This was me in second grade bragging about losing my tooth:
“Look Mrs. P, my tooth fell out yesterday!”
“Oh wow, did you get money from the tooth fairy?”
“You know, the tooth fairy? You put your teeth under your pillow and you get money.”
“Oh yeah…I knew that!”
I had no idea what or who the tooth fairy was, but I was good at pretending to know things early on during my childhood. To fit in and to not stand out as one of the few Chinese kids in town, there were many moments where I pretended to know about Canadian culture, where in fact I didn’t.
Immigrating to a small Alberta town at a young age, I sort of hated being Chinese and I certainly wished my parents understood Canadian culture better.
I wanted to be the kid that knew the words to all the Christmas carols, and all the words to the NKOTB songs. I wanted a normal Christmastree like I saw on TV, not some giant plant with red pockets as ornaments.
I just wanted to be a white kid living with a white family.
There were times where I didn’t want anything to do with my Chinese culture, and I wanted my family to adopt to this Canadian culture as quickly as possible.
It’s funny how perceptions change.
Looking back at it now, I feel the complete opposite. As I mentioned before how incredible it was for my immigrant parents to give me the ultimate Canadian birthday party, now I am proud of my culture, and I am proud to be the Hong Kong family that moved to rural Alberta.
So as we just finished celebrating the Lunar New Year, I started thinking:
How much of my Chinese Culture will I imprint on my daughter?
Should I enroll her in Chinese school? Make her watch Chinese cartoons? Only speak to her in Cantonese? I’m really not sure.
On one hand I do not want to impose and overwhelm her with the culture. I don’t want to cause her to feel singled out or embarrassed by it. I mean she’ll face enough embarrassment with me as dad as it is.
On the other hand I don’t want her to miss out on what makes having dual-cultures so great.
Take for example: Food
I love the fact that part of my upbringing exposed me to both Chinese and Western foods.
I once proudly said to my wife, “Man I love the fact that I’m Chinese. Can you imagine not eating Hong Kong Style cafe food?”
(When you know someone for close to 20 years, you’ll talk about anything, including Chinese food . ?)
For the uninitiated, HK Cafe food is basically North American diner food with a Chinese twist.
The lemon tea, and milk teas are as staple as an espresso in any Italian cafe, or a coffee is most North American coffeehouse.
It goes beyond food too as both my wife and I speak Cantonese fairly fluently. It’s our helpful tool to use when we’re travelling abroad, or secretly commenting on other people, or negotiating a big purchase.That’s right, whenever you see an English speaking couple quietly speaking another language, they’re either talking crap about you, or trying to plot something sinister.
End of Digression
Our heritage and culture is very much of our daily lives.But what if I don’t teach her well enough? It’s like the movie Multiplicity each copy just gets worse. (Yes that was a 90s movie reference starring Michael Keaton) My knowledge of Chinese culture is basically a crappier copy of my parents.Will she embrace this condensed and dumbed down version of Chinese culture?
My parents exclusively spoke to my brother and I in Cantonese, and that’s one thing I disliked when I was younger but now appreciate so much.Sure, it didn’t exactly help me with learning English early on (Shoutout to ESL), but now that I am older, I’ve managed to learn the English language pretty well (Lingo dead? Lingo is dead).Prior to having her, when my wife and I had those pre-parenting negotiations, I agreed to be the parent that solely speaks Chinese to her. This was based on a study that said that in order for a child to pick up on the second language, one parent must exclusively speakto them in that language so that they see it as a necessary means to communicate.So far that hasn’t really come to plan. Instead, I throw around the occasional Cantonese phrase, along with some Chinglish.
This kid is going to grow up confused. Instead of best of both worlds, she’s going to benefit from the mediocrity of both.
I guess the point to all of this is, I need to do better for her. She may not use the language when she grows up, but in the event that it ever gives her some sort of advantage it’ll be worth it.I have to make the effort to try as a parent. Right?
Going back to losing my tooth as a child: I may not have received money under my pillow the first night. But interestingly enough, after telling my mom about the whole tooth fairy thing, I mysteriously received 25 cents under my pillow the next morning.
And I didn’t even put my tooth under my pillow!!
