Friday, December 30, 2011

Studio Ghibli: Kid-Approved Movies for a Night In

Just before the recent Christmas holiday, Jennifer at sent out a list of “Epic Nerd-Approved Movies for Kids.” It concluded a longer list of overall Nerd-Approved Movies (scroll to the bottom of their list for the kids movies). It included (in my opinion) some great movies like The Goonies, The Secret of Nimh, The Witches, and The Dark Crystal. It also included some questionable cinematic ventures like Mac and Me and Titan AE.

It left out all of the Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movies that are my family’s favorites.

I’m the worst when it comes to “kid appropriate.” My rating system involves my guessing at what will and will not give my children nightmares.

I’ve already written about the time I read my eldest Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. But there is also the time my eldest and I watched Toby Maguire’s Spider-man. He might have been three. I didn’t see the harm. I was comfortable with the level of violence and there was no sexually suggestive nudity. The movie quickly became his favorite and he asked to watch it repeatedly.

Then one time, during one of the viewings he screamed for me to turn it off. But it wasn’t the depiction of the Green Goblin or the fighting that suddenly scared him – It was too early in the movie. The scene that frightened him despite his seeing it several times before was the scene where Peter is bitten by the spider! Somewhere between this current viewing and the last time he saw the movie, he became afraid of spider bites.

He can watch the entire Spider-man movie now but the incident has left me fearful. I have become acutely sensitive to every gasp and jerk he and his brother make when they watch a movie.

To be fair, Jennifer did include Princess Mononoke on her overall Nerd-Approved list. She put it in the “A Flair for the Dramatic” along with some of my favorite movies (Gattaca, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Donnie Darko). I don’t know why Mac and Me beat out Kiki’s Delivery Service or Spirited Away for a spot on her Kids list.

I bought the Studio Ghibli Movie Collection on Ebay several years ago after watching Turner Classic Movies festival of Hayao Miyazaki movies. They showed both dubbed and subtitled versions of my favorite Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Tortoro -- my youngest used to refer to this as the “girl gòhgō (big brother)and me” movie -- Princess Mononoke -- my eldest calls this the “Bloody Movie” -- and Laputa: Castle in the Sky – my eldest says this is his favorite movie. The festival also introduced me to Pom Poko and Porco Rosso.

When the kids can’t decide which movie to watch, I tell them, “We’re watching Pom Poko.” They’ll whine about how they didn’t get their choice but 10 minutes into the movie – slack-jawed silence. They are enthralled by the antics and the chanting of the cutely drawn raccoons and are soon spellbound watching the raccoons fight the humans to maintain their land and fight among themselves to determine how to best fight the humans to protect their land. The movie is comic enough to make its message of conservation and environmentalism, mild violence, and raccoon “pouches” (testicles) that some found overbearing or outright offensive, kid appropriate.

Wikipedia provides a detailed summary of the story.

Pom Poko is not in the Studio Ghibli Movie Collection but can be bought separately. The movies included in the Collection are:

  1. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
  2. My Neighbor Tortoro
  3. Grave of the Fireflies
  4. Princess Mononoke
  5. Spirited Away
  6. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  7. Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso is about a “cursed” pilot who leaves the Italian Air Force to become a bounty hunter. It’s never explained outright why he is cursed but the curse gives him the face of a pig (which along with pieces of dialogue might help us guess at a cause). In the summary provided at Wikipedia, his guilt from losing his best friend in battle is cited as the cause of his curse.

The kids never ask about this. They never ask why Porco Rosso is a pig among humans. They take it for granted that cartoon animals and cartoon humans coexist on the same plane on screen. The aerial battle scenes and chases are enough to bait them into watching long enough to be engaged by the movie’s emotional themes like the sense of duty in conflict with the truth of the matter.

Another testament to Hayao Miyazaki’s talent and those at Studio Ghibli is of all the DVDs and Blu Rays I’ve bought since  the Studio Ghibli Movie Collection, it continues to have the highest “re-watch value” among my family. Whether its because we’re staying in due illness or short ill-conceived holiday or simple exhaustion, when there is nothing particularly engaging on Netflix and TV, a Studio Ghibli film is a surefire way for my kids and I to pass the time.

What’s your favorite Studio Ghibli movie? What movies have a high re-watch value at your house?

[Originally posted at]

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas, Santa, and Jesus

As a parent, two stories I would like to tell better are the story of 9/11 and the story of Christmas. With the former, I’m still trying to get it “just right.” Both my children were born after 9/11 (my older one just nine months after). They are also still very young and naïve. People are still “linear beings” to them. There is a distinct line between right and wrong, good and bad -- And good things happen to good people, and bad things to bad people.

The notion always reminds me of this article I read in the UTNE Reader a long time ago. It was called something like “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It presented interesting thoughts about our perception of good behavior and reward and what happens when the rewards don’t pan out.

I’ve told them about 9/11 but only in vague isolated terms. To them it is just another chapter in a social studies textbook (and in many ways that is OK with me for now). I’ve told them that sometimes people want things so bad that they forget about who gets hurt in the process. And I’ve also told them not to give up so quickly on broken objects, sometimes the pieces can be brought together and put together into something just as great. But getting older, they will need more than my detached philosophizing.

Christmas is the other story I would like to tell better. The recent reaction to a teacher telling her students there is no Santa Claus, got me thinking about the importance people have placed on him as a symbol of What? Giving? Christmas? Innocence? Childhood?

That’s where I hit a snag. When that teacher said there is no Santa Claus, parents rushed to protect the belief they’ve nurtured in their children about Santa Claus – But what does Santa Claus mean? Or what is he supposed to mean to them?

Francis Church’s editorial comes to mind:

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Is this the “Santa” that the parents are protecting?

At the Manataka American Indian Council site there is an essay by Floyd Looks for Buffalo Hand on the history of Christmas among American Indians. It’s an interesting document of how a foreign faith appealed enough to the existing peoples to be adapted into their beliefs and customs.

It’s also a reminder that Christmas is a Christian holiday. It’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who is believed by Christians to be the Son of God. My favorite retelling of the birth of Christ was done by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas:

I should probably have more issues than I actually do with the “modern spirit” of Christmas. In fact, part of the meaning of Christmas for me is its commercialization. I like the colored lights, mistletoe, and shopping mall Santas.

As for “Christ the Lord,” I’ve decided liking what the religion stands for (charity and goodwill) does not necessarily mean liking its followers and the harm they’ve caused in its name.

Jesus Christ Superstar is streaming on Netflix. Because it is set at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, it’s usually referenced during Easter. I’m going to mention it here because it’s a well written story about a man whose celebrity gets the best of him and because it’s his birthday that inspired the holiday regardless of whether you choose to celebrate it as a religious occasion, a commercial event, or simply as a part of Western custom.

*Originally posted at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Help inoculate our kids against bigotry...

My parents are against same sex marriage. At their advanced age, there's no convincing them otherwise. They are devout Catholics, and so they believe everything in the bible as it is interpreted by the Catholic church.

