by Tony Chen Did you know that the number "8" in Chinese is pronounced "ba." So, August 8th (8/8) is "ba ba" or daddy, making today "Father's day" in China. As a Chinese American, I have to honestly say that I have mixed feelings about the Olympics being in China. I happened to be in Beijing the night the IOC announced that they had selected Beijing. It was nothing I had ever seen before. You think Americans have patriotism? Go see what Chinese folks are willing to do for their government and their country. Even from my Chinese-American perspective, it was 95% inspiring (and 5% creepy). Even though I was born and raised in America and consider myself pretty American, I know my roots are in China. I've spent many summers in Taiwan during my childhood and youth, and so the sense of where I came from is as tangible as the soupy dumplings we always get when we visit. I'm at peace with the fact that I'm different. I'm okay with sometimes going into restaurants in smaller-town USA and getting some double-takes. Fine. I even hear that being Chinese-American is "cool" in California. Haha. Get past our awkward accents (why can't our accents be "cool" like the Australians?), and you'll find a lot of loyalty, richness, history and community. More so, I have mixed emotions because seeing all of those Chinese faces on TV reminds me of my generation of Chinese-Americans, mostly born here of our immigrant parents. We've got more baggage than a 747, even before baggage required an extra charge. First, there's the constant comparing us to other kids, which brings about a deep insecurity that you are never good enough. Second, there's an overemphasis on academic performance at the expense of everything else (i.e. interpersonal skills, oh, and also, integrity and character). Third, there's usually a lack of any tenderness, encouragement or affirmation, especially from the stoic, aloof and unexpressive Chinese Dads. Fourth, there's the weirdness factor of your parents "not being from around here" (e.g. did you know that black socks and white shoes is cool in some cultures? Just not ours) And fifth, there's the identity crisis-am I Chinese or am I American or what the heck am I? That usually happens somewhere in your 20s. Put that all together, and you've got a generation of guilt-ridden, approval-seeking overachievers. Add on top of that all the typical parent-child tensions, and man, is it fun. Okay, so I don't mean to air all my dirty laundry of cultural heritage at once (nor are these broad-stroke stereotypes true across the board, obviously), but as I watch these Olympics, thoughts of race, culture and fatherhood all get thrown in there. To be sure, I had a great childhood, and this isn't meant to be a woe-is-me post. I was challenged, stimulated, loved and cared for. I had a lot of fun. Good times. And my dad delivered. But in the Chinese culture, I've just given you a glimpse of how many dads leave us with a lifelong "opportunity" (read: burden) of proving our worth. But this "does daddy love me?" question happens in every culture in different ways. Which brings me to a question I think all dads will have to grapple with, regardless of our backgrounds: How will we parent our children differently than we were parented? And how will we discern that our kids know that we love them? When we're angry at our parents, most of us probably think to ourselves, I'm never going to treat my kids THAT way. But the more I travel on this parenting journey, the more I'm seeing more of my dad in me. That's not a bad thing, but there are some things I want to change. I'm realizing that it's going to take a conscious, proactive, intentional decision for me to parent differently that he did. I want my kid to strive to be the best that he possibly can be in life, and yet also know with certainty that I love him even if he doesn't. Shoot... without guilt as a motivating weapon, what am I left with? Oh, and for the record, I'm still rooting for the good U.S. of A. to win the medal race. I wouldn't mind, though, if China finishes a close second. When the Olympics comes here to Chicago in 8 years, let it be known that my son and I will be ready to take on the world in ping pong.
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