Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lessons From My Dad

My dad's life was celebrated 2 days ago. His 81 years of life. I'd only known him for 33 of those 81 years. My brother delivered the eulogy, and my dad's best friends spoke (my godbrother Steven spoke in lieu of my late godfather, who would have made the round complete). I learned a bit about my dad's history, pre-USA. I had heard the stories before, just not from those perspectives. I also had a chance to speak. I winged it. I wanted it to come from the heart. Reflecting over the last several weeks, I didn't really have much I wanted to share that people didn't already know. They knew he was funny, they knew he liked to eat, and they knew they liked him. I wanted people to know a different side of him. At the very last minute, I decided to speak about him as a father, since that had not been done yet, and I thought people should hear what a great father he was, since they already knew what a great friend he was.

My dad taught me in various ways (many he probably didn't even realize he was teaching me something valuable). He taught me to work hard to get what you want. He set the example with his entire life. He left mainland China to go to Taiwan when he was 11, selling newspapers to survive. His family couldn't go with him, so he was on his own. After he graduated college, he came to North America off borrowed money with nothing but the shoes on his feet, the clothes on his back, and a cardboard box of books. He got his masters in Canada, and moved to Michigan. He eventually got a job as a metallurgist in a tiny town called Greenville, and put up with decades of discrimination. This job kept our family financially comfortable. It allowed my brother and I a full-time mother, and the ability to see our dad every day and all weekends. It allowed family vacations, travel, good food, a house on the lake, 2 cars, and a boat. He put up with shit so his family could be taken care of. All he wanted was the best for his family. He didn't want us to go through anything close to what he had gone through growing up. He succeeded. 

My dad taught me quality over quantity. Obviously, he didn't grow up with money. He didn't spend frivolously. He only spent what was necessary, and when he was able to, he would pay himself back with something nice. It was always good quality. Why waste hard-earned money on something that will break, or not satisfy? Save a little extra, make the better quality purchase, and enjoy that purchase much more, and for a much longer time. 

Possessions are meant to be temporary. My dad was always wanting to purge things. Things that weren't being used, things that were just taking up space, things that were unnecessary. No sense in using up valuable space with junk. 

Appreciate the simpler things in life: nature, the view, flowers, food. Take the time to be in it, enjoy it, soak it all up. It does something to you that material possessions can't. Spend money on experiences. Experience things that are already free. Take nothing for granted. What's there today may not be there tomorrow.

My parents eating dinner on the patio, enjoying the view (which was the reason my dad bought the house)

Travel. Go places you haven't gone before. Take a shitload of pictures. My godbrother said that my dad was taking pictures of food before it was a thing. He told a story of when my dad had made a table of 10 hungry people (our 3 families) wait to eat a lobster dinner in Maine because he had to get the proper lens for his camera to take a picture of the lobsters lined up on the table. Dad took a lot of pictures everywhere we went.

Play. I never knew, but out of the "3 Chinese Musketeers" (my dad and his 2 best friends), my dad was the crazy one. Steven had mentioned that my dad was "the cool uncle" with his cool car, speed boat, cameras, and immediate willingness to participate in anything fun (he, without a blink, volunteered to be on the bottom of a human trapezoid---his solution to 1 too many for a human pyramid---with 4 teenagers and his 2 toddler children on top. The picture is epic). There's also a picture of him sitting on a white yak in Tibet (or somewhere like that) with his arms reached out like he was the King of the World age 79. Another of him after a couple hour stair climb to a high temple in China...standing on one foot, tilted starfish pose. Age 78, I believe. I hope I'm still like that when I'm 78.

 79 years young

Tilted Starfish pose

Do things properly. Don't half-ass it. Be able to be proud of your work. My dad would sometimes spend a little too much time on projects, just to get them as perfect as he could. But he was always putting out quality work. He had a pile of patents under his belt, and various home projects that you would have sworn a professional carpenter had put together. His written work was always well thought out and triple checked. 

Never give up on your dream, no matter what life throws at you. It took my dad 30 years of hard work to get to the point where he could take a breath of air without worrying about where his next meal would come from. My dad married my mom at 45 (waited until he was financially capable of supporting a family). Kids at 46 and 47. Retired at 67. Moved to California at 69. Hiked the mountains of China at 79. Built an entertainment center at 80 (his last finished project). 

Be able to be independent. Don't rely on others. Be able to do everything yourself if need be. Figure it out. Get creative. Problem solve. If something you need doesn't exist or isn't available, create it. He was the McGuyver before McGuyver. 

Have a solid support system. Create your family. Blood, or otherwise. You really can't do it all by yourself, nor should you. Ask for help when you need it, and accept help when needed and offered. Always repay your debts. Never expect others to repay theirs. He was one of the most rationally selfless people I knew.

Of course, there are tons of other lessons my dad taught me. The list is pretty long. So many memories with my dad. I'm lucky to have had him as a father. He is missed dearly, but his impact on others will stay around for a very, very long time. I'd like to say his spirit lives within me, but if I can even have 1/10th of his spirit show through me, I'd be pretty damn lucky.

I love you, Dad


  1. Very good lessons for all of us...thanks for sharing a piece of him with us.

  2. Wow. Your dad sounded like an awesome man. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. This brought me to tears. I'm sorry for your loss but filled with happiness that he left you and your brother such a legacy. Your father from your teachers perspective: filled with love for his little girl... Wanting you challenged educationally... Smiling every time he was seen... Supplying the entire staff with food for the Chinese New Year... Strong.. Intelligent... Gracious.. That's your dad to me. It's also very much his daughter. Xo