Most of the people I know who are against same-sex marriage are just like my parents: elderly, religious, set in their ways. Fortunately, their old age means that they'll be dead and gone in a decade or two. In the meantime, the best we can do is to inoculate our children from such bigotry.

Like many other parents our age, we've made it a point to be socially progressive in the upbringing of our kids. When gay marriage became legal in New York, my wife brought home the front page of a newspaper to show our daughter that two girls can marry each other (and one day you'll see two Disney princesses fall in love with each other, we hope).

After reading this post over at about a gay penguin couple in a Chinese zoo, my wife suggested getting a copy of And Tango Makes Three. This controversial children's book is based upon the real-life gay penguins Roy and Silo at the Central Park Zoo who were allowed to adopt and raise an abandoned baby penguin. Our four year old daughter loves and collects stuffed penguin toys. What better book to get her?

But why stop there? How about other people's children?

At our local Catholic church, there's a Christmas Giving Tree with postcards hanging on its branches. Parishioners are encouraged to take one of the hanging postcards and return it with whatever gift is requested on the card. All gifts are donated to needy children. Here's the card that we got:

Can you guess which "educational book" we'll be donating to the Christmas Giving Tree this year?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Santa Cause Repost

For the holidays, Netflix is streaming Miracle on 34th Street with Edmund and Natalie.

With the recent brouhaha over kids being told by a teacher that there is no Santa, it felt OK to repost what I wrote last year around this time on my Cranial Gunk blog.

For the record, I believe in Santa Claus. Not the jolly red-suited man who breaks into homes to leave gifts instead of taking, but the spirit of giving that he represents to children and adults like me.

Two of my favorite holiday movies are Miracle on 34th Street and Bass and Rankin’s The Year Without a Santa Claus because they address questions of belief and faith. Not the religious interpretations of the words but the parental version: What we tell our children they are too old to do and believe in anymore.

My mother – Yes, my Tiger Mother -- once said to me with a sigh: “Don’t make the children grow up too fast.” I made a remark about her coddling my children too much. (A post of Tiger GrandMothers is coming).

Her comment reminded me of a chapter from the child development textbook I used at Bank Street. The chapter described how different cultures and societies had different expectations of their children throughout the process to maturity (from activities as fundamental as when children are expected to walk to when they are considered contributing members of society).

What the chapter didn’t address was imagination. When do other cultures expect their children to “grow up” and tether their imaginations? Is the imagination something other cultures indulge in?

One of my favorite scenes from Miracle on 34th Street is when Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle) teaches Natalie Wood (Susan Walker) how to imagine she is a monkey. It’s Susan’s desperate need to interpret the world beyond the realm of the seeable and concrete that is the catalyst for the Miracle story.

Not streaming on Netflix yet, though I wish it would. It’s among my kids and my favorite holiday movies.

In The Year Without a Santa Claus, Santa (Mickey Rooney) is the one who succumbs to the “real world.” After a visit from the doctor, he decides he needs a break from delivering presents panning the decision as: “Nobody really cares anymore.”

There is also a child who is “too grown up” to believe in Santa Claus in this story. His name is Ignatius Thistlewhite and he dismisses Santa as something for the “little kids.” However, he quickly changes his mind when he learns his father still believes. The story continues with Ignatius as Santa’s most enthused advocate.

The imagination is a very powerful resource. Like the song says: “ Imagine all the people sharing all the world.” It is a skill and like any other skill. It requires effort and practice in order to gain proficiency.

The Wright Brothers are a testament to the power of the imagination. They, “working essentially alone and with little formal scientific training,” imagined the possibility of flight and solved a problem that so called experts in their day could not.

This holiday – more so than the past two – it is important to nurture your imagination. The still poor economy has taken its toll on many people’s spirits and fostered among some a self-destructive cynicism. While it is easier said than done, a stab at imagining a solution to current problems must be attempted.

This holiday, Church’s words seem much more meaningful:

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rad Dad in LA 11/12/11: An Asian-American-Family-Entertainment-Palooza!

Today, Saturday, November 12, I have the honor of reading from the new Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood anthology at my old neighborhood bookstore, Los Feliz' venerable indie Skylight Books.

Please join me, editor Tomás Moniz, and two very special guests, YA/middle grade novelist Lisa Yee and kindie musician Mista Cookie Jar at 5:00 p.m. for an awesome, kid-friendly celebration of family and fatherhood.

The "rad" in Rad Dad is "radical" as in "politics," not "hipster," and the pieces explore fatherhood as a political act through a myriad of voices. Race, gender, class, sexuality, all are touched on in these pages, and readers of Rice Daddies will be no strangers to these kinds of conversations about parenting.

We are so happy to have our special guests joining us at this reading. Lisa is the author of a whole slew of books for young readers featuring Asian American and multiracial characters, including the Bobby Ellis-Chan books, which feature the multiracial protagonist's football-star-turned-Stay-At-Home-Dad. Mista Cookie Jar, a.k.a. C.J. Pizarro, has been wowing kids and their grown-ups with his funky family band, the Chocolate Chips, as well as having his single "The Love Bubble" featured on Sirius XM Kids Place Live and performing at Little Tokyo's Tuesday Night Project.

We hope you'll be able to spend your Saturday afternoon/evening with us!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Boot Camp for New Dads (NYC Edition)

My friend Daniel and his daughter Olive on this CBS segment about a Boot Camp for New Dads in NYC!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fatherhood Lesson #692: STFU and Be a Good Sport

Halloween's creeping up on us, and I'm dreading it.

I've always hated dressing up, and I've never had a sweet tooth. Ok, maybe there were one or two Halloweens when I was a kid when my friends and I would shaving cream rival gangs of pre-teen suburban sugar hounds, or go on midnight missions to t.p. houses, and maybe I really enjoyed those. But I really hate wearing masks because I hate how warm and moist your face gets, and I hate re-breathing my own CO2.

Truth is, I'm kind of a curmudgeon when it comes to holidays in general. I'll resist the temptation to rant and merely say that the tragedy of holidays in America is how commercial interests, public rhetoric, and local cultural practices all conspire to water down their most salient aspects, to the point that they become incoherent without their accompanying imagery.

Anyway. The point I want to make is that as a father of a six month-old who's about to attend his first Halloween party, I realize that I'm going to have to smother the curmudgeon and learn to be a good sport.

A GOOD f-cking SPORT.

I will have to show excitement for pumpkins and ghosts and green corpse fingers. I will have pretend to enjoy listening to the Ghost Busters theme song, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (fine, I admit it, I hate that track), that creepy piece of organ music apocryphally attributed to Bach, and the "Monster Mash." I'll have to ask other kids what they're supposed to be and then act frightened or enchanted when they roar at me or blow fairy dust in my face. At some point I suppose I'll have to talk to some parents, and since it's the Bay Area they'll undoubtedly mention something about how they won't buy this or that candy, or how they watched that YouTube video by the UCSF professor about how sugar is toxic, and I'll have to grunt and groan and shake my head and look somewhat upset.

