It’s 11:13am on a Saturday morning at home in Texas. I’m sitting on the longer tan colored couches in our living room, computer in lap and legs stretched out. A coffee that’s lost its warmth is an awkward twist away, behind my back on a side table. My dad is sitting on this small, plastic blue stool gaping at highlights of what is probably a game that Jeremy Lin played in over these past few days on our Vizio smart TV. The sunshine floods into our living room from the half dome window up high. There isn’t much sound other than my typing on the keyboard and the gentle whir of the refrigerator in the kitchen.
My father phones my mother, asking for an update on whether or not she wants him to go pick up some used furniture she found about an hour away. She hasn’t decided yet and hangs up. From an outsider’s perspective, this gesture may seem rude – he is offering to help her, and she merely says “no” and hangs up. From my perspective, this is just how their relationship works… it is to-the-point, no BS, and supportive. After he gets off the phone, he washes the plate he used for his breakfast of sesame shaobing and coffee. I’ve overheard most of their exchange this morning. She called asking about how far the location of the posting is, and he estimated that it was about an hour’s drive away. Even so, I ask him as if I don’t know. I don’t really know why I do this … maybe to make conversation? Anyway, I clarify that it’s an hour’s drive away and remark that it’s great he’s so supportive of her. He shrugs off the gesture of helping her and just says, “她喜欢搞” which roughly translates to: “Of course, she likes to mess with that stuff.” He continues doing his work in the kitchen, and a few moments later adds, “You know, she’s someone who hasn’t really had the opportunity to be artistic. She has a talent for it. But me, I couldn’t draw if I tried.” With that, the topic has passed.
This exchange occurred roughly ten minutes ago, but what stands out to me is how… natural the act of being supportive comes to my father. The way he approaches it is like any other task in his day. It’s analogous to calling someone because he needs to clarify something for an appointment he needs to make later… like calling Home Depot to see if they have something in stock so he can pick it up for a project later. When I reflect on my own behaviour, I can honestly be too self aggrandising when I support my significant other or friends. I really think I’m going out of the way to help them, and I expect to be really appreciated for it. I don’t really have feelings on the ~correctness*~ of either approach, but I’d like to take a moment to just be… aware of it. Definitely, there are stark differences in situation that could be source of this in-congruency. For one, my parents have been married for over 20 years. None of the relationships I have with anyone are comparable. For two, my parents are much older. Perhaps it is the case that younger folks are more self-centered. For three, my parents grew up in a different generation and in a different culture. American culture places more emphasis on the individual than east Asian cultures, and one could also argue that my generation can be more focused on the self than our preceding ones.
It has always been a desire of mine to be more kind, to be more selfless. I don’t know how great I am at actually making progress on this front, but it seems like my final state would look a bit like what I observed above: helping others is just another errand in your day, something that needs to be done, something that doesn’t require a pat on the back, something that you fit in no matter what.