This one’s a long one… written on my flight back, so brace yourself.
I have to say, for someone who is childfree, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about parenting and child-rearing. Oddly enough, there is some explanation for this. You see, from a very young age, I’ve struggled with lots of familial strife. Not the usual tiff or disagreement here and there. Rather, full-on, war time, volcanic eruption familial fighting. The constant sparring can probably be attributed to a number of things: my parents being immigrants (I know, I’m a broken record, but this factor cannot be overstated!), my father having a strong, dominant personality, and me having a strong, dominant, judgey, defiant personality.
In my childhood, I observed favoritism from a very young age. This is probably nothing unusual… in fact, I would expect it to be a common thing for families with multiple kids. In my case, my mother and grandmother always coddled my brother. After all, the Chinese phrase “Little Emperor” didn’t just come out of thin air. Their obsession with him extended into adolescence and adulthood with them cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry pretty much on demand at any and all hours of the day. When he moved to Taiwan in his 30s, my aunts continued this ridiculous babying– staying up late, waiting for him to come home so they could cook him hot meals.
Admittedly, I also benefited from this lifestyle as a kid: I never really had chores. My dad always explained that my job was to do well in school, and my family would handle all other things– cooking, cleaning, laundry, expenses, etc. But even at six years of age, I was already annoyed with the level of their involvement. I didn’t like having other people do things ALL THE DAMN TIME. If they helped me get dressed or cut up my food or did other things I was perfectly capable of doing, I would say, in a cocky, know-it-all kind of way, “I can do it myself!” By the time I was a preteen, I already felt suffocated by the Asian tiger parenting: I would say in Chinese, “Stop managing me. Leave me alone.” By the time I was 16 and definitely by the time I was 18, going away to live just could not come soon enough.
It wasn’t just the incessant coddling though. It was everything. The preachiness, the lessons, the constant comparisons to other kids and their achievements. I was fighting with my parents CONSTANTLY for years before finally fleeing the roost. Despite the security and stability they provided, I just couldn’t stand being told what to do all the damn time. Looking back, I suspect that more than anything, these tensions were cultural than generational in nature. Chinese parents, I tell you. They can be really insufferable.
I mean, all the fucking nagging from my parents PLUS my grandmother and then shitty parenting with my brother…. I probably didn’t know enough to put two and two together back then, but their parenting style towards me and my brother definitely irked the crap out of me.
My mother always thought my rage and frustration stemmed from me being jealous of the apparent favoritism of her and grandmother towards my brother but honestly, that shit only bugged me in the very beginning. Once I started feeling more independent, I didn’t want to deal with the constant coddling. And in retrospect, having a favorite child actually seems quite natural to me. As my friend M has said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” I think this is true in romantic love as well as parental love. I mean, the concept of fairness is really just bullshit anyway. And not just with parenting but with anything in life. And I’ll even go a step further in saying that trying to instill a sense of fairness only serves to misguide people later on in life. Life isn’t fair so why should we insist that it be that way? I mean, I was born in the USA. Immediately, I have a different kind of freedom and privilege than my cousins born in Taiwan, right? Is that fair? Or, say one child has abusive parents/alcoholic parents. Where’s the fairness in that? It’s just a bullshit construct, really.
I understand that parents want to be equally good to their kids. They want to give them opportunities to grow and thrive and flourish, but does that mean they have to connect and love them equally? I don’t think so, and children should develop the fortitude to deal with the reality that people will treat you differently and you will treat others differently due to whatever subtle factors/preferences..
I came across an article recently, labeling various parenting approaches: helicopter, tiger, lawn mower, free-range… Sometimes it’s an interesting academic exercise to give these things some thought. Ultimately, I always come to the same conclusion: I’m so glad I’m not a parent, bc even though I am strongly opinionated about the subject, I can see how challenging it can be. There are just so many damn moving parts. I mean, cultural influences, societal influences, peer pressure, trends and norms… Then on top of that, what is your child’s personality? gender? birth order? etc. See? Too many damn factors.
