How My Dad Taught Me to Be a Good Wife

Bozen, Italy, 2013
Bozen, Italy, 2013

Yesterday, my dad would have turned 76 years old. He passed away 10 years ago, and although I don't talk about him often, I think about him every day. My dad raised me from when I was 7 years old, while my mom worked and was the primary breadwinner in the household. I've often attributed my tough, self-sufficient nature, love of sports and suitability for working on a trading floor to this, but now that I'm a married adult, I can also thank my dad for making me a good wife.

To raise a great wife, he did not have to be the "World's Greatest Dad." I assure you, he was not, at least not on paper, despite the many mugs/t-shirts/cards asserting that he was. He always had a beer or a cigarette in his hand, sometimes both. The amount of secondhand smoke my mom and I inhaled in the '90s may give us lung cancer someday. He cursed a lot. And not soft curse words like damn and crap -- real curse words like f*ck and a**hole. He fed me fast food after school every day, and packed my lunches with cold cheeseburgers and a side of chips and dip. (If you think I am making any of this up, just ask any of my childhood friends.) He was tough, but not strict, which meant he expected a toughness out of me in return, as opposed to obedience or submission. I was not afraid of him. I loved him.

He picked me up from school every day -- everyone in school recognized his distinctive set of wheels, dubbed fondly by my friends as the Spacemobile (a.k.a. a 1986 Toyota Minivan). He drove me to and from dance classes and play practice. He spent long summer days with me at the amusement park, playing boardwalk games, going on waterslides, taught me how to ride a bike, and how to drive (yes, in the Spacemobile!) The fondest memories of my childhood involve the Jersey Shore, the Spacemobile, and my dad.

My dad taught me that you didn't have to be perfect to be loved. He also taught me to embrace my imperfections. A lot of other Asian kids in my white, affluent town might have been teased for having their immigrant dad drive them around in a Spacemobile, but not me. I owned it and made it cool (in my own way at least), because my dad taught me to own who I am, and to remember there are so many others who are far less fortunate. He also taught me not to let other people take advantage of me. My dad always had a keen sense of other people's motivations, which might otherwise seem like paranoia if it weren't for the fact that he was usually right. I suspect he developed this keen protective sense, or street smarts, growing up as the man of the family, after his own father died when he was only 2 years old at age 25. (My grandma never remarried.)

My dad encouraged communication, or what most families would call fighting. We yelled at each other a lot, but somehow it was usually communicative and ended in us enjoying a game on TV afterwards. Even my mother, who rarely defended my fairly liberal upbringing against our more conservative Filipino family members, would say, "at least they have a relationship," as opposed to my cousins who lived in fear of their fathers and rarely spoke to them.

I suppose this is my long-winded way of saying I wouldn't have wanted my dad any other way (ok, except maybe less secondhand smoke), and I don't think Sven would have either. He was cool. He was a real, flawed human being. He didn't expect much from me except toughness, decency, and self-respect. (Getting good grades and being polite were my mother's goals.) Of course, the definition of what makes a "good wife" is subjective, but for me it is being confident in who I am, not putting up with crap, the ability to openly communicate (usually, but not always, in a more constructive manner than my dad), doing things for people that matter to them, not expecting perfection, but humanity, from others. And not only letting Sven be himself around me, but expecting him to unapologetically be himself around me, just like my dad did. I guess that's what makes me a good wife.

Happy birthday, Dad.