And, to top it all off, I'll have to wear some sort of costume, likely accompanied by some mask, and I'll have to put some effort into it -- because I certainly don't want to teach my son to half-ass anything.

"This is just the beginning," I hear you more experienced daddies thinking. Yeah, yeah... I get it.

But the other important issue that holidays bring up for the over-educated parent is the tension between conformity and knowledge. In other words, when he finally achieves full sentience and acquires language, I'll have to figure out a way to teach my son enough about the holidays that he doesn't just think that Thanksgiving is just about turkeys, Christmas just about presents, and Martin Luther King, Jr., just about some dude -- while also being sure to teach him how to enjoy the holidays (even though I clearly don't) enough that he doesn't become a total social outcast and snob.

I'm sure for most holidays I'm just going to have to default to the version in the Old Navy commercials, because it's just too difficult to arrange this kind of pedagogy for everything. But maybe I'll comfort myself knowing that history and social justice in our household won't only be taught on special days of the year, or commended in regard to specific figures; that both will be inextricable from our daily life.

If we can manage that as a family, that'll definitely be something to celebrate.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Transition Day

Tomorrow's Eliot's first day of daycare.

Actually, it's just a "transition" day: we drop him off in the morning, cry, leave for two hours, cry, come back and pick him up (and maybe cry some more). Tuesday, we do the same thing, but at the end of the day. His first full day is Thursday.

Therefore, in both a symbolic and concrete sense, today is the last day of a very special period in our family's history. I'm being a touch melodramatic, but add the fact that Amy's going back to work next week and maybe what I mean becomes a bit clearer.

Eliot's been exclusively under our care for the past six months. That's the amount of time Amy's taken off, and the time I've spent more or less ignoring work on my dissertation, because my mind is constantly with Eliot, Amy and the dogz (the Chen-Fan "Pack," as we like to say). It's been kind of a primal, protected period -- and we're so lucky we've had it. I don't really have any words to describe what, precisely, it's been.

The closest I can get is to say that, for the past six months, we've been existing exclusively for each other, with no other goal in mind other than to be with each other. It's an arrangement that the exigencies of middle-class life conspire against. Even if we have another child, the equivalent period won't -- can't -- be the same.

Daycare is Eliot's first official step in his own direction. Even though tomorrow is, strictly speaking, just a baby step, it's the first movement that'll have been taken away from our protected arrangement. "He's his own person," I tell people, "whether we like it or not."

What's so cutting is that I know full well and don't know at all what I mean by that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I've Joined the Club

Got an Engaged Father Fistbump (EFF) this morning.

I can typically be found escorting our two Taiwanese Mountain Dogs (Agatha: black; Bao Bao: brown) around the neighborhood at about 8:30 every weekday morning, with Eliot strapped snugly to my chest.

There's a Whole Foods on the walk, and, today, when I rounded the corner leading up to it an unencumbered, faster-moving dude came alongside to pass our slower-moving pack.

"Looks like you've got the whole family there," he said briskly.

I get this a lot, so I shot back my canned response: "Gotta let the wife sleep."

He chuckled then came in a little closer.

"Yeah, I've got two. You know, a lot of guys don't really know what their wives go through."

As he said this, he scanned my face forensically, searching for the stigmata that would reveal my membership in the Brotherhood of Engaged Fathers.

Our eyes met and we knew instantly.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Rice Daddy

Howdy folks. I'm a new edition to the blog, so I wanted to introduce myself.

My name's Chris Fan, and I'm the proud father of a 5 1/2 month-old boy named Eliot. When I'm not making excuses to stay at home and play with him, I'm working on my dissertation in the English department at UC Berkeley. My wife's a legal aid attorney in Oakland, where we live. We also have two Taiwanese Mountain Dogs. One's named Agatha, and the other is Bao Bao (寶寶). She's shy but dominant; he's still figuring out his place in the world.

I was invited to contribute to the blog because of an article I wrote for the Hyphen Magazine blog called "On Engaged Fatherhood." It was mostly a rambling bit about how engaged fathers aren't the norm, and the double standards for fathers and mothers, but the main point was to send some love in the direction of a Kickstarter project called Oh Oh, Baby Boy! -- a children's book by Oakland artist Janine Macbeth that celebrates "engaged" fatherhood. (There's still about 48 hours left in her campaign! Please donate and get your copy of the book!)

Anyway, that's probably enough of an intro. I've been following this blog since Eliot was born, so I'm totally stoked to be a contributor now, along with all these other amazing dads!

Ok, now for a shameless photo of Eliot.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Subaru's "Sweet Tomorrow" Commercial

Long-time readers of RiceDaddies might know that we got a Subaru Outback not long after our little Sunshine was born. As with most other car brands, we get a free subscription to their monthly car magazine (Subaru Drive). This month's issue mentions a TV commercial called "Sweet Tomorrow" that Subaru is running in key Asian-American markets. The ad "tells the story of a young Chinese couple balancing tradition with their Chinese-American lifestyle."

The commercial is produced in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. But upon watching the English version, there is nothing to suggest any kind of cultural balancing act. While the husband does visit an Asian supermarket, the couple could have been any combination of white, black, Asian or Latino. I guess that's a function of this commercial's intended versatility. In English, the couple is as American as apple pie. In Cantonese or Mandarin, the couple is Chinese.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Once in a Lifetime: Ten Years of Telling My 9/11 Story

Originally posted at

There’s a curious lyric right after the famous opening lines of the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.”

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…

It’s curious because when you think of “letting the days go by,” you think of “going with the flow,” you think of “floating.”

This lyric seems to say, “Allow yourself to drown.”

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground. Into the blue again, after the money's gone. Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground.

:As written out in Frank Olinsky and the Talking Heads’ What the Songs Look Like.

I think I’ve said all I’ve want to say about 9/11. I’ve told you about the night before. The heavy rain and the fight I had with my live-in girlfriend (who would become my wife and the mother of my first child). On the day of the attack, it was cool and sunny. A beautiful day. My girlfriend and I weren’t arguing anymore. We made plans for lunch.

When we were told it was a plane – a plane had flown into the World Trade Towers -- we thought it was a Cessna, one of those little private planes flown by amateur airmen. Just a few weeks before Aaliyah had died in a Cessna crash in the Bahamas. We never imagined that it was a commercial airliner that hit the Tower. We never imagined another would follow soon after. And we never imagined it would all be premeditated. 

A neighbor told us that one of the Towers had fallen. We looked downtown to where the Trade Center Towers were visible over the horizon and saw nothing but a column of smoke. I couldn’t believe it. Those Towers couldn’t be broken. It was a trick of light and smoke. They wouldn’t fall.

But we watched the devastation on TV. We had no phone. We couldn’t reach anyone. We just watched the second Tower fall over and over again. My girlfriend cried.

Same as it ever was…

Same as it ever was…

Same as it ever was…

Same as it ever was…

That’s the other refrain from “Once In A Lifetime.”

