Years of Compacted Low Self Esteem — Released in one Conversation

Photo by Gian D. on Unsplash

I have always had a strained relationship with my father. As a young child, I was painfully shy. I hid behind my mother, cried at anything that moved, and was as fragile as a china doll. I didn’t like being around my father because he was callous, strict, and I felt that he never saw me for me.

My father was raised in Taiwan by my grandpa, a military man, who was the figurehead of a household of 7 people. He beat the living shit out my father and his brothers when they were mischievous or out of line with bamboo cane. If they stole, if they fought, if they got bad grades, the barking and canes came out. His childhood wasn’t easy, but as my father’s friends joined gangs or got held back in school, he watched that world move farther away as he eventually went to college and found a good job.

Bad grades meant not being able to get into a good school, not getting in a good school meant not finding a proper job, not finding a proper job meant not having a strong future, and so on. He wanted his children to be tough, to endure the toughest of times, and to move towards a better future.

In my own childhood, I felt like I never amounted to enough. My father would always tell my mom that I was “too weak” or “would be useless” if I continued being that soft, or when aunties would say “She’s so cute,” my dad would joke with, “Being pretty is useless, she needs to amount to something” and “she’s pretty, but her brain is empty.” And that really…followed me. It shot my confidence, and I grew up thinking that maybe I just wasn’t as smart or could never amount to something great.

So with the help of my sister, I had the difficult conversation with my father today. I brought it all up and laid it out on the table. I told my father how I always tried to make him proud, but he never validated what I did or accomplish. I told him he made me feel like I was never good enough, and that he made me feel stupid. And that surprised him. He didn’t know that was how I felt and he apologized. Which was huge and a first step of mending our relationship.

He was tough on me just like how his father was tough on him. Because that is all my own father knew. In some twisted way, his own childhood made him think that being tough and pushing us to do better and be better was his own form of love, one that he was taught. By never praising or validating what I did, he thought it would push us to strive for more. It was his mentality that we could always be better and that complacency was the worst. Praise would make us think we could stop improving, when he only wanted us to succeed.

He was tough on me just like how his father was tough on him. Because that is all my own father knew.

Looking back, I now know he just wanted me to grow a backbone. And even throughout my childhood, as I become stronger and confident, building my own portfolio of accomplishments, I never felt that I could make my father truly proud. So I pushed myself hard, in ways that I thought I could prove to my dad that I was someone who was capable, independent, and strong.

But by doing so, it drove a wedge between us. I almost became too independent to a fault, and I never sought advice or solace in my father for anything. I kept him away at arm’s length because I didn’t want to rely on him and didn’t want to seem weak. I then realized that my father didn’t think any of that — he was being hard on us because he wanted us to be tough and untouchable, just like how he was raised to be. I’m 26 years old, and it took me this long to realize how far removed I’ve been from my father. And now, we’re working to make amends and rebuild a communicative relationship together. For that, I am grateful.

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expat in Singapore writing on growth, tech, and becoming a better human being

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Emily Fang

Emily Fang

expat in Singapore writing on growth, tech, and becoming a better human being

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