to celebrate national novel writing month (or the unfortunately nicknamed "NaNoWriMo") this year i will spare myself the white-hair-inducing effects of writing 50,000 words in the month of November by writing a story a day.
these stories will be of any length and veer into any territory i wish. the idea is for me to write one a day for every day of november. these will be first drafts with minimal editing.
if you are into any of it. please comment below! perhaps you can help me figure out if there's ANYthing in these stories worth adapting or polishing into something awesome.
story 17. dad was a punk (by jenny yang. wednesday, november 20th, 2013)
my father is 85 years old. i was an accident - an afterthought of procreation.
dad used to joke with a crooked grin on his face that he would’ve aborted me as a fetus if it wasn’t for mom convincing him to keep me. yup. that’s a joke. i think the euphemism in Mandarin Chinese is “tao2 tai4” or “eliminate.”
oh and there’s the one where my entire family (including my two older brothers who were ten and nine years older than me) would say that we were piling into our car because they were going to get rid of me in a dumpster.
this caused a terrifying mix of fear and joy over the attention i craved from others. this was the kind of light cruelty that underscored a lot of the teasing i received as the youngest of the family - if such a thing as “light” cruelty can exist (50 shades of grey qualify?). it has been hard for me to separate out whether that cruelty is a Chinese thing or just a Yang family thing. i may never know. but recently i’ve learned more about how my father was as a child and apparently my dad was thoroughly a punk. score one for the Yang family cruetly theory.
my dad has been a senior citizen for most of my life so his mortality has been ever-present as soon as I realized what death was and when my elementary school classmates teased me for having a father pick me up who looked like a grandpa. imagine growing up with your grandpa telling you all about his past and weird old tales. but that person was actually my dad. since as young as i could remember, my father was always feeding me stories about what it means to be a Yang. he would lecture me some basics about chinese imperial history and the confucian education system.
“Tang Song Yuan Ming Ching” he had me memorize over post-lunch peanuts on weekend. Deshelling peanuts and other seeds is one of the simple and tactile Chinese cultural pasttimes that i don’t believe any American will ever understand.
he had gone over his immigration history from Communist China to the young nation of Taiwan - this was often studded by all the tests and awards he had won and violence he avoided to survive. it was a familiar refugee story of escaping violence and surviving using grit and wit.
more recently, i’ve been asking my father questions about who he was as a child, particularly questions that breakthrough just the victorious stuff of heroes. mom has been a good help for that, instigating my line of questioning.
“did you know that your dad was held back from graduating the fourth grad THREE years in a row? ask him about THAT.” my mom would feed me with a huge grin. this was said with my dad right next to us at the intimate Souplantation soup and salad buffet restaurant table. she and i can have whole conversations now at a normal speaking voice and my father’s old ears can’t catch any of it.
“hey! dad! what’s this about taking so long to pass the fourth grade? what happened?”
he goes on to tell me over bites of seasonal pumpkin spice muffins that that he was held back for three years in a row because his own father was the principle of his elementary school.
what? i thought. wow. that’s pretty deep if your own father, who’s an authority figure in the local village and community, punishes his own son for not being a good student.
this was starting to paint quite the picture for me.
“yes,” he continued, “but i finally did my homework and even tested into the best middle school in the area where your granduncle lee was the middle school principal.”
double what? so a close family friend like granduncle was also his principle for middle school?
“did you behave when you did middle school, dad?”
“yes. of course. i did very well.”
“but why weren’t you doing well in elementary school? you must’ve been really bad.”
“i just didn’t do my work. i was hanging out with my friends. getting into trouble.”
“um. trouble? what kind of trouble?”
“well, in middle school i would always protect and stand up for my friends. i had my people. i was a leader.”
“really? like how would you defend people?”
mom chimes in out of dad’s hearing range, “he was a hoodlum. your dad was a delinquent.”
dad continues, “in middle school one time this police officer harrassed my friend. she was distraught so i grabbed a few of my friends and walked right into his offices, grabbed the gun right out of his holster and demanded an apology.” he looked pretty content with himself at the thought of this. “they didn’t do a thing to me. they couldn’t.”
HOLY CRAP. did my dad just say that? that he could take the gun out of the holster of a police officer and he knew NOTHING would happen to him?!
MY DAD WAS A PRIVILEGED PUNK! his daddy had power and authority in the community and he FLEXED it! NOOOOO!!! AUUUGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! i do not find this delightful. it’s rather disturbing to think that my own father was THAT kid. sigh.
it explains a lot. if you are a punk, i believe it is that kind of fire and stubborness that encourages more vitality in old age - that is if you don’t do something daring and reckless with that stubborness when you are younger.
i’ve never quite known my father to be “young” but i always knew he was vital. let’s just say his vitality as an 85-year old still fools his regular casino poker mates into thinking he’s in his early 70s. and then when my dad reports this to me i wonder if it’s just another way for him to deny his mortality. because honestly, how much can anyone really tell the difference between 70s old and 80s old? i say once you get past your sixties it’s all a big mush of saggy skin. but he does garden every day and keep a healthy and regular schedule of digestion and sleep. not bad for an old guy.
be careful what questions you ask because sometimes you won’t like the answer.