Northern Virginians driving through the streets of Vienna, Virginia, may have seen an Asian girl hopping and bopping on the sidewalks.
That girl was me. Many times I walked those sidewalks with my earphones on, my iPhone blasting the top hit songs on Pandora. I sang at the top of my lungs to Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” waved my arms to Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You,” and swiveled and grinded to Maroon 5’s “One More Night.”
One night, my dad happened to drive by. He stopped by a gas station on his way to Home Depot, and saw this figure in the street pumping fists and skipping around. “Must be a drug addict or a drunk,” he thought. And then he got closer up and realized that drug addict/drunk was his daughter.
Two weeks I have been back home in Northern Virginia. It’s wonderful to see my family again. It feels lovely to sit together as one home and dine together over kimchi and fermented soybean stew, completely un-self-conscious over the stinky, garlic-slathered meal. We formed the model of a perfect, cozy family, pleasant enough to be encased in a snow globe.
But on my last night in the East Coast, the glass of that globe shattered into smithereens, whooshing out fake snow dusts in a confusing, tumultuous whirl.
The scenario I gave above about my dad mistaking me for a drug addict is just one example of the dividing rift between my parents and me. It’s not just a generational gap. It’s also a cultural and religious gap.
When my dad told me who he thought I was dancing in the streets, I laughed out loud and then accused him of being close-minded. When my mother criticized my black-painted nails as “Satan colors,” I rolled my eyes and also accused her of being close-minded. And for the majority of our time together, I found myself fuming at certain remarks they made, and silently tolerating my dad’ hours-long sermons on stuff like “What is the meaning of life?” and “What would Jesus do?”
On my last night, I unleashed a flood of pent-up grievances against my parents. I didn’t mean to get so emotional, but my parents and I poked a touchy subject. My insecurities burbled out. Hot tears started springing out my eyes and I started raising my voice, which got my dad riled up because he comes from an ultra-conservative family where children sat kneeling in front of the father and bowed yes to everything. If there’s anything my dad cannot tolerate—ever, it’s filial disobedience.
In one switch, our cheerful conversation crashed into a storm of roars, fist-pounding and tears. Like father, like daughter. The way our tempers are wired, we both flare up easily. We don’t shy away from conflict; we just let loose and have it out, while my mother sat by quietly watching the battle.
I guess I was disappointed with my limited time with my parents because I had come expecting to spend hours of time with them discussing certain matters, sharing stories, and delighting in each other’s company. Instead, we all were busy with our own duties. During the conversations we did have, I found our conflicting opinions rubbing friction, and I felt increasingly pressured by my parents’ obvious expectations on me.
I wanted to share with them the improvements I’ve made, the insights I’ve gained over the year, but instead I kept feeling like my parents were never satisfied. I wanted to listen to their testimonies in China and Southeast Asia, but instead I received sermons. I wanted them to listen and empathize my insecurities, but instead they preached and told me what I was doing wrong.
My dad, always the Pastor.
We were speaking in different wavelengths: I wanted to fully experience what it means to be human and learn from my own mistakes, while they just wanted me skip right up to being a perfect Christian. I criticized them for being close-minded, unempathetic, old-school prudes, while they criticized me for not loving God enough and not being obedient enough. Everything is black and white for them, while I’m still residing in shades of grey, trying to distinguish my own blacks and whites.
Instead of bonding with my parents, I felt worlds and centuries apart. And that frustrated and upset me, because I respect and love my parents more than anybody in the whole world. Their understanding and support means the most to me. But I am also independent of them, and I want to figure out my own path instead of just following the steps they impose on me.
I’m glad our fight happened, because I got to think long and hard about this. I realized I’ve been unfair to my parents.
All my life, all I’ve ever done is receive from my parents. And of course I’m grateful to them for all they’ve done for me, but at the same time, there is this sense of privilege: “Of course my parents will love me and provide for me. They’re my parents!” It just seems like the natural, biological order of things: Parents give, children receive. Love travels down.
I’ve been selfish. I wanted my parents to provide every facets of my needs. I wanted them to juggle all responsibilities: teacher, therapist, best friend, provider, punching bag— I wanted them to be the whole package. But I also didn’t consider that they may want me to be those things to them, too.
