One should not forget one’s roots.
My father, Bàba 爸爸, is an electrical engineer by training, a precise man who wore neatly pressed suits and silk ties to work for thirty years at a phone company. He taught me, an only child, to be careful and methodical. Read manuals first and always, always follow rules. An immigrant who came to America from Taiwan in 1956, he took classes to reduce his accent. Like clockwork every few weeks, he tightened my glasses with a tiny screwdriver and polished my white Capezio shoes, a pungent scent, like gasoline tinged with chewing gum, filling our kitchen.
My memory flickers between two stations. There’s the father I want to remember. My dad taught me to ride a pink Strawberry Shortcake bike. On weekends, we would bike together through the neighborhood. To get up steep hills, he used to tow me with a rope tied between our bikes. He liked to take me to fly kites at the park and every Friday we would slurp down milkshakes after gymnastics. He heated up TV dinners and we ate off tray tables watching Jeopardy! while my mother worked late hours as a computer programmer. Even though he didn’t say “I love you” often, I knew it through his actions.
And then there’s the father I don’t want to remember. He rebuked waitstaff for not cooking his steak to the right temperature. He displayed my broken Strawberry Shortcake clock on the mantel for years to teach me a lesson about not taking care of my things. He spanked my younger cousin, who was maybe two at the time, for rudeness. He yelled constantly at my mother for not listening, for moving his belongings, for not closing cabinet doors, for gossiping on the phone. Fā pí qì 发脾气, my mother would whisper to me by way of explanation. To lose one’s temper. It was more like a volcanic eruption; in my twin bed, headboard dotted with glow-in-the-dark stars, I folded my pillow around my ears and squeezed my eyes shut.
How do I reconcile the memories of this volatile man with the father who loved me so tenderly? All of my life I’ve been terrified of losing my dad. During my stormy clashes with a controlling, manipulative mother, he was a beacon of unconditional love. So how do I write about our relationship when…