Lieber bags. Did I do that because my mom had me play piano? Did I do that because my dad put the belt to that ass? pause. No, I did it because I'm proud of who I am, who my family is, and what our people eat. There are a million Amy Chuas pumping out Ivory Tower Lap Dog Asians but there's one Louis Huang and he had a Money Gettin' Chinkstronaut Like Me.