AAPI Heritage Month #4

May 4, 2023

What are you eager to explore in your heritage?

There is so much I want to explore in my heritage that to answer this questions feels pretty overwhelming. Every day my response would likely be different — very different at times, depending on the day.

Today, my dad and our relationship are at the forefront of my mind. In this moment right now, I feel very vulnerable and nervous to write anything. What is entered on the internet remains there for all to observe and critique. To be beholden but not fully understood. How do we capture nuanced inherited ties? How do we convey the layered truths of direct and generational trauma? How do we illustrate what feels right in our guts?

Almost a year ago, Michael and I decided to offer to my dad to move from San Jose, California (where I grew up) to Baltimore, Maryland to live with us (and inevitably within short yet boundaried distance from us). On June 11, 2023 when I entered Baggage Claim at BWI airport, successfully having returned from California with my dad in tow, I fell weeping into Michael’s arms. I went limp and lost all sense of being. Michael carried us and our heavy luggage to our new version of home.

There are many complex ways in which my dad needs care. There are many reasons why the decision to grow into a caretaker role for him was extremely difficult for me, which I reflect on every day. This morning, I delivered my dad to his vascular surgeon so that he could receive a carotid endarterectomy. He will stay in observation at the hospital for tonight, then I bring him back to a newer version of home tomorrow.

As we awaited surgery in those hours before dawn, my dad and I sat quietly near each other. The silence only interrupted with his jokes about Catholic hospitals. His material slamming Christianity always make me chuckle out loud. I felt that he was nervous, but I did not have practice in soothing him. Rather, we don’t have practice in soothing each other, but we do know how to laugh.

When the surgical staff were about to wheel him away, a nurse cheerfully said to me, “Okay, this is the time for ‘I love you’s’ and hugs!” I lost all feeling in my legs and panicked. I panicked not because he was about to undergo intensive, detail surgery cutting into an artery in his neck. I panicked because I was being watched by several medical staff waiting for me to perform “worried daughter.”

So, with staff awaiting my fawn, I touched my dad’s shoulder very awkwardly and said, “Okie doke, love ya, dad.” To which he responded: “oh yes okay, yes, thanks see you later.” Then the calm Brown anesthesiologist man looked me serious in the eye and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of your dad.” I nodded and left.

The way my dad and I communicate with each other has baffled me for 38 years. He tells jokes and stories that typically center his intellect and wit. He is brimful of nostalgia, regularly excited to regale me with tales that took place in a time long before I was born. A time before serious responsibilities, which he looks back on fondly. Questions about me or desire to learn about my life are limited, at best. This is the way it has always been.

In the process of finding a new way to co-exist — caretaker and elder — I am seeing new, albeit thorny, pathways to my heritage. This requires work to identify the gems along the way. To be eager to receive what he is eager to pass on; the inheritance he offers me from his past.

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