I’m 25. It’s time I grew up as a daughter. I can’t expect my parents to treat me as an independent adult when I’m always whining and wanting things from them. Instead of just expecting comfort and encouragement from them, I need to give them that, too.
And the thing is, they’re almost always right. I’ve not suffered from obeying them before. They speak from years of wisdom and experience, and I know their expectations and impatience come from love and respect. We both desire the same things from me: happiness, and reaching my best potential. The biggest difference is that I’m willing to make more mistakes than they want me to.
I also need to be mature enough to understand that my parents can’t fulfill every role I want them to. God made them my parents for a reason. They are the only individuals on earth who can honestly admonish and fully discipline me. If I want someone to listen to me bitch, I have my girlfriends. That’s the beauty of relationships. God provides different people for different needs in our lives.
My father must have had his own reflections, too, because when I arrived in Los Angeles, I received a text message from him. That shocked me because my dad never texts anyone, ever.
This is what his first ever text message said: “After bye with you, I have been thinking about why I always be a Paul and not be a Barnabas…and thinking about why I always have to be a teacher to others. Love you my daughter.—dad.”
And with that, everything was resolved between us. Like father, like daughter. We burn up easily, but we also burn out fast. And we both think about what happened.
As for my mother, God bless her, she’s always the solid one. When my father and I rage at each other, she lets us go at it, but afterward she acts as the mediator by speaking for both of us privately. Both my dad and I need her in our lives.
While my dad always tries to provide words of nourishment, my mom always tries to feed me physical nourishment. The day I arrived she had slow-cooked a whole organic chicken with various medicinal herbs and roots and basically forced two bowls of it down my throat each day.
And since both she and I love dumplings, she also hand-made kimchi dumplings. The first time she made them, I had gone out for dinner with a friend, so she made it a second time the night my cousin and I returned from New York City.
My cousin is always on a mission to be adorable:
We spent three days in NYC, so we were both hankering for a good home-cooked meal when we got home. I was delighted when my dad told me my mother was busy making dumplings.
Ever made kimchi dumplings? I made them once with friends about two years ago and blogged about it. I used basically the same recipe my mom used for these, but hers turned out way, way, waaaay better. Naturally.
Here’s the mix: Equal mix of my mom’s homemade kimchi, extra-firm tofu, ground pork. Mixed with lots of garlic, a little bit of soy sauce and sesame oil. And unfortunately, my mother’s recipes never have measurements, so you have to wing it.
I am convinced my mother’s hands are magic. When I try to wrap dumplings, the skin always get dumpy and soggy. But all she does is swirl and pinch, and voila! Instant beautiful package.
She made a few dozens of these laborious dumplings, then prepared them two ways. The first couple dozens, she steamed:
I love the steamed ones because the dumpling skin stays chewy and sticky, and the result is juicy and moist.
The second batch she pan-fried:
The pan-fried dumplings are great in their own way, too, and definitely easier to cook.
My mother’s kimchi dumplings are superior than everybody else’s, I believe, because she makes her own kimchi. She waits for that kimchi to ferment to the perfect level of pungent sourness, so that the dumplings are bursting with flavor without needing extra seasoning.
At any single moment, I can’t think of a single person who can love me as kindly, unconditionally, and sacrificially as my parents—other than God. Truly, my parents are earthly demonstrations of the tender yet appropriately strict Heavenly Father.
Honestly, I was livid at the time I was fighting with them. I was so mad and upset that my fingers were clenching into spasms. And at so many moments during my two weeks with them, I kept thinking of qualities I wanted to change about them. I suppose that happens to every child-parent relationship. But sometimes I need to step back and view them as fellow human beings too, not just as parents. They are also people with flaws, people who can get hurt by the things I say, people who desire back love and understanding and empathy.
I’m thankful that this happened. It’s good that I can look back in year 2012 and be satisfied with the improvements I’ve made, but it’s imperative that I look forward in 2013 and realize I still have a lot of growing up and humbling to do. Thank God for parents who tell you that. Thank God for giving me those parents.