After the smoke had cleared there was a big push by Mayor Giuliani and other city officials to get back to “business as usual.” I was eager to do so too. We all grieve differently.  Some like to hid in corners, letting the sorrow wash over them and then run off. Others like me need to keep moving, distancing themselves from the Tuesday the Towers fell as far as possible.

I was going to have a family now. The Saturday after the Towers fell, my girlfriend told me she was pregnant. We got married and prepared a home for our child. My coworkers wanted to celebrate but I said, No. I didn’t want to attract bad luck by celebrating so soon after the tragedy. In hindsight, I should have said, Yes. Everyone seemed hungry to celebrate something. I needed something to celebrate too but was too timid, the weight of the tragedy compounded by the superstition surrounding death and the unburied (Wandering Ghosts). 

1109060006Chee Wang Ng addresses the Chinese aversion to “death talk” and “ghosts” in his rice bowl installation: The depiction of bowl of rice with the tabooed placement of chopsticks stuck straight into the mound. I had an opportunity to speak with him at a reception for his installation in the Manhattan Borough President’s office. 

Several candles on a low circular table like a coffee table or a side table, draped in a red tablecloth, topped by a sculpted bowl of white rice impaled by two enormous chopsticks. It was interesting to listen to his rationale for the choice of objects and their placement. And their size. If you were not paying attention, you might easily walk past the installation. Chee effectively explained his rationale for this: It is not a celebration or something we should single out and promote. It is something to be pondered, low key, and reverent.

It was the year after the Towers fell that shirts depicting the Towers still standing or smoking became popular. Accompanying the images,  the words “Always Remember” or “Never Forget” were written.

But what exactly don’t “they” want me to forget? The hysteria that followed after – Guantanamo, the racism, and the hate? Or the images of droves of scared and confused people holding onto each other (to assist in support and for strength), helping each other through the toxic cloud? 

In the version of “Once In A Lifetime” they perform in their concert film, Stop Making Sense, they include the verse:

Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us

Time isn’t holding us, time doesn’t hold you back

Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us

Time isn’t holding us


That’s the word that used over and over again from the site to the site for the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP) when the conversation is about speaking to children about the 9/11 tragedy. I tell my children that sometimes people want what they want so bad that they don’t care who they hurt to get what they want. I tell them to take care not to become one of these people.

I tell them sometimes you lose more than you gain when you win.

I tell them everyone is different even when everyone else says they are all the same.

I tell them not to give up so quickly on broken objects, sometimes the pieces can be brought together and put together into something just as great.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Buck to School: Education Costs

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun: “Buck to school.”

With the start of a new school year so close at hand, this infographic from Credit Donkey provides the basis for some interesting commentary on going to school in America.

For example, what does it say about American culture when we spend nearly three times more on clothes for school than we do on books for school? Or what does it say about poverty in America when there are the 31.3 million children in free lunch programs?

What’s also interesting is the inclusion of portable computing devices like tablets and smartphones as a part of a “Back to School” shopping list. These items were considered frivolous just a decade ago. AND would’ve been science fiction when I was a school kid! – Over a decade ago!

Where are you in this data? If you have school age kids, what will they start the new school year with?

Infographics: Back to School 2011
Courtesy of: CreditDonkey

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trophy husband, one year later

[originally posted on August 10, 2011 at daddy in a strange land]

Exactly one year ago today, The Today Show told the entire morning-news-watching nation that I, as a stay-at-home-dad married to a doctor, was an example of a new status symbol for "alpha women." I was a trophy husband.

If you watch the entire segment linked here [having trouble embedding it, sorry]—which was pegged to a Marie Claire article for which la dra. and I had been interviewed for an hour each and in which we were reduced to a family photo and one quote about (not by) me presented very much out of context—you'll see that the NBC videographer who shot and cut the piece ignored the magazine editor's "trophy husband" framing and that good ol' Matt Lauer actually went after her for it, closing with a reference to "the guy in the piece" who said "'it's not babysitting, it's parenting." [My new catchphrase. Heh. I need to make t-shirts.]

In the intervening year, the conversation in the mainstream media and in the parentblogosphere about changing roles, especially in an uncertain economic environment, and the redefinition of fatherhood has continued. Fatherhood gets talked about in the context of a larger re-envisioning of modern manhood online, dadbloggers plan their own testosterone-centric take on the momblogger conferences only a few of us dare to crash—and yet, things like SAHDs, involved fatherhood, and equally shared parenting continue to be treated as "trend stories," as anomalous and intriguing oddities that are newsworthy because they're not "normal."

Just a week ago, AngrySAHD Josh K. wrote some guidelines on "How Not to Screw Up the Conversation About the Modern Dad" on the site of The NYC Dads Group after watching another group member and dadblogger get set up in an adversarial moms-vs.-dads conversation about parenting skills on iVillage. His "list of a few things to think about when being an involved dad, and especially when discussing it, whether it's on TV or the playground":

  1. Don't be the boob.

  2. Be involved in everything—not just major discipline.

  3. Be on top of your stuff.

"For better or worse," he writes, "part of the 'job' of being an involved dad is helping to change the incorrect impressions people have of all dads. Set an example, live that example, and correct people when they are wrong."

I was lucky with how my Today Show experience turned out. I had no control over how the finished article portrayed me and my family, and no control over how the video piece would use us as an example of a stay-at-home-dad/breadwinning-mom family with which to introduce the topic on the show. I totally lucked out in having Matt Lauer virtually have my back and fight against the usual mom-vs.-dad, stay-at-home-vs.-work-outside-the-home adversarial framing of much of the media coverage modern parenting gets.

In a comment on the NYC Dads Group post, I wrote, "[I]n terms of how not to screw up the public conversation, a lot depends on the luck of having sympathetic allies involved in the set-up and presentation of the discussion. We can't assume folks'll have our back or be on the same page, and if they aren't and we're all by ourselves, especially if we're on their media turf, it's very easy to get steamrolled no matter our intentions."

As I said earlier, this stuff still gets portrayed in the media as the funny little human interest story, "hey look, they're doing things different [read: not normal], maybe it's a trend [read: not mainstream]." But as hinted at above, we're not waiting around for the mainstream media to tell our stories or just sitting around waiting for the day that what we're doing is so non-remarkable that there is no story. We're telling our own diverse, not-always-agreeing-with-each-other stories, moms and dads, SAH and WAH and WOTH and full-time and part-time and everything in between, in every possible permutation of "parent" and "family. We're connecting with each other virtually and IRL and creating fluid, fluent communities of interest and support, on new blogs, on Twitter, in books [like the new Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood, to which I am a proud contributor], everywhere.

