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My dad came home early this year, and stayed. In January, he stopped sending money from Hong Kong. My mother quickly realized that what little savings she had in the bank wouldn’t last more than a few months. There was a sinking sense of familiarity not felt since the last time my father filed for bankruptcy more than a decade ago. A few weeks later, my father called to say he was coming home immediately. He left behind his apartment and the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of credit card loans, and came home.

My mother was hopeful at first. She thought they will come up with a plan together, work hard, and get back on their feet. But it soon became clear that he had other intentions. Or rather, he had no intentions at all. He had spent the past few years hiding the deterioration of his business and abysmal management of money. There was a point, long passed, when he should’ve given up. But dogged by delusions of grandeur, he took out loan after loan to finance his flailing company and his own income. Until his debt bloomed into a colossal mess that he could no longer evade.

He came home, he declared, because of a “temporary setback.” You’re all looking down at me, he accused, but just watch, I’m going to build my own company again someday. He then proceeded to station himself in front of the computer for the next few months, aimlessly searching the internet and pretending to busy himself whenever my mother came around to suggest more realistic and practical solutions.

He spoke to me once about his plan, which involved writing a business proposal he planned to cold-pitch to VCs. The idea was a disjointed, baffling mess about theoretical computer science that neither me nor my boyfriend (who has a masters in computer engineering) can make sense of. It sounded as if he had took an idea from a dubious, pop-science website and believed it was real.

I might have been more forgiving if he had shown any hints of remorse. Apologized for the hell that he put my mother through, acknowledged his mistakes, shown some sign of humility. I would have saved the last shred of respect I still held for him. But I was floored to hear him claim moral high ground. Over the phone, I listened to him justify his actions, dismiss the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Debt, that he never had intended to pay. And who are you–he sneered–to judge, who are you to act so righteous? I screamed, what about your wife and family? Don’t you care about us? I just want you to say you’re SORRY.

I’m like Steve Jobs, he said, I’m going to make a come back. I wept.

In February, my mother asked me to accompany her to the jeweler, so that she can sell her wedding jewelry. There wasn’t much, but she tenderly touched each piece before they were weighed and appraised. Nostalgia written all over her face. When we left, she turned to me and said, “Now I don’t have anything to give you for your wedding day.”

“Don’t worry mom, gold never looked good on me anyways.”

My father never bothered to save for retirement. He never had a plan for himself or my mother. She has no college degree, no work experience and limited English proficiency. But in the past half year, she managed to make some modest money by chauffeuring students to after-school programs. She transformed her living room into a studio and began to teach Tai Chi, Chinese Yoga, and knitting. She rented out our childhood rooms. It’s not quite enough, but she’s hopeful. And hope has changed her. She holds herself differently and dreams of a brighter future.

But sometimes, she’ll ask me if she’s a failure for marrying my father. And I’ll meet that question with a barrage of no’s and how-could-you-think-that before reciting a laundry list of things she’s achieved and should be proud of. Other times, she’ll embark on a tired and familiar diatribe against my father, recounting every wrong he has inflicted on her and reliving years worth of anger and resentment. It makes me sick. Because every word only reminds me how much she is still shackled and bound by his selfishness. And that is not fair, it isn’t fair at all.

After weeks of badgering, my mother finally convinced him to take up driving for Uber using her car. But her hopefulness was short-lived when she discovered that he had secretly withdrawn the money he thinks he’s entitled to from her bank account, insisting that he needs to control his own money. Never did he offer to pay for groceries or household necessities. Nor did he feel obliged to help with the credit card debt my mother had racked up since he returned; debt that he had a hand in making and that she’s struggling to pay. Only when my mother brought it up at Thanksgiving dinner did he agree to help pay for the debt.

A few months ago, I sat down at the county clerk’s booth and handed the clerk a packet of papers from the blue folder that I had brought with me. I am helping my mother file for divorce, I said. The words sounded strange.

We don’t hire a lawyer, because we can’t afford it. But there aren’t really any assets or property to divide, anyways. So the happy job of filling out the paperwork lands on me. And it’s not too complicated, or it shouldn’t be so complicated is what I tell myself. But I am surprised how difficult it has been to motivate myself even to read through the forms. Not because I can’t understand the wording or because the process is too obscure. But I suspect that at some level, the dissolution of my parents’ marriage (as much as I agree with it) weighs heavier on me than I realized.

My mother is buoyant. Maybe I’ll find new love at the tender age of 58, she teases, someone who would take care of me. Good luck with that, I retort before reminding her that she doesn’t need a man to take care of her; she can take care of herself.

