A letter to my father

Because I am your daughter and I am not giving up on you

Hi dad,

Before we parted at grandpa’s funeral a few months ago, you had left me with a question — ‘What have you done for me?’.

It was a heavy question to ponder upon. After all, we have not spoken for the last three years. You stopped replying to my messages and I found more comfort in my work than in pursuing our relationship. We have grown apart and I fear that whatever I say would only disappoint you.

But fear, you had taught me on countless occasions, is not the way forward. So here it is, my answer.

I have not done anything for you, dad. Not in the way that you would expect me to, at least.

There are many ways I could express my gratitude towards you. ‘Money would be one,’ I could hear you say. But that is not how I will show my love even if that is how you like it best. I’m just not ‘Asian’ that way.

You are probably thinking — How, if at all, would I like to rekindle our complicated relationship? Actually, if we can begin with an open conversation about our lives once or twice a year, that would be a great start! For me, it’s as simple as that. But I am not sure if that would be enough for you.

I guess this is why I am putting this down in a letter, in hope that you would hear me out completely, without shutting me down like every time we met in person.

You see, I always imagine it like this. We are in your car, you are driving and I’m navigating. We are a team, just like when I was little. We talk about all kinds of stuff, laughing, debating, being emotional about it, being in our element, together. The only difference is, dad, in my imagination, you don’t judge me. You don’t raise your voice, you don’t call my choices a mistake and you don’t tell me that I have disappointed you. In my imagination, you accept me for who I am with all the choices I have made.

But this is not how we’ve been together over the last decade. The last decade did not bring us any closer to the kind of relationship I wish I had with you.

Of course, I am very much to blame for it. I closed myself to you long time before you closed yourself to me.

I never told you about the boys that I liked, in fear of being beaten up by you for spending my time other than studying. But I wish I could, you probably would have prevented me getting hurt by some of them.

I stopped telling you about my achievements because bringing home honours, trophies and A*s never earned me your attention. But I wish I could see a smile on your face that hinted how very proud you were of me.

I stopped telling you about my failures because you have punished me so harshly for making mistakes, even for the ones that, inevitably, I must make in order to grow up. But I wish I could be vulnerable with you and then hear those words, again and again — ‘You are my daughter and my daughter does not quit!’ — you used to say those to challenge me but instead they encouraged me.

I stopped sharing my business ideas with you because last time I tried, you dismissed me with one of those unreasonable and out-dated ideas of yours — ‘You’re a woman. Running a business is not your responsibility!’ I’m always surprised when you speak such nonsense because we both know that you did not raise me to be such a woman in the first place. Being my father, you know better than anyone else, that I’m completely immune to this narrow definition of a woman’s role.

Ironically, that reminds me of the offer you made me when I turned 18. You would have invested in any venture that I wanted to start. ‘It could be anything!’ you said. You just wanted me to try. I was too young back then to appreciate both your generosity and your faith in me. But now I am old enough to want to reconnect with the man who made that offer to me… I just didn’t recognise him anymore when I saw you at grandpa’s funeral.

The moment I learnt that mum could not have another child, I felt so responsible for satisfying the need of both of you. You wanted a son and mum wanted a daughter. I took up the challenge to be both your son and mum’s daughter. But trust me, I enjoyed being your son so much more!

It was a lot more fun playing video games with you than cooking with mum. Climbing fruit trees with you in the summer was a lot more fun than playing with dolls all by myself. Building IKEA furniture was definitely a lot more fun than choosing pretty dresses. It also came very handy as a skill once I’ve moved out of home.

Dad, you were the one that taught me all the cool stuff! Thanks to you I grew up believing that the world is my playground and I should get out there for more cool stuff.

But in the last ten years you did not want me to do the cool stuff anymore. You wanted me to follow dogmatic social norms that you had personally taught me to rebel against. Do you think I distanced myself from you because you and mum divorced? I did it because your teaching became confusing, even contradicting to what you used to preach.

Around this time 23 years ago, you and I landed to the Czech Republic, a country we didn’t know anything about and whose language we didn’t speak. Do you remember what you told me when we just moved here? I was just six but I can recall it like it was yesterday — ‘I want to have the confidence that if I pick a place on Earth, and just drop you there, you’ll make it. Do you think you can do that?’ This desire of yours has defined so much of who I have become today.

Dad, you asked me a question for which you already knew the answer. You were not looking for an answer, you were looking for a way to reconnect with me. You would never openly admit this but I know that behind the man who asked that question is my father who is just giving me another challenge — to find a way back to him. I know this because he made you read this letter till the end.

I really miss him and I am up for that car ride whenever he is ready.

Yours always,

Con gái của Bố