Dr. Mark, MS, PhD, DMD

As you might have guessed, this post is titled after my father. There’s a pretty good reason it’s not called “Daddy” or something along those lines. See, my father has always been a very interesting figure in my life. Not quite like a father, no. More like a mentor, as a master is to an apprentice. As I’ve grown, my fondness for my dad has grown with me. Learning to appreciate what he has done, what he has taught me, and I suppose I’ve been thinking about it far more because of his age. See, he was 49 when I was born. He is 71. This isn’t going to be a sob story, but I suppose the confrontation with the limited time I have left with him has made me realize how appreciative I should be towards him. I suppose I was a lot more of a sponge than I expected myself to be.

“Look It Up”

Let’s start with something light. Smart phones are great. Wikipedia is great. I’m a curious person, and I always ask questions. I guess I was too lazy to actually want to find the answer myself, so if my dad didn’t know an answer, I’d just drop it. When my sister and I started attending university, we’d find ourselves in long car rides all the time with my dad. I would stupidly ask some question, he’d say he didn’t know, and then reply with his signature words “Look it up!” Guess what happened next? Two painful hours of the beautiful soliloquy that is my father reading a Wikipedia article from start to finish. He refused to be interrupted, mind you. This is probably one of those “parenting by osmosis” moments, where I hated how he used to do this. But now if I’m with friends and one of those unanswered questions comes up, I find myself pulling out my phone and heading straight to Wikipedia. I like to believe I’m a lot less annoying… This is just one of those little things that I saw in my dad that I started to notice in myself. One of those “Oh no. I’m becoming my dad” moments. It’s not so bad though. I’ve learned a lot from Wikipedia thanks to this.

“The Boss”

My mother would often joke that my dad is the boss, and everything he says goes. As a young child, this came off as a dictatorship. He was always nice, but I was terrified of making him angry. I did not want to disappoint him, and when I did, I tended to hide in my room. He had very high expectations, and expected everything to be done exactly as he wanted. Any tiny mistake would be pointed out, and ruthlessly corrected. On top of all this, my dad is not exactly someone you’d call warm. I started working in his office doing computer stuff since I was in middle school. The majority of my interactions with him are as his employee. I was a lazy kid, and most of what I did was very sloppy and lacked foresight. I just wanted to be done so I could go home and play video games. That type of crap would never slide past my dad. Incessant lectures about why the work I’m doing can’t fail, how it affects his business, and how I have to be painstakingly paranoid about every little step that could possibly go wrong. He was a neurotic perfectionist rolled with a little bit of a jerk. Mistakes don’t get past him. They get thrown back in your face over and over again until they are fixed. Needless to say I didn’t like it there, but it’s a family business so what was I going to do?

Looking back I now know that this is just his method of parenting. If I hadn’t spent those miserable years slaving away for him, I’d be a complete slob. I was naturally very sloppy and skimped on details, and I would have never made it through college without this boot camp. True, he tried to apply this philosophy to everyone he hires, which is why he has a bit of a problem keeping employees. But I’m not going to quit being his son.

“You Can Do Better”

My dad is the reason why I have been able to do what I have been able to do. You hear stories of tiger moms in Asian households pushing their children through extremely stressful times to make them succeed. My dad was nothing like this (Not just because my dad is the white parent). I see tiger moms as an unavoidable source of extrinsic motivation. Accomplishments are made out of fear of punishment. I think one thing that still impresses me about my father’s parenting is how he got me to push my limits. Through some magical means, he put the motivation inside of me. I wasn’t a straight A student, nor the top in my class. While my mom would sometimes yell at me for doing badly, my dad would simply shake his head and calmly explain to me how he knows I can do better, and that I should know I can do better. I’m not performing as well as I can if I only set my mind to it. And that idea pained me. In a way, I felt like I was letting my father down. But I also wanted to do better for myself, to find out what I can accomplish, not just to make him happy. This has paid dividends for me in college, never once letting me succumb to failure just because I knew no one would be there to punish me.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve always heard how great it is to start your own business. How great it is to have a medical degree (hint hint, sorry dad I’m not going to medical school). While I spent a lot of time ignoring his pressures for me to become a doctor, I think I learned what ambition meant. Right as I left for college, I thought ambition was getting that sweet job as a software engineer at Google with free meals and a beanbag chair. That was the life. I suppose my dad taught me to outgrow that. Fast forward almost four years, and I find myself turning down an opportunity for that “dream” in pursuit of a bigger picture. I would have never had my entrepreneurial ideals if it weren’t for him, and I am so glad that he took the time to drill it into me. Now I have aspirations, a yearning to fly. Of course it’ll have to pause at some point, but if I ended up a well-fed code monkey, I think I would have felt nothing but boredom. Now my mind is running around trying to figure out a gameplan for how to maneuver my career around over the next few years. It’s exciting. It’s rewarding.