I couldn’t write this post for the longest time without getting lost in cold fury. The anger has lessened, even though there are still days when I feel palpable hatred toward this stranger who is my father. Yet I caught myself the other day, riding quietly in his car and hoping to glimpse some redeeming quality I had overlooked. Some hint of the father I remember who brought plates of peeled fruit to my desk while I was doing my high school homework. The father who gushed over pictures of me on his computer–the ones from our family trip to Thailand many years ago. The father who felt genuine remorse when he missed parent-teacher night, and promised he wouldn’t disappoint me again. Maybe, I still want to believe he’s there.

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My dad and I, we have never been close. We moved to California when I was four, but he chose to stay in Hong Kong for work. I say “chose,” because despite what he may say about the lack of job opportunities here, he made a choice to live away from us so that he could pursue a career that never went anywhere. I never knew if he intended for this arrangement to be permanent. But for as long as I can remember, we have always been a family of four minus one.

I used to picture my dad, selflessly driven to support his family financially while sacrificing the comforts of home. But I’ve seen the look of relief on his face as he leaves for Hong Kong after each short visit. I’ve seen it enough times to know that, maybe, he actually prefers living without us.

I remember the few weeks that my dad had spent here once. It was possibly his longest stay yet, I don’t know. I was in middle school. He had just lost his business. With creditors breathing down his neck in Hong Kong, he had flown here to ride out his bankruptcy woes. My mom didn’t take it very well, of course. And between the fights and screaming matches, I’d sit with him at the table offering my quiet comfort. I helped him scour the newspaper for jobs, secretly glad that his unemployment meant the possibility of him finding work here permanently. During a particular somber moment, he turned to me and asked, in a way that I knew he really needed to hear what I’d say, “Am I good father?”

I looked him right in the eyes, and I said yes. Because who’s going to kick a man when he’s down? But even as I assured him, I knew that I would look back years later and wish I could have said something different.

A few weeks later, he left for his new job in Hong Kong.

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I remember the day when I found my mom in bed, crying. I climbed into the covers with her, and listened to her cry. For the years lost. For the years spent alone. For the trust that my father had broken. And in that moment, I had no more excuses I could make for him, no more words I could use to defend him. That was the day I lost my faith in my dad.

I write this post not because I want sympathy. This isn’t intended to be some self-pitying sob story of my “daddy issues.” But I share this because I believe that, at some level, my relationship with my dad affects how I relate to God. I used to think that sounds like bullshit. I’d tell myself that it may be true for some people, but it certainly wasn’t true for me. Because I turned out just fine without him. Because I don’t need a relationship with my dad to be who I am. Because his absence doesn’t matter anymore and hasn’t mattered for a long time.

But when you walk with God, He reveals all the things in your heart. Even the ones that you thought you had laid to rest.

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Recently, I shared a phone conversation with my dad. One of the few ones that we make when we remember to call each other. I asked him, after all these years, if he still thinks he could achieve his dream of being CEO of his own company. After the countless attempts and failures, if he had learned anything about his purpose in life.

He told me that there was no doubt in his mind that he can and will be CEO. That despite everything, he still firmly believes that he is meant to to be rich and successful. But I know, even though he wouldn’t say so himself, that he’s not pursuing fame and fortune for his family. It was never about making the money to take care of us. But it was all about making something of himself to prove to the world that he can.

I hung up because I didn’t want him to hear me cry. Because, despite how much I say that it doesn’t matter, I still wanted to hear him say he’s sorry. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and scream, Don’t you feel regret? Don’t you feel bad? Look at what you’ve done. Look at where it’s got you. Say you’re sorry. Say you want to make amends. Say that our relationships matter more than your dead-end career. Say you wish you had the courage to share the daily struggles of being part of a family instead of cowering behind the 6,910 miles between here and Hong Kong. Say anything but this load of crap.

And even though I sat there, intensely hoping that he would never fulfill his stupid dream, a tiny part of me still cares that he would lose himself if he didn’t. And that tiny part of me sincerely hopes that when he loses himself, he would find his way again with God.

I will not deny that loving and forgiving my father is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and is still trying to do. There are times that I don’t think I can, nor want to, embrace the person who fell so disappointingly short of my hopes. But the only way that I have found to do so is through my faith.

God is not a distant father. He will never be so blinded by his own pride that he cannot see me. He will never be so deafened by his own voice that he cannot hear me. He does not fall short. He does not break promises.
And he will not leave me.

We have received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘”Abba, Father.”

Red Wine Chocolate Cake from Smitten Kitchen

Holidays are a scary time.  I wish I could say that I enjoy seeing my family, but sometimes family can be the most people difficult people to live with.  It astonishes me that we can never make it past four days before an argument erupts–like clockwork.  In the past week alone, I have incurred the wrath of my mother, twice.  Once for “not being enthusiastic for hot pot.”  Which sounds absolutely ridiculous, but trust me when I say I’ve gotten into trouble for much more trivial things.  But this post isn’t about pointing fingers and accusing each other of irrationality.  Because at the end of the day, everyone is in the wrong.  We lose patience, we let our emotions take over, we forget to show grace to the people who we love most.

