Updated: Jul 21
I don't think fathers should be like mothers. There's been a lot of pressure in modern society that fathers must do equal housework and share mom's workload. I agree that fathers need to be more involved in raising kids. But rather than trying to be like moms, it's better to encourage dads to raise kids based on their strengths.
Fathers have different styles of parenting from mothers, these are equally important. My father was useless in cooking or daily house chores. But when the light or car broke, he's Mr. Fix it. He would explain how electricity and engines work while we kids would hold the flashlight and hand him tools. He used to say, if we're naturally good at these things, we could be an electrician or a mechanic. But if we hone this gift through college education, we can be engineers. My brother became an engineer, like him.
He taught me bookkeeping. He had me record my university expenses in an accountant columnar book --separating personal expenses from school requirements-- or I don't get reimbursed. Even my classmates' parents found it extreme because I was studying fine arts. Haha! But this basic life skill is handy in my start up.
Growing up, we didn't have a lot of material comforts. But we were rich in books, in laughter, and in my father's words of wisdom. My father was a human Magic 8 ball, you know, the toy you shake that gives answers whenever you seek advice. I think his true calling was to be a philosopher. Saying words of wisdom came as naturally as breathing. My father's words help me navigate parenthood, and life in general. I'm going to share some of my favorites.
My father had exceptionally high standards for me. Being a typical Chinese dad, he rarely praised me to my face. Even when I won first place in competitions, he would point out my mistakes & weaknesses. On hindsight, it practiced my fortitude and I welcome constructive criticism to this day. But as a child, I felt I could never meet his standards.
When I was graduating in university, I was so stressed out by my own self-assumptions on how please my father. My mom graduated Magna cum Laude, so I thought I had to be Summa cum laude to make him proud. When he found out, he told me, "If you're a tree, be the best tree. If you're a bamboo, be the best bamboo. If you're a tree, don't compare yourself with bamboos. If you're a bamboo, don't measure yourself like a tree. Just be the best version of yourself. I'm already proud of you."
I've made many stupid mistakes in my life. One time, I fell for professional scammers who are experts at confusing their victim. Afterwards, the scam seemed stupidly obvious. Losing money hurts, but feeling so idiotic & vulnerable hurts even more. I called my father to confess and expected him to scold for me being so naive. Instead he gave me a fresh perspective. "Think of it as your tuition fee in the School of Life. The lessons will cost you. Who knows, in the future you could be scammed of hundreds of millions, but you won't. Because you've lost a few thousands today. You've got a good deal, actually."
When I was learning to read, I would read the little inspirational posters my father liked to display on his desk. One was so exaggerated, I never thought I'd experience it decades later. "Do it now. Tomorrow they might pass a law making it illegal."
When the pandemic broke in 2020. We were on CNY holiday in our country. Citizens were banned from flying back. Until one late night, the president announced on TV that only those with work visas are allowed to fly to China, but also announced a country-wide curfew that will take effect in two days. It was chaos. Nobody knew if kids were allowed to fly out nor what paperworks to process, so people advised us to wait. We took the risk and booked the first flight we could. We flew at the crack of dawn on the first day of the curfew. It's a decision that defied logic, it just felt we had to "do it now". Luckily we were all able to fly. A few hours later, our government released a follow up memo that kids were still banned from flying back. If we missed that window of opportunity, I could still be stuck in my country with my kids, given birth without my husband, probably lost my business, and have gone crazy from my boys' Chinese online school!
My father was very frugal, while I like pretty things. When my parents would visit me in Manila, where I worked, I like treating them (and myself) to nicer things. He would constantly remind me to "Live within your means." He believed I should not want what's beyond my salary. "But I am living within my means. I want finer things so I increased my means." I argued that I am following his advice, but interpret it differently. I took on side jobs tutoring college students, sold Christmas baskets, did face painting and other random jobs to afford a more comfortable life.
My next story is going to carbon-date me. Back in university, photography class was a requirement. We needed to buy a professional film camera; I chose a fully manual camera because it was a little cheaper than the semi-automatic with auto focus. The cost of the camera was already a burden for my parents, I felt guilty to ask for a little more, so I never told them there was a better option. Later, my father said that had he known, he would've spent a little more for the better camera. "Don't choose the cheapest. Choose the best in value." For things that you'll buy once for a long time, get the best you can afford. So what happened to my camera? I was able to use it well, I was even the official photographer when the King & Queen of Spain visited our university. But when I wanted to be in any picture and asked others to shoot, the photos came out blurry. The auto-focus camera would've been worth it.
"My father would always say this mantra. He read it somewhere but I can never google it. Perhaps he was paraphrasing and made it his own. He would say, "There are 3 Great Truths." He would say it with flair, and give examples to explain each.
"Nothing is lost in this world." The opportunities you lost is someone else's gain. If you do good and others don't, or don't recognize the act, it is still not lost.
"Nothing is coincidental." Trust that everything happens for a reason, even the bad. The experience itself is not as important as what you learn from the experience.
"Nothing is given free." Our actions have consequences. When we help without asking for anything, the universe will always pay us back. We cannot keep being on the receiving end too, we must find ways to give back.
My father was also funny. When I was a kid, he asked why I put cream on my face, I should just use our coconut cooking oil. He was half joking, it was unheard of at the time. Decades later, many studies were done on the wonderful healthy skin effects of coconut oil. When I was figuring out how to soothe my baby's eczema-prone skin, one of the ingredients I first used was indeed organic virgin coconut oil from my pantry! Was it inception? Haha. If wisdom can be currency, my father would be a billionaire. Perhaps someday I can make time to compile his wisdom in a book. For now, I hope you enjoyed a sneak peak on how my father helped shape me. Let's not force fathers to be like mothers. Let's celebrate fathers for being fathers.
Happy Fathers' Day!
What advice, habits, and tips did you learn from your father? Share please at the comments section.