And so that's how we continue to shape and "not screw up" the conversation—by having it with as many different people in as many different venues as we can. I recently had a conversation with another dadblogger about his mixed feelings on being lumped into a "trend" of redefined fatherhood when all he felt he was trying to do was raise his kid and be himself. But he was a part of it, I countered, whether he liked it or not, simply by the fact that he had chosen to talk and write publicly about who he was and how he was raising that kid, as a dadblogger. Mere presence, while not enough to make real changes, is enough to start—and I think that there are enough of us out there writing and talking about what we're doing and living to be sure that this is, indeed, the start of something.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Race Is Always a Parenting Issue

[originally posted at The Good Men Project]

Last week, The Good Men Project started a conversation about race by publishing 8 articles from diverse points of view over the course of the week. However, the site launched the series last Monday with four pieces, all approaching the topic from a black/white perspective and written by black and white writers. I wrote the following response in partial reaction to the disappointing but unsurprising couching of America's continuing race problem in monochromatic terms, and it was published the next day, after, as it turns out, an awesome piece by Daddy Dialectic blogger and Rad Dad zine founder Tomás Moniz, "Beautiful on All Sides," reprinted from Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood. [This amazing anthology of pieces by progressive dads culled from the archives of both Rad Dad and Daddy Dialectic is available now, and includes a piece by me! I'll be participating in readings in the Bay Area, Bakersfield and LA in November, so check back for details and more nagging.]

It seems that whenever a new conversation about race in America is started, no matter the good intentions, the starting point is always the same. The American historical experience and conception of race is grounded in the opposition of blackness and whiteness, two categories socially constructed over time in ways that have served to define “the other” as “not us” and “us” as “not them” at the same time as preserving power and privilege for one “us” over the “not us.” Thus, it’s no surprise that The Good Men Project’s call for a new conversation about race, and its intersection with what it means to be “good men,” begins with four personal, deeply felt, and honest essays that nevertheless fail to acknowledge that when we talk about race in 2011, it’s no longer enough, if it ever was, to color the dialogue in only black and white.

When I am called to put a racial or ethnic label on myself, I call myself, among other things at other times, a multiracial Asian American. I am also the stay-at-home father of two multiethnic Asian American daughters. Short version of the long story, three of my four paternal great-grandparents were Austrian Jews and all my maternal great-grandparents were from Japan (yes, my family was in camp), and I’m from LA, married to a woman who came from the Philippines when she was one. What does it all mean, and what does it matter? It means that I am a father of color of children of color in a United States in which multiracial by no means equals post-racial, and it matters a hell of a lot.

When I was a newbie SAHD in a new town, I started blogging. But before I was a dad, I was a college activist on race and diversity issues, an ethnic studies major, and a social studies teacher at a diverse, urban LA-area public high school not unlike the one I had attended myself. Issues of race and social justice were intimately intertwined with my journey as a new father—how could they not be? And so, besides writing about the archetypal SAHD-out-of-water experiences and the daily routine of diapers and naps, I co-founded a group blog for Asian American dads and joined a nascent blog whose blunt name needed no explanation, Anti-Racist Parent, which has since been renamed Love Isn’t Enough.

Countless times, I’d encounter commenters asking, “I thought this was a parenting blog! Why are you always talking about this race stuff?” For a parent of color, navigating race and racism is a parenting issue. Already, as one of the few Asian Americans at her school, my six-year-old has come home asking me why classmates insist she’s Chinese or ask her where she’s really from. And I know that it will be far too easy for my smart, personable girl who also happens to be really shy in large groups and with authority figures to get lost in the stereotype of the quiet Asian girl, and that it’s my job to monitor, teach, and intervene.

Race may be a social construction, but it continues to have real consequences upon people’s lived experiences. I know that my experiences as a biracial Asian American boy growing up in the Los Angeles of the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s (I graduated from high school just a few scant months after the National Guard used our blacktop as a staging area) will be very different from my daughters’ experiences as multiethnic Asian American girls growing up in a more conservative, more homogeneous Central Valley in the early 21st century. But I know that having a biracial black man in the White House and mixed folks a Hollywood trend doesn’t equal the end of racism, and that colorblindness leaves us unable to see, and that sometimes it isn’t enough to just love our children and hope for the best but that we must equip them with the lessons of our past, the tools with which they can shape their world, and our guidance with which they can learn to do so.

This conversation isn’t a new one, and it’s not one with an end in sight. And that’s okay. Because we don’t have this conversation for our own sakes. But as we move forward, we need to make sure that more and different voices telling more and different stories are heard, because in those different stories we will find the common experiences that bind us and learn what we don’t know we don’t know. Only then can the conversation include everyone, and move forward.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Master of the Manly Arts

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk.]

Sometimes when I hear talk of “manliness,”  Damon Wayans appears in my head wearing a ridiculously tiny bowler with David Alan Grier alongside him sporting the shiniest lip gloss. They’re the hosts of Men On Film, a “show that looks at movies from a male point of view.”

According to Wikipedia the Men On Film sketches on In Living Color split the gay community.  Some found them funny,  others believe they reinforced the “notion that black gay men are sissies, ineffectual, ineffective, womanish in a way that signifies inferiority."

Sometimes the mention of “manliness”brings forth visions of Tom Jones

He is credited with inspiring the trend at some live shows where women toss their underwear at the lead singer. Is there a greater demonstration of manliness than having women throw their panties at you?

I mean aside from being Bruce

His Way of the Dragon fight with Chuck Norris (another model of manliness) demonstrates the “art of manliness” on so many levels. I heard Chuck Norris in a Bruce Lee documentary praising Bruce’s set up of the fight scene. It’s set in the ruins of a Roman coliseum with him and Bruce as gladiators, fighting to the death.

The fact that it is an Asian man engaged in a gladiatorial battle with a hairy-chested Caucasian man among the ruins of a Roman coliseum (the seat of Western manliness) makes it an excellent PSA for the cause of Asian manliness in the Western world.

On a side note: It’s not winning the fight that makes him manly. It is the respect he shows his opponent. He gets ready to leave but turns back and gets emotional over his fellow warrior – Now, that’s manly! Not like the kill’em by the faceless numbers violence that dominates movies today.

I must admit I cringed when I first saw the title of Big WOWO’s Rice Daddy post on masculinity and manliness. There are two pervasive reasons I hesitate to join organizations and groups that identify themselves as Asian American: (1) I don’t want to sit around drinking beer with a bunch of Asian men whining about how American media has emasculated them and (2) I don’t want to site around drinking beer with a bunch of Asian guys whining about how Asian women won’t date them.

I don’t begrudge them their feelings. When I was young and single, I’d also been told by Asian women more often than not: “Sorry, I don’t date Chinese guys.” The rejection stung but I can’t say that it phased me. Maybe I was just too ignorant to understand that I should have been insulted by it. Or maybe it was because I grew up in culturally diverse New York City. For every Asian woman who didn’t “do Chinese” there was one who would. Better yet, the Chinese girl who didn’t date Chinese had a Puerto Rican friend and an African American friend and an Italian friend and so on who would. I love (and I learned to love in) New York.

I’m glad I didn’t let the title deter me. I went back as the opening lines of his post suggested and read his previous posts on masculinity and manliness and the some of comments readers left on each. On masculinity, I agree that emasculation is more often than not self inflicted. And on manliness, I agree it is a cultural construct. And I would add that neither definitions are fixed. 