Why is it that we can be so tolerant of strangers, yet so unforgiving to our own.  My friend told me recently that it’s too easy to fall back into the same old relationships when you’re at home.  It’s really true.  No matter how much I think I’ve matured while living on my own, I always catch myself slipping back with my mom; ironically, because I try to assert my “rights as an adult.”  Can you imagine how futile it is to complain about being treated like a kid when your mom won’t take you seriously because you’re acting like a kid, but only because she was treating you like a kid to begin with?  In the end, both of us are kids.

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The problem isn’t that we’ve forgotten how to share our space because we’ve been living apart for so long; it is much deeper than that.  And you can see it in every action.  It’s why dad can’t make a joke without mom taking it as a personal attack, because she still holds him against all his past mistakes.  It’s why my brother so easily flies into a rage and drives off in the middle of the night, because he can’t stand my mom’s constant criticism which fuels his fears of worthlessness.  It’s why sometimes I find myself biting my own words and suppressing my own thoughts, because I don’t expect them to be accepted.  It happens again and again, and we will be perpetually stuck like this until we finally decide to confront our problems.

I’ve told a friend once that I’ve stopped praying for my family a long time ago.  When the house is filled with the sound of cabinets slamming and screaming matches, it’s hard to imagine that God is there.  It’s much easier to tell yourself that you don’t need family.  But maybe that is where I should start, by asking God to help me love my family.  If I truly believe that He has changed who I am, then I should believe He can change anyone.  Because who are we kidding?  If we are ever to see forgiveness and redemption in this house, it would not be because of our stubborn, thick-headed, prideful selves.  It would only be by the grace of God.

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I love my mother’s dumplings.  Hers are made to perfection.  We mix ground pork, shrimp, and chives, season with some sesame oil and a bit of coriander, and then add an egg yolk for cohesion.  We chill the filling for a few hours to bring out the flavors.  My favorite part is helping my mom wrap the dumplings, which I had always done since I was as a kid.  I would sit at the kitchen counter, leisurely folding 50-60 dumplings for dinner while she busies herself around the kitchen.  Back then, it was easy to pick out the ones that I had folded.  They were clumsily made: the corners didn’t match, the seal wasn’t tight, and the crinkles were too loose.

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It’s true that my mother and I have our differences, but we also have the best of times when we get along.  It’s easy to forget the conversations we share over dumplings, the shopping trips and restaurant expeditions. They get lost when all I can hear are her disapproval and criticism.  But even as I give into frustration, I am learning to see her side of things everyday.  To imagine what it feels like to live alone in a big house, waiting for your daughter to call each night.  To stock up on an assortment of baking supplies because you know she loves to bake. To wait for her to finish playing on the computer, so that she can finally turn her attention to you.  And most importantly, to love her so much that you can’t help worrying and nagging her about every little and big thing.

I may not understand perfectly, but I understand enough to know that she loves me.

On Father’s day, I sat down to write a quick email to my dad.  Expecting this to be a three minute ordeal, I instead found myself having a hard time finishing this sentence: “Thank you for….”  For always being there for me?  For providing for me?  Somehow it didn’t feel right to see it typed out on the screen.  And I’m not sure my dad would have been comfortable reading those words either, since I suspect neither of us are quite sure about the truth of that statement.

If someone were to ask me about my childhood memories, I would be hard-pressed to find one about my father.  What I can remember are bits and pieces, and frankly, few of them are truly happy.  But I do recall the excitement of seeing the airport shuttle pull up the driveway, running out to help unload the luggage and to greet him with a big hug.  The way the house seemed to light up with extra warmth as the sound of our chatter broke the solitude.  How inviting and complete the dining table looked with an extra set of bowls and chopsticks.  And in the morning, I would run into his room and wake him up by plucking his leg hairs.

But more than anything, I remember being disappointed.  Pressing our faces against the window, we peered into the locked classroom where we should have been hours earlier.  On my desk laid a large cut-out picture of a clown that I had drawn.  I didn’t want to cry but I did.  Not because I couldn’t show him my stupid clown; but because I felt like all the other kids had a dad to bring in on back-to-school night, while I was waiting for mine to come home.

I do not remember at what point that I stopped waiting.  I just know that his visits began to lose their novelty—his homecomings received with little fanfare.  My father became someone I associated with overseas phone calls and short, obligatory conversations.  I understand his paternal duty to provide for me, financially.  What I wonder sometimes, is whether he was choosing to pursue his career over being a father.  I wonder if he really did it for me.

