The quiet, stubborn, and yet fair father figure in my life. I am writing this letter because it’s hard to have a conversation with you since you are a Hmong man and I am your Hmong daughter. These patriarchal Hmong rules have put boundaries between us, but it hasn’t kept me from noticing your distinct ways of loving us daughters.
Growing up as a Hmong daughter I resented how I had to clean up after you. Even Pog [Grandma] would yell at me, “Koj yog ib tug ntxhais, koj yuav tsum tu tom qab lawv.” [You are a daughter, you have to clean up after them.]
However, no matter how much resentment I had, I never second-guessed if you love me or not. You always had your own way of showing your love. Your care and sentiments, although sometimes unpredictable, have spoken ten times louder than the way Mom conveys her love: through materialistic things and (gendered) expectations. Your love has shown your attention to detail over time, while Mom’s love is conditional.
I remember a few years ago after dinner, I was waiting to wash dishes and had a small altercation with Little Brother.
Can you please get off your phone and clean the table so I can wash the dishes?
Shut up! I’m going to do it. Why are you always so mad with everyone?!
I’m not even mad, I just want to get dinner over with!
Mom backed up Little Brother by belittling me for “always looking so mad” and never doing and being enough for the family. I held back tears while washing the dishes, not wanting Mom to know her words had affected me. Unexpectedly, you stood up for me.
What more do you want from her? She cooks and cleans everyday for us while we’re at work, and even when she comes home from school. You barely have to cook anymore.
I was completely stunned, surprised, but also grateful. The tears that were pushing its way out, retracted. Dad, you don’t know how much that meant to me. I’m even crying right now just writing about it because it brings back so many intertwined emotions: jealousy and hate towards Mom and Little Brother for ganging up on me, and yet love and a sense of justice from your acknowledgment.
I also remember when Big Sister was getting married and you said something that struck me with awe:
I want to give her away for free because she is my daughter and I love her.
You and Mom argued, though, because Mom wanted to charge a ridiculous amount since Big Sister was a doctor. Although in the end there was a compromise and a bride price was set on Big Sister, I have never forgotten the words you’ve spoken. To me, it illustrates that your love can be unconditional and honest.
Lastly, Dad, just the way you interact with Little Sister brings some positivity into my life. You let her bug you with her time, never getting angry for her being in your face. You let her put her crowns on your head and her baby toys in your lap, never tossing it aside. Albeit, you don’t react much, but Little Sister still enjoys your company. You cook for her when she’s hungry and pick her up everyday after school. When you can’t, you’d call me to pick her up in your place. And although you never acted that way with Big Sister and me, being able to see your growth and sense of love is enough.
Dad, you may not know it, but I am like you in a lot of ways: reserved, attentive, and highly sensitive. People always say how much I physically look like Mom, but I’m glad to have some of your personality. I know I’ve made some irresponsible decisions in my life, but unlike Mom, you don’t constantly make me feel guilty for things I’ve done in my past.
Thank you. And, as awkward as it may sound, I love you.
Your Middle Daughter