For example, earrings in the 80s. Someone somewhere made up a rule that if the male of the species wore earrings, he was a sissy. And the rule caught on, until someone else somewhere else made up a rule that if the male of the species wore a single earring in his right ear, he could avoid being identified as a sissy, but if he wore it in his left…

Then still someone else in yet still another place decided that sissyness was avoided as long as the male of the species wore one earring (regardless of the side it was on) but if he had two earrings…

Do you see what I mean?

The Wall Street Journal  recently published an article about the popularity of the “wussified” man on network TV. The article was linked from an Ed Week blog called Why Boys Fail (which I thought was interesting).

When I think of the sissified man or the wussified man, I think of lessons to be learnt from The Magnificent Seven. In particular, the scene after the first fight between the Seven and the bandits. Charles Bronson’s character, Bernardo, is talking casually with a group of the village boys. A few begin chiming up about how they want to be brave gunfighters like Bernardo and not weak like their fathers who are just farmers. Bernardo throws the leader of the boys over his knee and spanks him. He scolds the boys saying he wished he had their fathers’ courage to work the land and take on the responsibility of providing for a family --

Don't you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there's nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That's why I never even started anything like that... that's why I never will.

So when I think of manliness, I turn off my cell phone and take a sick day to watch my kids in a school play. Or I stay in with them to watch cartoons on Netflix instead of going for drinks with friends. I think of all the things my dad was too busy or too tired to do with me and I ‘m grateful he forged the opportunities that give me time he didn’t have with me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Animal Husbandry

[Cross Posted at Cranial Gunk.]

It began with a Tweet.

I had read Panda Dad’s “epilogue” and Tweeted that he had me “up until he decided to plug his friends’ book.”

He Tweeted back that he was concerned about the cheesiness of it too but really did believe in the worth of his friends’ book.

I Tweeted back “No worries. We’re on the same page (though I might be interpreting the text slightly different).”

And then he Tweeted back: “How?”

And then I stopped to think.

I wanted to Tweet back but I didn’t know how? I mean I knew how (sort of) but I didn’t know how to express it in the most accurate and least provocative way. I’ve filled pages with thoughts and feelings towards the Tigers and Pandas.

Jeff Yang in his Asian Pop column catalogues quite a few new species of animal-identified parent:

with the Tiger Mom meme having spawned a bestiary of wannabes -- panda dads, butterfly moms, elephant 'rents, bull parents and more -- why not lob another animal metaphor out there for consideration? Rice Daddies and other online social parenting havens are the ideal warrens for Meerkat Moms and Dads -- social animals linked by a vast series of tubes. And when prompted by one of our own, scanning the horizon, to something of interest to all, we pop up in quick succession to add our respective bits of chitter.

The National Wildlife Federation and Science Ray both have their own lists of “Top Dads” in the animal kingdom. Many of these dads go against the oversimplified and stereotypical belief of that the animal father is a deadbeat dad and philanderer. Most of the dads on these lists actively engage in the rearing of their offspring.

And I think -- as a starting point -- this is where the differences in interpretation are found -- within the cultural gender expectations of fatherhood. It is not so much in how we see ourselves (or desire to see ourselves) as fathers or the animals with whom we identify ourselves, but how those around us want to see us as fathers.

Having lived three years in China immersed in the domestic  culture of its families, Alan (Panda Dad) might be more Rice Daddy than me. I mean if it actually came down to a competition of who’s “ricier” his firsthand experiences of Chinese home life and habit are sure to have influenced him as a father (imbuing him with a certain “riceyness”). Just as my experiences Second Generation Chinese raising my Third Generation kids in American culture have influenced my beliefs as a father (possibly reducing my “riceyness” to a degree).

When my grandmother died I lost more than just homemade dim sum and smelly bitter homebrewed cold remedies. I lost my connection to traditional (for lack of a better word) Chinese holidays and social courtesies – Kwaigeui as she would say in Cantonese.

It’s not culture (mahnfa). It’s not as high brow as that. It’s something more ordinary and day-to-day (gaandaan).  It is the manner in which children greet their parents and their parents’ friends – Of how and what they play together -- And most importantly (at least in this conversation) what is expected of them as children, as adults, and as parents.

The world at large has created molds in which Alan and I must fit into as fathers regardless of the costs. They have expectations of our children – children of a Chinese father do A, B, C, and D, while children of a Caucasian father do E, F, and G. And while we can fight them, their sheer number guarantees them victory. But while they are winning the war now, it doesn’t mean a battle isn’t won here and there and with each little break we make in the line tomorrow might see an end to the stereotypes and antiquated assumptions about fatherhood.

From what I’ve read about the Tiger Mom’s and Panda Dad’s books their value is not how they described their childrearing formula BUT how we have reacted to it. I haven’t read  either books yet. I want to wait just a little bit longer for the hype to die down so I can approach both works with an objective head. Right now, I can’t help wondering what the reaction would have been if the Panda were the Tiger and the Tiger were the Panda?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Time Out for GLEE!

Introducing Kellen Mirador Sarmiento! As a parent, when/if your child's video goes viral, there must be a feeling of glee, yet also a bit of trepidation, especially if one starts going through the comments. These parents were smart, because it looks like they created a new account with just this one video. The original video must have gotten millions of hits and hundred of comments, too. UNLESS, this was their first video upload to YouTube, and it became an instant sensation? Nah...

As for the show, Glee, my son also really enjoyed this number, and we watched it a number of times. We never let him watch the show because of its content, but TiVo'd and previewed each episode before deciding whether to show some of the singing and dancing routines or not. But, as the show went on, we showed him less and less, and eventually, one or two numbers. We wound up watching NBCs, The Sing-Off, which also had great singing and dancing. The great thing was having to worry about fast-forwarding or explaining anything that might not be age-appropriate, except maybe some lyrics if he was listening really closely. ;)

Is it harder or easier to grow up as a kid nowadays? This dad keeps wondering...

Best wishes to Kellen and Family. A happy kid = a happy family! :)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Left by the Ship

LEFT BY THE SHIP trailer English from visitorq on Vimeo.

This just came through my Facebook feed, and I wanted to share it with anyone who might possibly be able to catch this screening tonight at 10PM in New Jersey (or on July 9th in LA).

It's a film titled Left by the Ship, and it's about the children of Filipina sex workers and American servicemen who were stationed at Subic Bay, Philippines. The film's title is a translation of a derogatory Filipino term for these kids: "iniwan ng barko." Not surprisingly, the children of African American officers face some of the worst discrimination. In this trailer, one beautiful teenager talks about how she wasn't allowed to take part in games or contests because her skin was too dark and her hair was curly. To add insult to injury, Filipino Amerasians were never recognized by the US government, unlike Amerasian children from other countries.

Tonight's screening is a part of the Hoboken Film Festival, and will take place at 10PM in Teaneck, NJ. The next screening is at: Aritvist Film Festival, Hollywood, CA on July 9th at 8 pm at the Egyptian Theatre.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Interesting article...

Just wanted to pass on an interesting article I just read regarding Asians in America, written by Wesley Yang:

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Tiger Mother’s Day Celebration

How concerned should I be that without the creepy music and with the substitution of an event more benign and commonplace Mrs. Bates sounds like my mother (or any Tiger Mom)?

