“I was pretty darn close to being ‘the chosen kid.’ I happened to be born in the year of the dragon, I’m male. The only thing that would have made it perfect would have been if I had been the first born. Because it was so close to that trifecta, my becoming an adult had special significance for my father.”
Eugene was born to parents who immigrated to the US from China. He reflects back on noticing, as a child, differences between the parenting style of his mother and father, and those of his friends.
My parents provided all that one needed in terms of surviving. There was never any concern about clothing, food, or shelter. But, it was a very businesslike relationship; an emotional connection was pretty near zero. Growing up, I wondered why other kids had parents that hugged them and helped them, laughed with them, and I didn’t have parents that did that.
In retrospect, Eugene recognizes that while his parents may not have expressed their love for him and his siblings on a day to day basis, there was clearly a very deep relationship there.
It wasn’t until my early adulthood that I pieced it together and said, ‘Oh, they just express their love it in a totally different way – by saying, here is an ultimate gift for you, and we want to send you into adulthood with our best wishes.’
That ultimate gift was a jade pendant. Eugene and each of his siblings received one from their parents near the time of their high school graduation. Eugene’s pendant is on display here.
It was an introduction to the adult world. This was their way of sending us off into adulthood with something to guide us, so to speak — because jade is supposed to have supportive qualities, it’s supposed to keep you safe, and it’s supposed to watch over you. The round pendant – the circular shape – is supposed to represent completeness, in the sense that now we’re grownups.
By all measures, Eugene was successfully traversing adulthood. He had gone on to college, and then to graduate school. He was about to graduate with his PhD, when he met a woman.
I was just finishing up my graduate program, and I met the person who I eventually married. The only problem was that this person was not Chinese. His image of me as an adult got totally messed up. He just said ‘There’s no point in having a conversation about this, because I’m not going to have a different opinion.’ Regardless of who in the family initiated the conversation, it was a no-go.
Instead of being a symbol of love and achievement, the jade pendant became a source of tension.
The pendant was supposed to represent my adult life – his vision. But it didn’t turn out that way. He basically said, ‘Well, you’re no longer my son. I have two sons now.’ And he maintained that for the rest of his life. He never backed down from that. ‘I don’t want the pendant back,’ he told me, ‘but it’s lost its meaning in terms of why I gave it to you’. So I didn’t have contact with him from that time.
The father and son never reconciled — Eugene eventually married the woman his father disapproved of, and his father died of a massive heart attack the very next day. Today, Eugene applies some of what he learned growing up to parenting his own son.
Mom and dad have played an incredible role in who I am now in terms of just being what I think of as a very dedicated person to what I do, and my work ethic, and my motivation. But, I also think of myself as someone who gives back an awful lot. It’s almost a compensation for what Mom and Dad weren’t comfortable doing. So for me, I see my adulthood as being shaped both by things that they did do, and by things that they really didn’t do. I see myself as a reflection of that now, as an adult.