[Disclaimer: I've struggled with this blog post for several days now. I'm afraid of the backlash I'll get. I don't want anyone to hate my dad. Please.]
My dad is a relic from an old era.
I'm not going to lie. He beat me. A lot.
To accurately tell the story of how my life shaped up is to tell the story of my relationship with my father. He has been the driving factor in most of the decisions in my life. Even when I'm going against his wishes, there's a fierce reason for me to make him proud or prove myself.
My relationship with my father was a turbulent one. I love him dearly and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices he made for me. But I was also terrified to be around him, especially when he was angry.
"What sacrifices?" you may ask. Here is a little background story on him. My dad was a professional boxer and an 18-wheeler semi-truck driver. He grew up in poverty and had no formal education beyond 5th grade. He finally married and settled down in Atlanta, having two kids: me and my sister. Unfortunately, his wife cheated on him and left him with two kids and a divorce settlement of $30,000 just to keep full custody of us, leading him to the brink of suicide. After a failed attempt (and destroying his motorcycle off of a bridge), he went back home, packed up his two infant children and drove cross-country (2,800 miles) to Oregon.
Our living situation became very rocky. We even lived in a tool shed, briefly. Once, a farmer took us in, in exchange for doing hard labor for him. For a long period of time, we only had a single bag of rice, one metal pot and a wood stove to survive on. We'd go fishing and eat the fish down to the bones. Dad would toast the fish bones to a crisp on top of the wood stove until we could eat them as a crunchy snack. To say the least, our life was not glamorous at all.
"You are going to be better than me! I don't want you to live like me! The reason why I'm punishing you is that I want you to have a better life!" -- My Dad
I'm not sure how many people can relate with me here, but when you get beaten is that your body surges with endorphins and jumps into "fight-or-flight" mode. Every single muscle contracts. My body would ache with pins and needles and my toes curled and my fists balled up real tight. My dad would see this as a sign of aggression and would yell, "HOW DARE YOU? DO YOU WANT TO FIGHT YOUR OWN FATHER?!"
Unfortunately, I'm a pretty fucking stubborn child, and I would refuse to let my dad see me cry in front of him. I would sit there with steely eyes staring straight ahead, kneeling with my fists jammed into the ground. But one time, I couldn't take it anymore and I screamed back.
"NO! I'm not trying to fight you! I can't help it! My body won't listen to me! I can't even move, dad! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!!" I remember falling flat on my face, sobbing. I couldn't even unclench my fists or extend my arms. My body was in a tight ball. (I felt like I had rigor mortis.)
That was the one time that my dad stopped and put his hand on me, gently. I saw his tears hit the floor, as he told me that he just wanted me to stop screwing around and work harder. That he didn't want me to miss out on my golden opportunities that he never had. Thinking back, I wonder why I was so stupidly stubborn. If I had cried every time, I feel like I would have gotten away with a more gentle treatment. Poor, stupid, young Joseph.
My father continued to push me very hard academically and I was successful in earning acceptance letters into some top Ivy League universities. Going to college was my first taste of freedom! But that didn't fully remove the overwhelming pressure I felt from my dad. One mistake and I could be pulled right out of school. The type of psychological influence that my father had on me was incredible. I was over 3,000 miles away from home, and yet I felt that one mistake would send me reeling.
It's 2AM on Wednesday, and while writing this, I just thought of a night where I was whipped so hard, my skin broke and my shirt stuck to my bleeding back. My sister, bless her heart, saw me about to sneak out my window and handed me her gallon jar full of coins and dollar bills.
"Are you running away, brother?" she asked.
I replied. "No. I'm just getting some fresh air. I can't stay in this house and I can't sleep right now."
"No!! You can tell me anything! I'm your big sister. I'm sorry I couldn't help you. But here's some money if you need it."
She thought I was running away and wanted to help me survive on the streets. I cried and climbed back into the house, assuring her that I was just going out for a late night jog.
Despite all that, I never thought of seriously running away. I understood that deep down, my father only had a single-minded, ruthless drive to make sure I would be successful in life. And all I wanted to do was not be a disappointment to him.
My dad was so proud when I graduated from MIT. That's one of the few times I've seen him cry from happiness. He gave me this big bear hug, pounding my back again and again. It hurt, but it was a good hurt.
But as you all know, it ain't sunshine and rainbows after you graduate. I went into stock trading, an especially stressful job in the 2008-2012 market. I couldn't handle the stress anymore and quit after a couple years. My dad encouraged me to go back to school or do SOMETHING!
But this is enough for today's blog. I love you, dad. Thank you for everything.