The Chinese family that I hated so much to be a part of, was actually pretty willing to adapt to and embrace Canadian culture. I just didn’t know it or understand it at the time. I mean, my parents did had to at the time: assimilate to a brand new foreign culture, get a job, learn a new language, and raise two boys. Maybe figuring out these weird Western nuances weren’t on the top of their list of to-dos. Perhaps I should have given my parents a lot more credit; because of them I ended up getting the best of both worlds.
Or maybe, this was their plan all along and they Jedi Mind-tricked me like crazy. They somehow knew that 25 years later their youngest son will have a realization that they did a pretty awesome job of exposing him to both cultures.
Now that I’ve thought that out loud, I’m just going to shut up and teach my daughter everything that I know about our Chinese culture – especially when it’s so much easier to do so now.
It’s not like back then when my folks needed to import Chinese laser disc movies from Hong Kong; or drive out three hours to Edmonton to buy asian animal crackers.
Now it’s as easy as turning on YouTube and choosing a catalogue of uploaded Chinese cartoons; or driving ten minutes to Walmart to pick up the same asian snacks my parents painfully went through to get for us back then.
I really don’t have any excuses not to teach her – I need to do it for her, and more importantly, I need to do it for my parents.
That’s me when I was seven years old, enjoying a fantastic birthday party with a bunch of my grade 2 friends. On the surface, it may not seem like a big deal. But thinking about it more recently, it actually means a whole lot being one of the few Asian families in my community.
Notice that I said Asian and I wasn’t specific to Chinese, well when you are in such a predominantly Caucasian community, you are simply lumped together. This is not a shot of the people in the town, but rather there just weren’t too many Chinese (let alone Asian) families in the town of less than 10,000. So a little bit of ignorance is understandable.
In fact, I was mistaken for an Aboriginal kid on numerous occasions. So really no harm, no foul.
Knowing this, I now sense that my parents probably went through even greater obstacles as new immigrants, in learning about a completely new culture. Because of that, the fact that they were able to put together this birthday party with pizza, video games, balloons, and loot bags was truly amazing.
They had the “just make it work mentality” and this is something I, now as a parent, must figure for my daughter.
I can only image the amount of stress they must have went through to plan and execute uprooting our family from Hong Kong to Hinton, Alberta.
And for that I am grateful.
It’s hard enough for my wife and I to plan out a day at a zoo, let alone flying across the world to start a new life. Apparently they shipped a large container of furniture by sea to Edmonton, and drove a freight into the small town.
What’s even a crazier is the fact that they did hardly knowing any English.
Perhaps I should’ve realized this sooner – I mean should it really take becoming a father for me to really clue in on how tough it must have been for my folks?
But I suppose that’s one of the magical features that come with having your own kid:
When you have a kid, you not only learn how to be a parent, but you learn how your parents were as parents.
More likely than not, you learn that your folks are kind of amazing.
Regardless of timing, I just feel that I needed to share this and advertise that my parents were pretty awesome.
I hope that one day I will be able to do at least half of what they’ve done for me and my brother, for my daughter. If I can do that, she’ll be a pretty lucky girl.
If you are reading this your life will change in a week. I know by now both you and your wife have been trying to conceive without success. I want to tell you both to not lose hope. By now both of you have learned that getting knocked up is not as easy as it seems like on TV and in movies, and both of you probably feel pretty down on yourselves.
In one week when your wife goes to the doctor to check up on pelvic pain, you’ll both realize that she did not pull or strain anything, and that it’s really her lady parts doing some Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for a new inhabitant.
Sorry to spoil the surprise a little but hear me out: Your life is about to change as things will never be the same, but the funny thing is, things will also feel so right.
Let me get some things out of the way. Your hometown Raptors will get swept in the playoffs, so don’t waste time there. I mean still cheer, but just know that it’s not the end of the world when the Wizards dismantle your team. The only significant thing about the playoffs is that you’ll find out she’s pregnant in at the doctor’s office while you stream the game with headphones on. The wife will come out, and give you a look that you’ll never forget.
Remember and savour that moment as I still do.
From the moment you find out, you’ll go through a lot of changes. Not nearly the same as your wife, but enough for you to realize that pregnancy is truly a shared experience.
For starters you will become the food police. Seriously, everything your wife puts in her mouth you’ll do a quick google search to see if it’s poisonous for her and the baby. My advice is to be reasonable but firm.