This is not supposed to be a post about blame.  But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t care that my father wasn’t there for half of my childhood.  What I have learned is that when people have exhausted themselves to the point where all accusations and insults begin to sound the same, when they’ve said and heard everything there is to say and hear, there is nothing left to do but to let go.  Because there can be no redemption without letting go.

So, Happy Father’s Day, dad.  While we cannot make up for lost time, at the very least, we should enjoy what there is to come.

Thanks for being a dad who always tries to provide for me.  And I mean it.

Pound cake with raspberry cream

When I was a little girl, I used to do my homework on the dining table while my mom watched to make sure my penmanship was acceptable.  One time, I was wiggling my loose tooth with one hand while using my other free hand to write.  The tooth was so loose you can hear it squeak every time I wiggled it.  And I was positively enjoying myself, bending the tooth sideways to see how far it could go and then pushing it back into place.  Somehow I guess all this tooth-wiggling annoyed my mom until she insisted that she “help” me extract the tooth. 

I knew she was going to yank it out, just like she did when I accidentally stapled my thumb and she fooled me into letting her take a quick peep at the embedded staple (which ended up with me sulking behind the couch with teary eyes for a good hour after the “betrayal”).  So naturally, I fought tooth and nail against her coy tricks, screaming my head off as she cornered me in the bedroom.  All of the ruckus just riled her up more and in a moment of genius (?), she smacked my face.  Which only convinced me, all the more, that she was a psycho monster.  She smacked me again.  And the next thing I knew, she was smiling and holding up my tooth in her hand.  Now that I’m older, she swears that she was acting in my interest.  Twisted, is what I call her.  

Growing up, my brother and I were relatively well behaved kids.  Of course, once in a while we totally deserved a spanking.  Like when he peed in every corner of the house.  Or when I threw a tantrum and bent all the slats of the venetian blinds in my room.  When my mom pulls out the golf stick, we’d know there would be hell to pay—like cows when they’re standing in line to enter the slaughterhouse (I don’t know why I brought up that analogy, but it seemed fitting). 

Anyways, the golf stick was made of red plastic and used to be part of some toy golf game. It became my mom’s “discipline tool” of choice after my brother and I hid her bamboo stick.  Boy, I wish we had stuck with the bamboo because the golf club was absolutely fear inspiring.  We were never hit that hard, but a smart smack from the stick was enough to leave a bright red clubhead-shaped mark with grooves.  Somehow I don’t think the manufacturers of that game ever thought their product would be used for this purpose.  Of course, now that I can look back on these memories with amusement, I tell myself that I have to find my own golf club for when I have kids some day. 

When I think about my mom, I think about the warm smell of her moisturizing lotion that lingers on my cheek after she gives me a good night kiss.  I think about the story, “Boy who cried Wolf,” that she used to tell me when I crawled into her bed.  I think about her forcing me to memorize the multiplication table.  I think about her panicking to take me to the hospital when my fever hit 106 degrees. I think about her telling the saleslady, loudly, that I was definitely not a size 36 and needed to get a smaller bra. I think about her praises and encouragements.  Her tears and frustration.  The sound of her laughter and the weight of her embrace. 

I think about the pride in her eyes when she holds up my college diploma.  Because I was finally achieving the dream that she couldn’t fulfill herself. 

I’m so used to running to my mom to receive praise or comfort, that I forget to say that I am so proud of her too.  I want to acknowledge all the years she struggled to raise two kids in suburban America, far removed from her home in Hong Kong.  The efforts she made to read the English on my homework so she could try to answer my questions.  The money she saved to hire a piano teacher.  And learning to drive on the highway so she could take me to extracurricular events.  She is the most heroic person I’ve ever known. 

I hope she knows how much she inspires me. 

Last week I made a Strawberry Almond Cream tart for my coworker’s barbecue.  It was really simple to make since there was limited baking involved.  Most of the work was just assembling all the elements together, but the result was beautiful.  It almost looked store bought. 



I loved the smell of the strawberry puree warming up on the stove.  It thickens into a jam-like consistency and I wish that I had saved the leftovers to eat with bread or spoon over ice cream.  Mmm…  Since I used an 8 inch pan instead of the 9 inch called in the recipe, I halfed the amount of graham crackers needed for the crust.  I was worried that it would be a tad too thick.  I was considering using vanilla wafers instead, but I’m glad that I decided against that.  The cinnamon in the crackers is a better complement to the cream cheese. 

One of my coworkers said that he likes the close-up pictures of food on my blog.  I told him I only try to take close-ups because the rest of my kitchen is a mess.  I’m only sparing everyone the unpleasant sight of my apartment. 

We enjoyed the tart at the barbecue while watching Star Wars episode 5.  It really was a perfect day to grill food on their porch while dried flower petals fell around us.  The strawberry tart was the perfect finale to a wonderful meal. 

Thanks for reading.