content warning: domestic abuse, racial slurs
I have never seen him smile like that—tight-lipped and haggard—as though wrestling down a fireball at the back of his throat. My father smiles because a white man carries his hate in the open field near Daffron Elementary. My father smiles because I, his five-year old child, receives this white man’s hate, and any move to protect me will most certainly hurt us both.
What I am about to write should not be taken in isolation—as a problem with Texas, as a problem with white men, and as a problem with patriarchy in general. The Asian American father who cannot shield his child is only a symptom of a much uglier illness that afflicts this country today. So I will implicate everyone when I say that it was at age six that my father really started hurting me.
It is almost 1:00 A.M. on a school night, and my father jabs his finger into the side of my head, bouncing it down against the desk. I am seven and working on a homework assignment—to draw a picture of what I want to be when I grow up.
“THAT LINE,” my father yelps, “is not straight.”
He grabs the fifth draft of what I want to be when I grow up and smashes it into a ball. “Do it again,” he commands.
Since my penmanship is not right, therefore not truth, therefore unworthy, I cannot sleep until the rendering of my future has been approved by my father. He hovers like a hurricane that whips me around with the quick-tempered back of his hand. It twists my wrist until I whimper in pain, and my mother runs in and says, “Father, that is enough,” yet it will not stop, and he will hover every night like this until I am thirteen, when he has no more lessons to teach me. And I will shake. And it will not make me stronger. And it will turn my very short childhood into an elegy of hating him.
But now it is 1:30 A.M., and I am in desperate concentration on what I want to be when I grow up. Most importantly, I must draw it correctly. Tears are pouring down my face. The crayons blur into a phantasmagoria of tangerines and burgundy, but I do my very best to steady the trembling hand that guides them all. Upon a snot-splattered sheet of paper, I make the final draft—a collection of obedient rectangles, stacked in perfect rows. My father does not hit me, so it is time to sleep.
The next day during 2nd grade show-and-tell, in a classroom of future doctors, fire fighters, and proud beauty queens, I am the only brick layer.
Sometimes a bad mood chases my father home from work, and I am the unwilling participant in his storm’s path. If I raise my arms to shield my face, he will slap me harder. He backs me into corners for looking at him wrong, even though I only wear the expression of fear around him. He chases me from room to room in that silent-as-silence-of-the-lambs suburban house. I wonder if our neighbors ever hear me screaming around the cul-de-sac. Even worse, I wonder if they hear my father’s rage, a typhoon of Japanese curses and staccato English, which together makes whatever shooting from his mouth much more terrifying.
And it all begins under a cloudless, North Texas sky.
“Hey, chink. Are you scared?” The white man growls. Perhaps he carries a gun on his waist. Perhaps there is another white boy with him. “Ching. Ching. Chong. Whatcha gonna do?”
My father grips my tiny hand and smiles that broken smile.