You’ll also learn that your wife will have crazy food swings, and get this: she’ll hate eating chicken. WTF right? How can she hatechicken? That’s your favourite animal!!! It’s just the hormones man. So stop reading and get an order of Popeyes in your system while you still can, cause the next nine months you can put a hold on eating poultry.
You’ll also buy a lot of crap. I mean a lot. Some stuff you didn’t even know existed. But don’t fret, most of the junk you buy is actually useful, so just smile and nod when she asks you if it’s okay to buy whatever. When you are shopping just don’t forget to have fun along the way. I know you will…I mean check this out:
Yep, you’ll still pull crap like this…And even though I’m warning you not to be an idiot, I know you’ll make it a goal to definitely do it.
Oh one final thing about buying stuff: your baby will be a little bit bigger, so just ease off on the newborn stuff.
So far, things sound okay, right? Well, here’s where you need to pay a little closer attention as I’m warning you now, not everything is as light-hearted and peachy.
You yourself will grow up more. I know you may think that you already know everything there is to know and that you are already mature. But something inside you will change, and you will somehow become more appreciative of life. You will appreciate your wife more, and definitely appreciate mom and dad more than ever. This is because you will begin to think like a parent and understand what they went through.
What does “thinking like a parent” mean? Basically you’ll begin to worry about things. A lot of things. You’ll have some insecurities about your role as a husband and father. You’ll have many nights of waking up and googling answers. You will dig though forums and message boards to see whether what your wife is experience is common. Let me tell you this, the more you read into it, the worse it becomes. But you have a big role in all of this. The thing is you need to keep your wife sane and calm during those moments, so be the strong, calm, optimistic husband that you are.
Weeks 6, 8, 20, and 25 will be scary and both you and your wife will go through some heavy stuff. But just know that after each of these episodes, your bond with your wife will become even stronger, and both of you will be able to talk and laugh about these moments eventually. I’ll spare you the details, but you’ll quickly learn that pregnancy is f*cking scary.
You’ll also figure out that most people who share great news about pregnancy on social media are not trying to brag about their happiness, but rather they are simply celebrating all of the little triumphs after facing the scary moments.
Your perspective will change and you’ll never fear and doubt so much in your life, but that’s just the process of it all. Just protect your wife and yourself, and the rest will take care of itself.
You know how you think you’re so cool in taking street photos? Well that part of your life will draw to an end. Bummer right? Well not quite, you’ll quickly find a new photography outlet, and trust me: it’s wonderful. And if you’re not convinced, let me tell you this: you’ll have a last hurrah so to speak with taking pictures. In fact, you’ll ditch your pregnant wife to go to New York for something photography related, and it will be one of your best moments but also one of your tougher moments. You know what I said about appreciating your wife? You will reallyappreciate her after this, so never forget it even if she eventually does.
One thing I want to warn you about is to go to the movies while you still can. I can tell you that the last movie you’ll watch before becoming a dad will totally be worth it, and your wife will make it through the entire movie. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Han Solo. (Oops spoiler). Just relax and try to watch the movie without worrying that her water will break. It’ll still be a few days until it really happens.
Here’s a warning though, it might be a good idea to stock up on spicy Korean noodles around the time she’s due. Just saying.
At this point you are probably wondering about the finish line. Well, let me just tell you that your wife will have a smooth labour and delivery. However, both of you will be faced with some complications after the delivery. It’ll be scary, and both of you will be tested. Just know that you’ll both tough it through. Simply trust in your love for your wife, and trust in your strength as a husband. I know you hate asking for help, but you will need to swallow your pride and ask for help. So just face it now: your family and friends will pull through, huge.
I know what I told you sounds frightening, but I am not trying to scare you or warn you to change course.
As a matter of fact the journey you are about to embark on is totally worth it. As I type this now both your wife and baby are sound asleep and everything just feels right. There’s no better feeling than what I am feeling right now, and I’m damn excited for what you are about to face in the coming year.
Enjoy every moment you are about to experience, because in one year’s time you would want to remind yourself all the awesome you just went through.
You From One Year Later Today
P.S. For whatever reason you’ll deciding that “growing” a “beard” is a great idea. Well this photo might convince you otherwise: