Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ode to a Ginseng Dad


Tiger Mom, meet Ginseng Dad. He is your less well-known but equally formidable Asian parent, in this case not a cruel Chinese mother but a stoic Taiwanese father. The methods may not be as sensational, but they are fearsome and cutting nonetheless: steady stoicism in the face of success after success, the pained expressions and laments of disappointment when we fall short, and the sharp calling of your name when you are on the brink of bringing embarrassment to yourself or the family.

Most of all, a quiet but steady work ethic, which leaves a deep impression on you despite very few if any outward "teaching moments." It is a work ethic that wakes up early to enroll you in a good school, that tends to the most mundane of house chores without fanfare or complaint, and that makes available every educational or extra-curricular resource that has potential for self-advancement.

I have always loved my dad, but I'm sure it will come as no surprise to him or to anyone that I did not always like him. But now that I am myself a dad, I have new-found respect, appreciation, and affection for him. While there are ways I parent differently than he did that I am glad for because I think they are better, there are far more ways I fall short of what he did that I would want to do myself but do not.

The Ginseng Dad will not get a New York Times bestseller written about him, nor would he want it. But I know a lot of Taiwanese people my age who are grateful for their Ginseng Dads, as I am for mine. In my multi-ethnic neighborhood, all of us hard-working parents are trying to fusion our way to the right parenting style: a little bit of Tiger Mom, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I am way behind on so many fronts. But I may have a secret ingredient: my stew has a little ginseng in it.
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