Obviously, I have a shit ton of feedback on how my parents raised my brother and me. I’ve already written about it numerous times over the years. You’d think I’d be totally talked out about it after four long decades. Yet every time the topic of my family comes up, my friends and relatives make comments like, “I just can’t believe how different you and your brother are, coming from the same parents.” It’s true: Johnny and I ARE dramatically different in many ways. For example: I move fast; he moves slow. I like to take action; he likes to think deeply and proceed cautiously. I hate anything abstract or philosophical. He can spend days debating things for the sake of mental exercise… But really what complicates things is that he’s not someone who you can immediately accuse of being off his rocker. In fact, every time I hear him speak in person, I’m always struck by his intelligence and articulation of various topics. He’s always been extremely well-read and scholarly. When he talks about teaching at the university, the passion for his work and for his students is apparent. And most things he says related to these topics makes sense, so how can you not get on board with that?
And yet, he’s also so far-fetched in other regards. It’s a bit of a conundrum, to be honest. He sounds so normal and yet, he is so freaking off the wall. Like the whole religious cult thing… he continues to be a part of that bullshit scam. I mean, any program where there’s one dominant force (aka “the master”), I am immediately distrustful and turned off… Think David Koresh or Bagwan or whatever that new LA cult was where people at the top raped young girls. Any kind of funnel/pyramid setup like that is super sketch… Yet, he’s a part of that cult where he talks trustingly about his master like the dude is infallible and omniscient. It’s super annoying. And the hypocrisy just drives me up the wall. All this bogus talk about loving one another “bc we are all human”. Meanwhile, my brother is a total disrespectful ass to my parents.
This time in Taiwan, my dad took eight of us on a private shuttle tour in northern Taiwan. My mother was supposed to go but she caught a cold and had to bail the the day before. Anyway, my brother was of course invited to join. My aunts tried to contact and coordinate with him many days in advance. No one could get a hold of him bc he doesn’t answer calls and messages. So he shows up and every time there’s a meeting time for the group, he’s the last one to show. If we met for breakfast or a group walk to the beach, he slept in instead. Also. he’s currently on some ketogenic diet or whatever: all he can eat is eggs and cheese. No carbs. I mean, WTF is wrong with you? And his whole argument is that on this diet, he has way more energy and no more lethargy. He claims that giving in to cravings and immediate pleasures is not worth the toll on his health. Wow, how disciplined of you. Um, ok. Kudos to you for demonstrating such self control. I mean, I was vegetarian for 7-8 years. If you have some reason to change your diet, fine. Go ahead. But if you now supposedly have all this energy, why are you sleeping in and not participating with the rest of the group?
And then, the weather was super shitty– pouring rain and windy. We went to a bunch of landmarks and tourist spots up in the mountains where there were a lot of steps and we had to use umbrellas to shield us from the wind and rain. While my cousin was holding his father’s hand to help him up the incline, my aunt asked my brother to do the same and help my dad. My brother’s reply? “Everyone should walk their own path.” Is that the kind of compassion the Master teaches you? You do nothing except show up for the trip and then you don’t even engage or participate. Well, fuck you. We could all do without your hypocritical proclamations. And for the record, you aren’t doing us any favors by showering us with your presence. Ugh.
At the start of this trip, I vowed to be civil to my brother. I’m sure no one is surprised that I CANNOT STAND my brother. Even though I can acknowledge his special kind of intelligence, everything about his person irks the living shit out of me– the fact that he’s so easily swayed by con men, the insistence that what he believes/claims is legit or real, the selfishness, the lack of responsiveness, punctuality, responsibility… but my family always gives me crap about not being nicer to him, not being sisterly. They have some stupid idea or wish that somehow I will be able to serve as a positive influence who will help him change his ways. I know, their wishful thinking is so damn unrealistic..
“You only have one brother,” they always say. Yeah, well I wish I had none. I know this sounds heartless and crass, but it is what it is. Let’s stop playing charades. Sure, we had some good times as kids. But pretty much from college and onward, he’s been a self-centered, unhelpful, immature shithead. It might not be kosher for parents to admit regret for having kids, but I sure as hell feel regret for myself AND my family about my brother. He’s really quite useless, and I have argued with my family for an entire lifetime about him. Seriously, it should be no fucking surprise that I am childfree precisely bc of what I have witnessed regarding my brother. So many arguments and fights with my parents.
And in true Chinese fashion, there is always someone and something to blame. Yes, my parents put a lot of pressure on him. He is the eldest son of the eldest son. That comes with a lot of baggage. My dad also worked a lot and wasn’t around much. His job was super stressful and he had anger issues that at times, he displaced onto us. My parents enabled my brother by coddling him to the point that he never needed to be responsible for anything. It’s a gigantic mess and at some point, even if we identify all the culprits, what then? I dunno really. But that is the Chinese way. And that is my family’s way. In my later adult years, I’ve tried to let it go: sourcing the blame doesn’t change the end result.
