April 1, 2012

Ever since I took on Amy Chua last year with a blog post that went viral, the children of tiger parents have been emailing me for advice. I’m going to share one of these emails today because it touches on such universal issues about the damage caused by parental tough love.

The readers who reach out for me have so many regrets. While many of them are financially successful, they lack a sense of their personal worth. They are not living passionate, full lives because freedom of emotional expression was not part of their parents’ playbook. Happiness is a foreign concept. So is the tenderness of a hug and unconditional love (what is that, anyway?!).  They wish they could figure out their lives. But where to begin?

Well, helloooooooo….

Meet “L.” He’s from a country on the other side of the world. “L” describes himself as a married, 30-something medical professional with one kid and a baby on the way.  He’s fine with me sharing his email. In fact, we’re both hoping that your comments will provide both a  fresh perspective and a hug from his new blog family.

If you have a reaction to his story below, please comment away! The only thing I ask is that you share from your own experience. Like most tough love survivors, “L” has had enough of people telling him to do this and don’t do that. But if you give him an idea of what did and didn’t work for you personally, that could be useful learning material.

Okay. Here we go:

I’m in my mid-thirties and still searching for myself. Another troubled asian kid from a rather dysfunctional family driven by a man with a hypersensitive ego, a false sense of pride (bordering on narcissism) and ill temper and manner (some of which his habits include shouting randomly at family members and slurping noodles so loudly that even the harbour boats could hear).

My life has been based on guilt, induced by a parent who was smart but never quite mentally right and therefore never achieved what he wanted and has had to achieve it through his children. Many years ago I wanted to do something with finance or business, but instead became a dentist just to satisfy him. I didn’t have the balls to say no.

On completing my first degree and hating it, my plans to make the most of it and deciding to go the business route in order to make some cash and move on seemed to have stalled. It was not good enough for him-I had to specialize. Many discussions occurred (or arguments rather, including one in which I called his medical professor friend an “idiot” for remaining poor despite being so smart). I guess he eventually won it by coming up to me from behind one day in my second last year, tapping me on the shoulder and saying “You can have all the money in the world by going into business, but you won’t be happy” and walking away.

Shit, what a black cloud over one’s head. It’s taken me years and still quite frankly haven’t completely let it go. Ten years down the track I still haven’t achieved it.  Thanks god I got a good wife and kid who both keep me going. At the end of the day, you might think this is all a load of BS in a sense that I should have just done my own thing.

But that black cloud has a very dominant effect to one brought up in environment in which one is yelled at, emotionally black mailed and brainwashed everyday. We grew up thinking that yelling at people was normal. Fortunately, I was born with an aptitude for introspection and up until a few years ago I spoke just like my father, rude, arrogant and obnoxious. It has taken me a long time to adjust and behave more like a normal person. 

My sister left home for 13 years because of him. She left because of a bf that was disapproved of but I’m sure she was sick of a lot of other things too. What a waste of talent. I’ve never seen a child like her who could paint and draw art gallery like material at the age of 10. And what did my father do? make her study f!@@ing mathematics and physics.  She only came home after my mother developed breast cancer. He seemed to tone down slightly after this. deep down inside he knows that wrongs he has made but is too bloody proud to admit it. My poor mother in the middle of all of this…… I guess he will die a lonely man. There are plenty more stories where this came from. 

Currently, I hate seeing sick people. I hate the charade at work everyday when I put on a smile with false pretense, I hate (some of)the personalities that come to work-narrow, boring, insular, holier than thou. My ambition – the cafe, the bar or night club business. Eventually will get around to it. 

So how do I cope? Meditation and the occasional drinking fest seems to clear the mind. Daily meditation is the current get away vehicle. It seems to work for me. If only I had found it earlier but I guess you’re only ready when you ready for something. 

In closing, here’s a sketch that I’d like to dedicate to this moment on our blog. The picture is from the comic book illustration workshop that I took recently. Drawing live models in superhero poses inspired me to be bold with my pencil. The experience freed me from fussy detail work and overthinking while immersing me in the exuberant lines that capture body mood and movement.

That’s what we’re going for in this space right now.



In the moment.

And, emotions that are as large as life itself.