Underneath my yellow skin

Free to be me

I’m weird. I have known this since I was a young kid, but back then, I thought there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else? It wasn’t just a little bit different or in a few ways–it was in nearly every way. I read all the time, which many considered strange. I even read the dictionary (I stopped at ‘I’ because I lost steam) and started calling my bullies ‘unintellectual imbeciles’, which, not cool, but I was pushed to it, and did not do anything because they did not know what I meant (I was seven or eight).

I was fat and awkward, and I knew nothing about American culture. We only watched Scooby-Doo, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat in our family. I don’t even know what other shows existed at the time. We never went to the movies and I didn’t hear my first pop song until I was in the sixth grade. It was Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant.

Here’s the thing. My parents, especially my father, did not like living in America. My father was fiercely Taiwanese and came here for his studies. He and my mother met in grad school and fell in love. Or rather, my father wooed my mother and won her over. She was engaged to a man in Taiwan–

Fun fact: She was engaged to him because my grandmother had very outdated notions about dating. She refused to let my mother go on a date if she wasn’t engaged to the man.

My parents had a whirlwind romance. My mother finished her MA and would have had to go back to Taiwan if she didn’t find another way to stay in the country. My father’s American housemother urged them to get married, so they did. Then they moved to Minnesota so my father could pursue his PhD in Economics.

I sometimes think about the sliding door version of life where they didn’t rush to get married. I fully believe that if they had dated for another year, they probably would have broken up. Or maybe not. I mean, they’ve been together for nearly 55 years. So, even though it’s deep dysfunction that binds them (not to mention codependency), they have established a lasting routine.

I used to think that my mother would be happier without my father, but now I don’t think that’s true. Her sense of worth comes from the fact that she’s a martyr (and that she’s superior to my father in almost every way). In other words, she needs him to feel good about herself, even though he’s abusive. If she weren’t with him, she would just find someone else like him.

Once in a while, she’ll let the mask slip and display her utter contempt for him and how little she expects from him. Such as when she said she realized he wasn’t smart. It’s true, but it’s not a nice thing to say about your husband, especially to your child. I will admit that it helped me see him in a different light. Arguably, a more realistic one.


I’m going to say something that makes me sound like a dickhead, but so be it. I’m fucking smart. My brother is smarter than I am. My mother is smart, but not up to our level. I just assumed my father would be in the same arena because we’re related. And because he’s accomplished a lot in his life. A Fulbright Scholar, a PhD in Economics, and the VP of the Taiwanese Institute of Economic Research (TIER). That’s a lofty resume for anyone.

My mother said that he’s the hardest worker she’s ever known, and that makes sense. But so does the fact that he’s simply not smart. I already knew he was a narcissist and had an extremely low EQ. It’s funny because the older he gets, the less charm he can exert. He still has it on occasions, but he’s definitely just an old man now in many ways.

Back to my mother’s contempt for my father. It’s weird. She both thinks he’s helpless/hopeless and tries to deny it at the same time. That’s why she scolds my brother and me for not loving him/respecting him enough (because he’s an elder), but then when I press her about why he doesn’t have to respect me, she burst out that it’s because of his pathology. And because I’m normal. After laughing bitterly and internally about me being considered normal (I know how she meant it in this case is not how I mean it), I pointed out to her that as a psychologist, she knew that coddling someone’s pathology and indulging it at every turn is not a good way to treat a pathology. That is, in psychological terms, enabling the person with the pathology.

She doesn’t care. She’s so far gone that she can’t see she’s not helping when it comes to my father. She’s too busy trying to ensure that he never feels a moment of discomfort. The bitter irony is that she often makes things wrong by poking at his sore spots. I think that’s half-conscious, and I can’t altogether blame her. But it’s annoying as fuck when she tells me stories about how she upset him and she shouldn’t have done the thing to upset him because she knew it would upset him.

Once, I bluntly asked her why she did that when she knew it would upset him. She did not like that at all. She wanted me to make sympathetic noises, but I am so far past that. I think he’s a dick, don’t get me wrong. He’s abusive and has the emotional sensitivity of an orange. But that doesn’t mean she’s blameless. She admits that she says everything that comes to her mind, which means she has no boundaries. Like she’ll tell everyone all about my father’s health problems, right in front of him.

She did that with me, too, during my medical trauma. She would bring it up at the drop of a hat, no matter to whom. She was trying to help me make an eye doctor appointment a few weeks after I got home from the hospital. There is like a two-month wait for routine eye exams, and she started listing what happened to me as a way to circumvent the list. I tried to cut her off, but it didn’t work.

She told the housecleaner we used all about me as well as anyone else she talked to. She didn’t understand that it wasn’t her story to tell. Yes, it affected her, too, but she didn’t have to blab about it to the Lyft driver, for example. So, yeah, I did not blame my father for getting upset when she poked at his weak spots. Especially when she knew it would upset him. That is also abusive.

That’s something that people don’t like to talk about–relationships can be mutually abusive. Someone can be abused and also abuse someone else. I have known for quite some time that my father is abusive, but it took me longer to realize that my mother is as well. Hers is more subtle than his, but it hurts more. I expect my father to to be a jerk; I know he has no emotional intelligence. I expect better from my mother and am constantly disappointed.

I went off on a massive tangent, but that’s just how I do. I’ll be back in the next post to explore this more fully.

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