I couldn’t feasibly write about Mother’s Day this year without mentioning the Tiger Mother.

I joke that my mother and I cannot spend more than two hours in a room together before we start arguing. I like to say that my mother are alike in all the wrong ways and I am like my father in all the right ways (my mother divorced my father when I started college).

Mother’s Day makes me think of James Cagney standing tall atop a fiery oil tank in White Heat – Triumphant despite the facts – Boom!

The other thing that comes to mind is that “Mother’s song.” The one that goes, “M is for the million things she gave me…” The one I don’t know the rest of the words to.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “Mother’s Day” was trademarked in 1912, making the singular possessive “Mother’s” the official way to spell “Mother’s Day.” On Mother’s Day we recognize mothers and thank them for the “million things.”

I posted some thoughts on these “things” on my blog: Click Here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Geena Davis on the Effects of Gender Inequality on TV and in Movies

In today's issue of the Wall Street Journal, Geena Davis talks about why she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and how gender inequality on television and in movies has a powerful impact on kids. I couldn't find the following quote in the video, nor on the WSJ website, but it appeared on page R11 of today's print edition:
The more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. And the more hours a boy watches, the more sexist his views become.
She also goes on to say,
Negative images can powerfully affect boys and girls, but positive images have the same kind of impact. We know that if girls can see characters doing unstereotyped kinds of occupations and activities, they're much more likely as an adult to pursue unusual and outside-the-box occupations. I really believe that if you can see it, you can be it.
She says a lot of great things in this interview, and none of this is news to us of course. But I post this here in the hope that we can see her initiative as an example of how Asian-Americans might approach the Writers Guild, Animators Guild, and the Casting Directors Guild. I'd like to think that if we presented the facts derived from such research, then perhaps we'd be a step closer to advocating for positive, non-stereotypical portrayals of Asian-Americans in the media.

Imagine if we applied her sentiments to the portrayal of Asians in the media:
The more hours of television a young Asian-American child watches, the fewer options s/he believes s/he has in life. And the more hours a white kid watches, the more racist his views become.
Negative images can powerfully affect boys and girls, but positive images have the same kind of impact. We know that if an Asian-American child can see characters doing unstereotyped kinds of occupations and activities, they're much more likely as an adult to pursue unusual and outside-the-box occupations. I really believe that if you can see it, you can be it.
With that in mind, I hope you are all aware of and their campaign to avert the whitewashing of the live-action version of Akira.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Canine Dad

Cross-posted at Noraebang

I'm not just a dad to girls. I'm a dad to a girl dog.

A lot of dog owners wonder why Korean dog owners raise such delicious, eh, I mean highly successful dogs. They wonder what these dog owners do to hone so many brilliant dogs, what it’s like in the homes and kennels of these families, and if they could do it, too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things that my dog, Boshintang, has never been allowed to do:

1. Have a doggie sleep over

2. Not go to the doggie park

3. Whimper about having to go to doggie park

4. Play any sport other than swimming, running, frisbee, or ball

5. Whimper about not being able to play any other sport

6. Eat cheap-brand food

7. Whimper about not eating cheap-brand food

8. Watch any TV other than Dog Whisperer

I’m using the term “Korean” loosely. I know some Jewish, Australian, and German dog owners that qualify too. Conversely, I know some Korean dog owners (particularly in the vapid pod culture of Seoul today) that are not KOREAN dog owners. Dog owners come in all shapes and sizes; particularly lazy ones, who tend to come in round shapes.

Some dog owners who think they’re being strict are actually being pretty lame excuses for dog owners. For example, we encounter many dog owners at the neighborhood dog park who think they are pretty good at training dogs, but in reality they gives up training when their dogs don’t respond after a few times.

“Well, maybe the dog is just tired today.”

“Well, maybe he / she doesn’t like doing that activity.”

For Korean dog owners, that’s just not good enough. Dog does, or else. Soup time. We never give up.

Despite our reluctance and gruffness in response to “don’t Koreans eat dogs” stereotype, we just look at the stats of Korean dog owners versus Western dog owners. Western dog owners want to be their dogs friend and nearly 70% said that they don’t think stressing good behavior in dogs is a good thing because it takes away from the dog’s playfulness. In contrast, nearly 0% of Korean dog owners felt the same way.

Dog is NOT my friend. I am alpha dog. Dog is my bitch.

Additionally, Korean dog owners believe that doggie excellence is a direct reflection of dog owner excellence. If the dog doesn’t do things successfully, then there is something wrong with the owner. Korean dog owners spend nearly 10 times as long per day drilling dogs into ball retrieving machines. Dogs raised by Western owners are more likely to chase their own tails in circles, or sniff other dogs’ rears for endless amounts of time in a thing Western dog owners call the “getting-to-know-you” game.

If Boshi lingers too long at the poop chute of another dog, she hears a loud “Boshi, leave it!” She is expected to turn her nose at the bouquet and trot back in order to retrieve yet another ball.

What Korean dog owners understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. Games are for losers who earn participation awards. This requires a certain mental fortitude in the owner because many dogs will just turn their noses and refuse to fetch. Some will look at the obstacle and refuse to jump over it, or worse, some dogs will just refuse to sit. But, the persistence of the dog owner in making the dog accomplish these tasks will eventually lead to the dog earning praise and thus becoming a happier dog because it is receiving praise for doing something well. This in turn makes it easier on the dog owner to take the training to the next level.

Korean dog owners can also get away with things that Western dog owners can’t. For the most part, people at your local dog park speak English and maybe some Spanish. Since these are commonly understood languages, you can’t easily say anything mean-spirited under your breath. But, Korean dog owners speak…you guessed it: Korean. That means we can tell our dog things that nobody else will understand. In fact, we might even mumble something about your dog under our breath in Korean that will make you wonder if we’ve insulted your dog.


And, we’ll be looking in your general direction while pointing at your dog to make you wonder if we’re talking about your dog, you, or both you and your dog.

We are often ostracized for calling our dog names in front of other people, and some dog owners will just walk away quietly and remove their dog from earshot. However, some dog owners will become confrontational and will reprimand you for treating your dog in such a poor manner. They’ll claim that you must be softer and gentler with your dog. Meanwhile, their dog is humping another dog behind a tree.

Korean dog owners can demand the dog to do something. Western dog owners can only ask their dog to try their best not to screw things up. Korean dog owners can brag about all the tricks and things their dog can do. Western dog owners can only make excuses about how their dog “just won’t listen” or “doesn’t like to play that way” or “has never been good at ball.” Western dog owners will forever question their own dog-owner skills and quietly persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed that their dog can’t do back flips to catch a ball in midair.