Before this trip to Taiwan, I told John that every time I see my brother, I can’t help but feel anger towards my parents for this predicament. I mean, yes, he’s a working, white-collar, 40-something professional. He’s great at teaching. But he’s still a total moron. He cannot be relied on for anything. He just lives for himself and his cult cronies. And whenever my family complains about him not getting married or not having kids, I just get so fucking irritated. Hello, open your goddamn eyes! Just bc you want a legacy doesn’t mean some woman should suffer by marrying a man-child or a child should suffer by having a lame, unreliable, irresponsible father. You know? Why are you hoping for the demise of two other people just so you can claim an heir to the family line? Whatever, I’m getting heated about all this shit all over again.
The point is, ahead of this trip, I was lamenting to John about how I still feel so much rage towards my parents about what my brother has become. And now, mom has Alzhimer’s. So what’s the point in feeling anger about this? Zippy. I dunno. I’ve said this before: I’m a flawed person. My propensity for accountability means that I blame people and things, and then I just don’t let go.
I admitted to this: I just keep punishing my parents for their parenting mistakes. And John replied, “But you’re not just punishing them: you’re punishing everyone, including yourself. And for how long?” So I vowed this trip to be civil towards my brother. Just bite my tongue and don’t start any fights. For whom? I don’t even know. Maybe just for my parents to save face. So other people don’t have to see our family drama. I dunno. As John explains, as adults we do all sorts of things we don’t want to do. You behave bc that is what your parents want– for their two kids to get along. Fine.
I don’t think anyone had any high hopes for my intent to stay calm. As you know, I’m a radical honesty kind of person. It’s not my natural way to keep quiet and to be non-confrontational, esp over things that really get under my skin. But I am also a person of control. And I am an adult in my 40s now. So I got it done. With the help of Bubbey the buffer, of course. Thankfully, my brother didn’t get into his pro-Trump MAGA bullshit that he so often posts on social media. And in the end, even if my interactions with him were forced and insincere, I suppose my family appreciated that the road trip was free of blowups. That was the best I could do… that’s right: Service withOUT a smile… VG style.
Moving forward, I don’t have any expectations for my brother. He will continue to be a brain-washed, self-absorbed person. For example, I went to see my grandmother. I fly back to Taiwan every year to see my grandparents. About two sentences in, she asks if I have seen my brother. He lives in Taipei– a few hours away by train. She hasn’t seen him in a long while. Then, my mother caught a cold and wasn’t able to go no the road trip. Did he call to see how she was doing? Nope. Didn’t care one iota that she couldn’t make the trip. She was the whole reason he was even invited!
She was also recently diagnosed with a heart problem. She was slated for a procedure at the hospital this week. It required her to stay in the hospital for two days. Where was my brother? No where. Just doing his own damn thing: no call, nothing. Meanwhile, my cousins, aunts, extended family, all went to the hospital to see her. That’s what I’m talking about.
I admit, the Chinese def go overboard with their whole Confucian concept of filial piety. It’s a term you hear a ton in Chinese families– I’ve been hearing this since I was a very young child. In essence, it translates as love/respect for your parents and elders. And in the pratical sense, it means not talking back, not raising your voice, not losing your temper, being thoughtful and considerate and in service, including bringing your dad slippers after a long day of work (my cousin used to do this for her father and my aunt advised me to do the same— I never did). I mean, Confucius is a bit cray. He takes it to an extreme where the hierarchy is also very sexist, but it’s a very very strong cultural force. It explains too why there is so much pressure in my family to have my brother marry. By not continuing the family line, this is seen as a failure on my father’s part to his own father (my grandfather), so the pressure and disappointment is definitely Level 10.
Anyway, I don’t want to drone on and on, but I do feel like expectations is the bane to all Chinese families. By many measures, I am a failure to my parents. I never became a physician despite the privilege and opportunity provided by my family. I didn’t have kids. I talk back. I cuss. I lose my temper. I raise my voice. I don’t connect with my parents that often. The irony is that John, despite being white, so much more effectively embodies this Confucian concept of filial piety– not in the outdated sexist sense but certainly in the modern sense. He keeps his cool. He is patient, caring, and kind. He does what is right– not out of obligation, but out of genuine respect and love. What can I say: I am limited and I have my weaknesses. Thankfully, Bubbey shows me the way, guiding by example and love.