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.


  1. Loved reading this! Thanks for sharing! : )

  2. I don't want to cry, but reading this reminds me of the scene in The Cosby Show in which Theo makes an impassioned plea for moderation of expectations because he's dyslexic (or something) and his father says that's the stupidest thing he's ever heard, Theo can be a brain surgeon, an astronaut, or the President, but there will be no compromise in expectations. I was never more convinced of Mr. Cosby's love for his TV child.

    I'm a lawyer, I defend poor people accused of small to medium (and some occasional large) crimes. My mom saw me in court one day and went home and said to my dad, "We sent her to college for this?" Sometimes it's hard to see your parents' pride, but your parents pride in you is clear.

    I loved your mom's (or, based on your spelling, your moms') email. Truly you have a tiger at your defense in your mom. Sifton should have been careful to avoid dark alleys (but I imagine he must have to be) after his XY review because I'm sure she would have explained to him, perhaps while choking him, his errors. She was hard on you I guess, but you can see her love in every word. It's not easy to be the bad cop when you love someone like that, but she loves you enough to give you the hardest gift, the truth.

    I feel like you should buy her a Judith Lieber bag and say it's from your dad.

    You were a child who was much loved, and I am sure you are or will be a loving parent, but just never go back to being a lawyer at a firm. You have too much soul for that.

    Thank you for your writing.

  3. You said it, Eddie. Indian fams are different but similar, but you expressed my ambivalence/disagreement with Amy C. perfectly. Now I can just send people your post when they ask what I think.

  4. Great post Eddie. You got heart my man. Looking forward to hanging at the 'haus.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. Raising kids is more much complicated than strict Chinese parents ruin everyone's lives, or I owe everything to my parents. Love what you are doing with your food, better for the world than another corporate atty.

  6. Wow, this is an amazing piece. I was seriously moved by your story.

    Like Ryan said above, you, too, captured what I wanted to say about Amy Chua's piece. I understand her good intentions (because my mom is the same way) so I don't want to completely dismiss what she is saying because I DO believe that excelling to the best of your abilities, working hard, discipline, etc. are important for children, but I also disagree with her method - choosing the kids' extra-curricular activities, pressuring them to the point of a mental breakdown, etc.

    It's really, really hard to negotiate my relationship with my Asian parents because they are first-generation and I'm second-generation. I grew up in a very, very strict household where Asian values were still exerted and it's always been a love-hate relationship with my parents.. from my point of view at least. My parents are, of course, like, "You can hate us all you want, but we know what we're doing is best for you."

    I would like to say that my mom doesn't support me because she really disagrees with the career path I am choosing (she voices her opinion on this all the time) and she thinks my life is a complete failure because I broke up with my first boyfriend (who she really wanted me to marry in the future) but at the same time, she is the one who balanced working shitty jobs and cooking for the entire family at the same time so that I could attend post-secondary school today, live in a safe neighbourhood, etc.

    So yeah, it's hard.

    Thanks for posting your story. :) Your dad is truly amazing! He sounds like my dad, hahaha!

  7. The APA (American Psychological Assoc) should thank the ilks of Chua for fucking up their kids enough to need years of therapy.

    Despite the uber hotness of pencil-skirted, cello-player Jew-Chinese (is there a better hybrid? Seriously?) lawyers chicks in Midtown, I can only send Mommy Chua condelences for being such a uncomical, crotchety monster.

    To think this woman's a professional educator? Holy shit man! My bro wanted to attend Yale Law quite badly. For what? He couldn've gotten the passive aggressive mental beatng at home!

  8. thank you for sharing this. my two favorite lines:

    ask not what your children can do for you but what means the world to your children?

    hating moms is fine, but what happens when the kids start to hate themselves?

  9. Word. thank you for sharing.

    Have been a longtime fan of your food and told anyone who'd listen to go try XY, esp. after sifton's review. Your food took me home, and my belly has felt kinda homeless ever since. Any chance we'll be seeing apple sidra pork chops & your fish 'n' chips somewhere else soon??

  10. Magnificent.

    From one brother to another.

  11. Thanks for this great post, which I found through Salon. As my husband said when he first read the Amy Chua WSJ commentary, "What? Chinese kids don't have dads?"

    Can't wait until the next time I'm in NYC so I can try your restaurant.

  12. I love, love, love this post. You are so awesomely honest and heartfelt about both your parents. Everyone, even us girls, needs a sleepover with Mortal Kombat, and Coming to America honesty and fun as a young person. I feel thankful that my parents let me choose my own path and just told me to get A's and B's and that I would only really disappointment them if I did drugs or didn't go to college.

  13. so, I must be slow on the uptake, but I am reading your blog for the very first time (thank you cnn for pointing the arrow), and I feel like I've entered a world of awesome. Greetings from my overused and oddly comfortable chair at the desk of my very lawyerly desk in D.C. Hi! I will go bust up some soup dumplings at 456 Shanghai (Din Tai Fung haunts me in my sleep) next time I'm in "the city." I like your posts. I like your pictures. But the reason why you are now on "my favorites" is because of this post. I thank my dear, crazy, beloved Taiwanese parents every day for loving me and having the strength and courage to tell me straight up how it is. None of this "What if they don't love me anymore? I have to be my kid's best friend." crap. Kuddos to your mom and dad. And here's to you for leaving the law.

  14. Dear Eddie,

    So glad to have found your writing.

    You have no idea how lucky you are to have the parents and family that you have. I grew myself up on psychology books and trial-and-errors; my dad just sent the money. It was very hard--growing up, understanding the world, and all that, and being Asian and female. We've never been close, and I don't think we will ever be.

    God bless.

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