A Lunch with my Father

A dad with a day off is a dangerous thing.

My dad took a day off of work, presumably because of this insane heatwave. (If you really get a chance to think about it, a suffocating hot day in the suburbs increasingly feels like a mammoth microwave, and you’re trapped on that rotating tray as it spins and spins you into crispier settings of insanity, charring your mind into the melted gum on your shoe) Now back to my Asian father.

My Asian father is not a tiger mom. I’m glad we’ve got that straight. Not all Asian parents are as frighteningly strict and literary as yourself, Ms. Chua. For that I’m grateful.

I’ve always been able to talk candidly about race, fatherhood and America with my dad, something I consider a blessing everyday of my life. So today, on his day off we went out to lunch. Korean restaurant. Free Appetizers. Lunch Special.

As the food was brought out and spices were appropriately marinated on top of our Squid fried-rice (DELICIOUS btw) we began to slip into a strange conversation about the fall of the American economy and the women’s world cup, which led to talk about the Olympics and Gold Medalist, National sweetheart, Kim Yuna.

Yuna Kim. Queen Yuna. The winter Olympics of 2010. I was a freshman with a crush on the Olympic favorite for Women’s Figureskating. And as she triple-axeled her way into my heart and onto the medal podium, I remember the stark pride that crossed my heart, the victory fist-pump and the winner’s snarl that disfigured my face. I’ve never been so proud of where my dad was born, and the language he speaks, and the country that he loves.

It was three years before that where I would’ve wanted to be anything else but Korean. April, 2007. I’ve never been ashamed of where my father was from. The Virginia Tech shooting was indeed, a monumental day in Korean-American history. After the initial shock of something so maliciously evil happening to students, I could not repress the selfish desire in me that shouted, “Why did he have to be Korean?” “What will the backlash at school be like tomorrow?” The constant thought that runs through every Asian American person is that he’d be mistaken for another Asian person. This thought has never been more imposingly threatening then on the morning after the shooting.

I asked myself. Why am I so attached to these people on TV. I’ve never met them and I know them just as well as I’d know Halle Berry or Ben Affleck. I speak a broken version of their language, yet my mood shifts with every pitfall and every glorious peak of each and every Korean man, woman and child.

I asked my father why I was feeling like this and why he felt the same.

He responded with a story about growing up in Seoul. If a child in his town misbehaved, it was the rightful duty of the closest adult to scold him on the spot, yelling at the kid for not living up to his status as a Korean child. It is very much a community and a father’s celebration of his son’s achievement or his scolding of that child is part of the community’s strength and weakness. Singularly ethnic people, like Koreans, think and act to preserve this manner.

My dad has always been fascinated by American culture. So different, divided, and ruggedly individualistic, but so strong in certain bonds of unity and patriotism. “They don’t understand what it feels like to be raised in the same village by the same people for years on end.” America is constantly changing racially, ethnically, religiously. Standing out is the principal, not fitting in.

We look for the outliers and pick at them. One Excelled in Fame, the other shot into notoriety.

I guess what links Virginia Tech shooter and Kim Yuna together is me. A boy born in Wayne, NJ still lights up with every gold medal and cringes with every interview with bad English or something as truly horrendous as Virginia Tech. The son of an immigrant based in the suburbs of Jersey.

Take a load off. This is me at home, in the land of Lincoln. —Joshua Lee

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