Every year, a typed sheet of paper will arrive in a tri-colored air mail envelope, my address inscribed with my father’s well-handled Mont Blanc pen. A jumble of Japanese mixed in with the occasional English word, he’ll even sometimes provide the odd phonetic pronunciation of a simple Japanese character while somehow leaving the harder ones for me to stare at.
I always seem to allot half an hour to reading those usually one-page letters.
They’re simple, for the most part. Kind of a Dad-created beginning-of-the-school-year ritual where easily comprehensible words disprove my theory that my father is a voluntary space cadet and blissfully oblivious to my largely self-centered confusion at what in the world I’m doing in life, much less law school. They’re written with the kind of honesty that would end up sounding slightly awkward and embarrassing when said in person, and more comfortable with stoic, unemotional reactions from both my parents, the kind of honesty I wouldn’t know what to do with.
After all, having Asian parents meant that affection came in the form of demanding better results. It’s not that they were constantly disappointed with me (well, maybe they were, but I did okay for a kid with epilepsy), they merely believed that my sister and I could do better. Making our parents happy quickly translated into getting excellent grades. When the pressure increased, my sister retaliated by sneaking off school grounds to smoke; I responded by hitting the books. When my SAT score came back with a 99 percentile verbal score, my father gave me his first unqualified “I’m proud of you.” I was too shocked to cry.
He said it again to me when I graduated college. He’ll probably say the same after I throw my cap along with the rest of my law school class in May 2010.
All I have to show for it, though, are two single-speed bicycles, a blog, and the ability to fix a flat and tension a chain.
The embarrassment and shame at being the indecisive, less talented daughter is all mine, and a familiar one. Guilt at being unable to fulfill an unspoken, assumed promise is a newer one, and one that I personally abhor. So when I told my father several months ago in halting Japanese that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer, I braced myself for the fall out. Merely thinking about it would paralyze my tongue as empty panic dropped heavily on my shoulders, resulting in the inability to even tell my closest friends about what was really going on. Instead, I lost sleep and rode my bike a lot.
My father responded via a letter – two pages this time – and didn’t disinherit me as I had feared. The economy sucks, but just keep looking, the letter said, a legal education doesn’t mean you have to practice law. In the meantime, don’t forget that friends are your life treasures, and it’s better to be happy, than to be right.
And finally, “apologies for causing you worry; I’m not that sick, I’m getting better.”
That letter still makes me cry. It uncovers all the feelings of the guilt of trudging through classes, taking too much time to contemplate the jump away from a legal career, mixed with the futile desire to be smarter and better at everything I do. And in its stead, I’m choosing to bike indoors and out, not quite sure if I’m pedaling in place or gaining ground or just plain staying with the pack.
I feel like I should be leading the breakaway, or at least staying with it, but the uncertainty of whether my legs are up for it is stretching the hesitation. It doesn’t help that my vision is blurred by the shameful tears that it would take an ailing father’s letter [but one that, even verging on 70, can still outrun me] to make me realize the intensity of parental love.
I’m not sure I’ll be much of a lawyer. I’m not sure I’ll ever be much of a cyclist, really. But Dad, I can’t wait to show you what I can do on a bike.
[I even managed a Rapha Scarf Friday this week. Now wish me luck on the MPRE. Because I'm going to need it.]