Today is Father’s Day in the US. It’s funny because I was born on August 8th, Father’s Day in Taiwan. Growing up I always knew that when it was Father’s Day, it was my birthday. When it was my birthday, it was Father’s Day. My family always prioritized men in the household. Needless to say, my birthdays always got brushed aside to celebrate Grandpa or Dad. In recent years, since my aunt, Annie, moved in with us, it’s been better. She would get a cake, ask me what flavor I like, and pre-order. She would celebrate me, when no one else did.
Fatherhood, manhood, husband, boyfriend, brother, men. It’s a strange topic. A daunting idea. Masculinity is a tricky game. At its best, it can be loving. At its worst, hurtful.
I knew my grandparents fought. I always knew. But it didn’t occur to me that it was wrong, until I was in middle school when I started to have an idea of what is right and wrong. I hated the way my grandpa treated me grandma, and the way my grandma treated my mother. It was a constant power trip. My family is complicated. My grandpa hit my grandma. My grandma is always angry. My mom bears the brunt of broken relationships. My dad cheated on my mom. My uncle cheated on his wife and held the kids hostage. The kids eventually “escaped”, “rescued” as if they starred in a movie. My other uncle hit my other aunt. My great-aunt is mentally retarded, so is my other uncle and my other aunt. They were the targets of constant bullying, from family members who were hurt by others in the household. A top-down trickling effect. A thirst for power and control run in the veins of these people.
In middle school I developed consciousness. An awareness of what is right, wrong, or gray. I started rebelling. Protesting a broken family structure, if there was any to begin with. I hated Father’s Day. Why would I celebrate individuals who hurt others. My thoughts were irrelevant, though. Whenever I asked I was berated. Whenever I talked I was shut down. I learned quickly how to be silent. This pattern still effects me. When I need to speak up I don’t.
One day, my dad came home in a bad mood. He asked me to do something, and I objected. It came out of nowhere, this fire inside of me. I said no. I began to walk past him. Then he attacked me. We fought. My dad may be short, but he was a good size with probably over a hundred fifty pounds more than my middle school body. He beat me up, all the while I struggled. That flame flickered, and never died when I was pinned down. I punched and I kicked. He punched and he kicked. I cried for help and my mom and aunt just stood there. I knew what I had to do. I needed to win this fight. We were on the ground, rolled out the door, and fought in the front yard. I couldn’t hear anything but my own heart beating. Pumping hard, pumping fast. My instincts told me not to be afraid while no one came to help. At some point I kicked him hard with my bloody feet which threw him off. Within that short amount of time, I escaped from under him. I was lightning-quick, which I inherited from dad. I started to run, and he chased. I outran him. I was proud.
I stayed out in the rice fields for a long time.
It was just a couple years before that fight at home. I was a swimmer, and I was good. I had a coach. One day, he came in a bad mood. Our training was over, but I stayed behind to play in water. He told me to do something. I said no. A slight disagreement led to an argument. He was kneeling by the pool when he grabbed my head and pushed me under water. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I struggled to come up for air but he was just too strong. There was pain all over my body. Still under water, everything was blue. And blurry. Bubbles were everywhere, created by my flailing and hopeless arms. The sun shimmered and glittered in the water. It was a nice day out. Not too hot, not too cold. The water was the perfect temperature. My lungs hurt, water was coming in.
At some point he grabbed my hair and pulled me up. “What did you say?” I coughed and gasped desperately for air. The fire in me, my determination to stand up for myself led to a seemingly stupid response: “I said no!”. I was submerged again. After four times of “punishment” and me telling him “no”, his grip loosened. I snatched my head away from him and dove under water. I reached the other side of the pool, and ran out.
My mom came to pick me up. I was crying. She asked me what’s wrong. My coach ran up to us and said “She had a rough day.” I had nothing to say. I didn’t know what to say. I cried all the way home, silently. I can’t remember what happened after that. I never told her.
I never found respect for most men I encountered in life. Very few proved to be worthy. But those who did, were saving. I met the most gentle, kind, and loving man in high school. My basketball coach. He inspired and motivated me. I loved him like a father. It was healing. But that relationship was cut short when I came out of the closet and left for the US. His religion and my determination to become who I am had to go separate ways.
So on this day, I am grateful. For that flame that flickers and never goes out. For Father’s Day, which reminds me of my own birthday. My birthday: a celebration for life, strength, and tenacity. Today I think about those who are making it, and those who are not. People who are good, and people who harm. I wanted to write this because I want to forgive and move on, particularly on this Father’s Day.