by Joy W.
The river below is clear and deep, but I fearlessly squat right at the water’s edge. I know that my dad will keep me safe. He smiles at my bravery, ruffles my hair, and hands me my Barbie fishing pole. For the next few hours, time stops a little. Even though we never catch much on these trips, it doesn’t matter. We are happy just being together.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but as I grew up, my dad and I stopped having fun. He threw himself into his work and came home too tired to play. After a while, I stopped asking. Once I became a teenager, it seemed like all he wanted to do was complain. Everything was a problem, from the cost of car insurance to what I wore (“Joy, shorts are for boys. You are a girl.”) I couldn’t even socialize without a lecture about how “your generation is lazy and unable to work hard.” I decided that it was better just to avoid him, which was easy enough with all of his overtime.
For most of high school, I didn’t think about my dad’s side. It was only when I got a job to help pay for my music lessons and started to understand the concept of money that I began to appreciate his sacrifices. My dad moved here to get his Ph.D. after almost 30 years of living in China. He says it’s not a big deal, but I think it is inspiring that he crossed the Pacific Ocean and learned how to live in a foreign culture, all for a better education. Even now, I know that he still feels out of place in America. His parents haven’t visited him. We’re his only family, yet we don’t really talk with him about deep topics. Maybe with three daughters, he just doesn’t know what to talk to us about. Recently, he has been trying to understand football in order to have something to talk about with other men his age, but all of his attempts to fit in seem painfully awkward. It makes me sad that he believes this is the only way that he can connect with people.
The realization that my dad is lonely made me grow up. My dad’s loneliness must add to his stress and spur a lot of his worries, but deep down, I know that he cares about me. When I was little, I remember lying alone in my bed after reading a scary book, anxiously staring at the crack of light beneath my door. Unable to sleep, I would set up camp outside my parents’ room with all my pillows and blankets. If I close my eyes, I can still feel my dad lifting me into his arms and tucking me in between them in their small bed. Despite our differences today, my dad loves me just as much now as he did when I was little, if not more, and only wants the best for me. As I’ve gotten older, his priority has been to instill in me the knowledge that hard work is the key to success. I am truly grateful for that, but at the same time, I have realized that hard work is not enough. Whether I am working in the lab, swapping tips with the other violists in orchestra, or spending time with friends, it is my personal connections that have enriched my life.
To succeed in this world, we need each other. Of all the lessons that I am carrying into adulthood, this is the one that means the most to me. No matter how busy my life gets, I will always make time to go fishing with my dad.