Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day

So I was talking to Seattle Post-Intelligencer family reporter Paul Nyhan, who blogs as "Working Dad," as he neared deadline on his Father's Day weekend feature on why dadbloggers blog. [Rice Daddies got a nice shout-out in his introductory litany of blogs with "dad" or "daddy" in the title and in the sidebar list of a sampling of dadblogs, as did our own MetroDad.] He had been asking his essential question to a lot of bloggers, and asked me if I agreed with his composite answer:

"Dads blog because they are curious, isolated and trying to connect with others who are grasping at an idea of fatherhood that is far from models set by their parents and seems to change by the month."

As I've written here and elsewhere, I definitely do what I do because I'm trying to break out of the physical and sociocultural isolation I'm in as a progressive Asian American SAHD in Central Cali suburbia, trying to make connections and both foster and participate in a virtual community with other parents who are reading, writing and sharing their experiences, their triumphs, their challenges. But the other part of the equation that Nyhan's interviewees kept bringing up, the whole thing about not having role models.... I feel lucky, and almost out of place, to say that I can't relate.

I grew up in LA (that's LA-LA, not some suburb) raised by two public school teachers. My mom, born in Tule Lake right before the camps closed to Cali- and Arizona-born Nisei parents, grew up and went to school in a racially diverse Crenshaw district, and went to the local Cal State to become a high school typing and business teacher. My dad, born in LA and raised in the Fairfax district, was the son of a Massachusetts-born Jewish son of immigrants and an LA-born woman whose mother was part of a well-off Scotch-Irish-American Protestant family but whose father not only shared her husband's parents' background but was actually the younger brother of her husband's mother. (Confused? Yes, that means they were first cousins, though one was raised in a Jewish family environment and one was decidely not.) My mom's parents and my dad's dad, for various reasons, didn't go to college, though my dad's mom did go but had to drop out, and both of them had the example of other relatives who were able to go. Out of high school, my dad did a stint at a community college before ditching pre-med plans and continuing at Cal State to become a high school social studies teacher (he and his friends like to joke that the draft made their career choice for them). My parents had mutual friends in college and ended up teaching at the same East LA high school.

I never really heard the story of how they got together (beyond joking retellings of how my mom almost ran my dad over during a teachers' strike, while he was on the picket line and she was crossing it), and if the whole interracial thing had ever caused familial tensions in the beginning (pre-me, I guess), it was never explicitly talked about. I grew up thinking that my family was "normal," if I was even thinking in those terms at all. I grew up in a house in which my mom stayed home but my dad, who was no longer in the classroom and was home not long after school let out each day, still did all the cooking. I still vividly remember the daily routine of my dad sending me upstairs to wake my mom from her afternoon nap to tell her that dinner would be ready in 10 minutes. It was only much, much later that I realized how much of our family "norm"—mom "retiring" from teaching when I was born, dad doing all the cooking, why I was an only child, etc.—was shaped by my mom's health (she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis before I was born) and my dad's concern for it and for her. To me, it was just normal, as was growing up in an interracial family. I was surrounded by family from both sides (we were only ten or so minutes away from both sets of grandparents, still living in the houses in which my parents grew up), and, important in hindsight, surrounded by friends of my parents and their children who were Japanese American, Asian American, interracial and multiracial, people of color. I don't know how much any of this was by design or by accident, whether where we lived or who we surrounded ourselves with were conscious decisions (as they are things that I think about often for my own family and daughter) or just the way things happened because of who my parents were and are. All I know is that all of it, put together, shaped who I was and who I was to become.

If dadbloggers blog because they're trying to make sense of modern fatherhood without "non-traditional" personal role models, or if they're trying to create a role for themselves in opposition to how they were raised by their own fathers, then I guess I never really understood how lucky, or unusual, my environment was. Being a teacher, my dad was home early every afternoon, home on weekends, and summers meant long family adventures together, on the road in our green VW camper-van. Family celebrations seemed to revolve around our house, with my dad cooking and both sides of the family coming together there. Dad was the one who peppered his daily language with Japanese-American catchphrases for things like "bathroom." Dad was the one who cooked almost every meal, who exposed me to PBS cooking shows and the idea that food (even for a picky kid like me) was about more than mere sustenance. And he was the one who put a steaming electric cooker full of white rice on the table more nights than not, who taught me his recipe for teriyaki chicken, who made "okazu" for dinner at least once a week—yes, my white dad who grew up with none of those things, except that never really dawned on me growing up.

This is not to say that we didn't, or don't still, have our arguments, our misunderstandings, even fundamental disagreements or the occasional blow-out (usually my fault). I don't think that he'd call himself the perfect father or say that we had the perfect relationship, but here's what I think his most important, unspoken lesson to me has been. Family is the most important thing, and you do whatever you have to for family, for their happiness and security, their health and safety. And if you take that for granted, if that's just part of who you are as a father and a husband and a son, then no matter what, you try. You try, and you don't give up. If that means you take on family chores or roles that you didn't count on before because your partner physically can't or shouldn't do it, you try. If that means that you check on both your aging, stubborn mother and mother-in-law daily to make sure they're physically okay, you try. If that means that family members having a hard time end up living with you for a while, you try. If that means your not-quite-grown child is having trouble in school but still wants to stay 3,000 miles away from you and your help, you try. And if that means that you have to defend and explain why your mixed-race child is so "into" all this race and identity and social justice stuff to your own aging father, who doesn't get it and doesn't realize his own prejudices, even if you don't always agree with everything your child says or thinks, you try. You "pick your spots," as he always said to me growing up (and which I hated), and you try.

Even now, I don't really know what my father makes of me writing this blog, of publicly positioning myself as an "Asian American dad," and as for the "stay-at-home" part, he doesn't push, but I'm sure he's wondering when I'm "going back to work." But I do know that whatever he thinks of it, he still reads this blog, because it's mine, and because he's my dad, and that's just what you do. When I see my daughter squeal in delight when "ba-ba" (she can't pronounce "grandpa" yet) comes through the door.... All I know is, whatever reasons I blog about fatherhood, not having a role model? That's not one of them.

Thanks, Dad.

Happy Father's Day.


Kristen said...

What a great story? I think it's wonderful that he was home and set such a wonderful example for how fathers can be involved with their children in ways we thought (thanks to gender stereotypes) were only reserved for mothers.

Dad said...

You're doing a fine job;father, husband, son. Keep doing what you believe in and keep moving forward. Thanks for being such a great son. I love you, dad

superha said...

That's really sweet. It's nice to see the love and respect you and your Dad have for each other.

Nina said...

It's funny how we all think we're normal until sometime in junior high/high school when we suddenly realize how crazy/different our families are.

This was a great, beautifull written post DISL! It's touching to see your love and admiration for your dad and vise-versa.