“Buy It Once, Buy The Best”

Materialism is something I despised as a child. I saw it as nothing more than my sister buying a bunch of expensive clothes that looked exactly like all the other clothes. Waste, waste, waste. This mentality came from my mother. My mother was always the stingy one of the family. How ironic since my dad is Jewish. I just saw my sister’s shopping trips as a waste of money, and it irked me deep within. This all came to an abrupt stop when my dad was showing me his camera equipment. All Leica. Outrageously expensive camera bodies, with a full suitcase of lenses. See, here’s the difference that opened my eyes. I had to take some pictures for a science project I was doing in middle school, and so he jumped at the opportunity to pull out his camera equipment to take a bunch of pictures of petri dishes. I saw my dad excitedly running down to the basement to find all sorts of weird tools he had built and used when he had a freaking dark room in his studio apartment when he was younger. This entire process over all of the days of my project, he’d litter our conversations with propaganda: “Feel how this lens fits so perfectly with the body. You’d never get that with a Nikon or a Canon.” “This lens has no chromatic aberration at all. Even the expensive Zeiss lenses have a little.” Maybe it was a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand, but what I saw was his excitement. As you can imagine from a perfectionist of his caliber, his attention to detail was absurd. Every little detail that makes his camera better than another camera was pointed out. Every tiny improvement or engineering genius that he noticed was pointed out.

You know the concept of “acquired taste”? I’ve thought a lot about this. Why do I have this intrinsic desire to acquire these tastes? I see it as building a hierarchy of appreciation for every topic and subtopic that humans have built or discovered. Appreciation of knowledge and improvement. My dad actively searched for reasons to be upset with something because that meant there was room for improvement. On top of that, something that is made well will last virtually forever if properly cared after. And believe me, my dad took care of his things probably better than he’d take care of any person. After money is just money, right? Find the next upgrade that improves on that, and you sit there satisfied with what you have. Next thing you know it, you find more reasons to be upset, and you upgrade again. What has happened after this series of transactions? Your wallet is a bit thinner, but your knowledge for this now extremely esoteric specialty has grown tremendously. You now know how to truly appreciate something. It’s the difference between eating a food and thinking “Mmm, good” versus being able to pick out each and every flavor, how it contributes, how they combine. To my dad, and now to me, the latter sounds like so much more fun. Then you run into the real world problems. How do you justify spending $10,000 on camera equipment when you can easily spend a tenth of that for something that isn’t anywhere near junk? It’s simple economics. This is an anecdote that my dad would always share with me (with details removed for brevity):

Scenario A, my crazy dad spends $1,000 one time. Scenario B, his more “economical” friends spend $100. A few months later, they decide they want something better, replace their old stuff, and spend a bit more. They continue to upgrade until one day they decide they want the $1,000 golden standard as well, and they go ahead and buy it themselves. Not only have they clearly spent more, they’ve spent more time being dissatisfied.

Of course this can be taken to a dangerous extreme where you buy a bunch of outrageously expensive stuff you never care to touch after a week of toying around. That’s a quite fast trip to bankruptcy. But what I took from this is deep appreciation for build quality and attention to detail. There’s also something quite sentimental about having something serve you well for decades on end. Ever since I got into guitar, I’ve had this dream of passing on my beautifully aged, mint condition guitar to my own son. There’s no other way to get something of such quality and such meaning. It’s like passing on your legacy. And if you buy junk, your legacy will end up in the trashcan far too soon to make a nice story to tell your grandchildren. Think of the grandfather’s watch in Pulp Fiction, hah.

Alphabet Soup

This is a pretty quick one that’s been on my mind. Notice the alphabet soup coming after his name? His business card has fourteen letters, and only four of those are his actual name. He’s a bit of an overwhelming example of academic success. I guess the biggest thing that it has done for me earning him a lot of respect. When it finally sank in how accomplished of a man he is, I started to really value his words and advice more. When I was younger, he was just the guy that told me what to do. And now, he’s a man I can look up to, who wants to put in the time to guide me on a good path.

“I Love You, Dad”

Here’s the sappy conclusion. I definitely didn’t pain a very loving picture of my dad. No hugs, no girl talks, no friend talks, no man talks. Most of our conversations revolve around work or career. He could also be very distant. There would be times when he would get angry about something, and he wouldn’t speak to me for a month. He is always critical, and almost always unsatisfied. Sometimes I’d hear stories of my friends that can say anything to their parents. I’d envy them. I have a lot on my mind, and it would so cool to have a dad that wanted to listen to it. I suppose I just learned to see other advantages, like how I could learn from him and his experiences instead of just having a parental friend.

But as easy as it is equate him to a manager, he’s not exactly my manager. But I can still feel him express his love and warmth in his own strange way. I remember one day I was leaving to go back to Pittsburgh, and my dad shook my hand and said “Keep doing well.” To be honest, it was the more heart warming hand shake I’ve ever felt in my life. I can’t quite place why it was, but it was. I get subtle hints when he’s proud, happy, loving. While it would be incredibly awkward for either of us to say the words “I love you” to each other, I’ve learned to feel it, and return it. In the end, love is a verb. It doesn’t always need to be said.

Due to my father’s phenomenal job as a parent, I want to use this post to just say “Thank you for all you’ve done for me. You are the perfect parent for me.”

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