Most Western dog owners are concerned about their dog’s self-esteem. First of all, a dog is a dog. A dog’s self-esteem is tied to it’s ability to do things. If you treat it like a poor helpless creature, it will begin to act like a poor helpless creature. On the other hand, Korean dog owners believe that dogs are resilient and tough animals. Korean dog owners assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a dog can’t perform a trick after a few training sessions, the Western dog owner will still praise the animal for trying their best, but most likely will then enroll that dog into a doggie training school. Then, when the dog earns a graduation certificate for completing the doggie training class the Western dog owner will again praise that dog for doing its best. If there are problems that persist, the Western dog owner will challenge the dog trainer that they hired for incompetence despite having to hire the dog trainer in the first place for their own incompetence.

If Boshi ever didn’t do a trick right or didn’t listen – which would almost never happen – there would first be a very low angry yell which would crescendo into a ear-splitting scream. Then, Boshi would be forced to sit and jump over an obstacle again and again until she got it right. Meanwhile, everyone else at our local dog park would stare at me expecting demon horns to sprout from my head.

Korean dog owners demand so much from their dogs because they believe their dogs can deliver. The Korean dog owner believes that their dog is tough enough to take the constant training. Secondly, the Korean dog owner believes that their dog owes them everything.

Boshi, you bad dog. I rescued your lonely dog butt from the pound. You must obey and you must repay. When I am old and can barely walk, you will pull my wheel chair and bring me soju. This is the Korean way.

Third, Korean dog owners know what is best for their dog and can therefore override any wishes or puppy eyes and begging a dog may give. Western dog owners will often say, “well, it’s just a dog.”

Not an option.

At the local dog park, we encounter Western dog owners all the time.

Many of the dog owners are sweet people. That doesn’t always mean they’re good dog owners.

But, many of them just give up or have an attitude of confusion when it comes to their dogs. They don’t understand why their dog won’t always listen, or why their dog won’t do certain things.

There have been many times where I’ve had to step in and tell a dog “NO” because its owner refuses to step in and discipline the dog. A passing dog owner remarked “Bet that dog’s never heard that word before.”

I’ve been scratched in the middle of a dog fight where I reached in and put the dog down on its side until it calmed down. When Nae Yujah asked if I was okay and if the dog bit me the owner, who was starting to slowly walk over after I had already diffused the situation said, “Our dog doesn’t bite. He has papers.”

Just the other day a woman with two small Schnauzers in the big dog park wouldn’t tell her dogs to stop yipping at the big dogs who were rolling around wrestling and playing. Finally, I sat down next to her and just started disciplining her dogs until they started to bark less and less. One of them even jumped up on the bench next to me and sat down. Did the owner say anything? No, she just sat there with a feeble smile on her face.

I’ve grabbed dogs, pulled dogs, disciplined dogs, and yelled at dogs of Western dog owners who do things in their lazy “but my dog is my best friend” attitude. I’ve particularly found that this applies to Western dog owners with small dogs who see them as no threat. Yet, big dog owners are just as culpable.

One couple brings their dogs to the park regularly and continues to try training their one dog to drop the ball. Snow Girl just walks up to the dog and the dog drops the ball in front of her. Nae Yujah walks up and demands the ball and the dog will drop the ball. I’ll walk up to the dog and he’ll sit, lie down, and drop the ball as he rolls onto his back. All of this without me saying anything.

They are amazed that we can get the dog to do these things. They’ve called me “dog whisperer” to which I shrug off. I watch that show because he knows what he is doing. He demands respect, and he gets it.

But, I’m no dog whisperer. He has that title.

I’m more like Dog Dundee. Without the big knife. Without the goofy hat. And, I’m Korean, not Australian. And, I don’t wear leather pants…look, just forget the analogy.

I’m like the Korean Dog Whisperer.

But, I shrug off the their comments because it isn’t about watching the show as much as it is about knowing you can control the dog. The dog must obey.

I don’t believe in babying a dog. I believe you have to prepare your dog for the future and any obstacle they might have to encounter. Boshi needs to understand that she needs to be prepared for different waves, different lakes, and different lands. She needs to be able to sit, lie, and fetch in any situation. She needs to know how to jump over walls or jump over hedges. If I don’t prepare her for the unknown, then how will she survive if she ever gets lost?

Some people don’t understand this and will claim I’m just being too harsh, or I’m overly praising myself. I’m just trying to explain what I do as an Asian dog owner that works. Don’t criticize me. Don’t hate.

It’s not like I’m some Tiger Mom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I don't mean to offend you but...

Why is that when someone, usually someone who doesn't know you that well (or really at all for that matter), prefaces a statement with "I don't mean to offend you but..." they usually succeed in doing the very thing that they told you they're not going to do? Serenity now!

So here’s the setup: at a kid’s birthday party, I strike up a conversation with one of the other parents about pre-school…

OtherParent: “How many days a week does your daughter go to the other pre-school?”

Me: “Well, she goes to [the Japanese language] pre-school two days a week and she goes to [the bilingual Montessori] pre-school two days a week.”

Without missing a beat, OtherParent says: “I don’t mean to offend you but…”

What OtherParent proceeded to tell me (in about the most directive way possible) was that the decision to have our daughter attend two different schools was, well, wrong. Talk about a conversation stopper. I decided to take the bait anyway and rolled with the resistance. “What do you mean by that?” I asked (suppressing the urge to raise my voice).

OtherParent’s point was two-fold: (1) that it’s too confusing to have my child learn two different languages at the same time (too bad, she’s learning three since I also speak Spanish); (2) that OtherParent would feel badly about my daughter losing the ability to speak with my wife’s parents (wait, what about my Korean-speaking parents!?).

Much like my initial response to Alexandra Wallace’s “so we know I'm not the most politically correct person, so don't take this offensively” YouTube video, I was pissed off. But you know? That anger has given way to firm resolve (I mean, don’t look back in anger, right?)

First, OtherParent was wrong. Bilingualism is, in fact, good for the brain. Research shows that speaking more than one language helps with multi-tasking, prioritizing information in potentially confusing situations, and helps ward off early symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the elderly. Not to mention, that bilingualism helps me communicate with my daughter because her Japanese got chotto better than mine after she turned two (sugoi ne).

Second, in any language, my in-laws and my own parents are good people. Yes, I was forced to go to Korean school (even though I would have preferred to fill my pie hole with sugary breakfast cereals while killing brain cells watching cartoons) on Saturday mornings, but I was also instructed repeatedly as a child to be an “All-American” boy (and given the freedom to figure out what that means on my own). Time has either made my parents soft or time has made my parents realize that there isn’t a whole lot of time (left). So for what does that leave time? Simply put, time for agape.

So where do we go from here? Well, my daughter is going to stay at her two different pre-schools because frankly, she digs it and she learns different skills at both schools. And besides, as my hero, Phil Dunphy from Modern Family, said:

"We like to think we’re so smart, that we have all the answers. And we want to pass that on to our children. But if you scratch beneath the surface, you won’t have to dig deep to find the kid you were, which is why it’s kind of crazy that we’re raising kids of our own. I guess that’s the real circle of life. Your parents faked their way through it. You fake your way through it. And you just hope you didn’t raise a serial killer."

Amen and thanks for the opportunity to post my (virgin) musings with you, my Rice Daddies brethren.