“You’re just like your father,” my mother would always say to me as I was growing up. And it was never meant as a compliment. There was always a tone of disdain and disgust in her voice. There was never any attempt to hide her feelings. She wanted me to know.
To know my skin tone was dark like his, like crass peasants, like low-class laborers; not like her aristocratic family line. To know my hair was wiry and kinky like his, and not like the smooth, shiny hair typical of Asians. To know my nostrils were too big. To know my fingers were too fat and stubby, like worms. To know my temper was like his. To know my beady eyes were like his.
She always hated that he favored me. If he did or not is up for debate. What is clear however, is how she told me every day that she did not accept me for who I was and am. She’ll deny it, she’ll rightly point out she’s never uttered those words. But her negative comparisons between myself and my father sent a clear message.
And I soaked in that loathing; and once inside my head and heart, it transformed into a seething self-loathing. A self-hatred that propelled me, for more years than not, to try to be someone other than me.
I see now she could not reconcile or cope with her anger and resentment towards her husband, my father, so she projected it out at me. She took her burden and placed it on me. And I took it. And it consumed me. So much so that I consumed little else of sustenance. I tried to shrink and make less of me in this world. Maybe if there was less of me, I would be better. Maybe if there was less of me, the self-loathing would feel lighter. I tried to be someone different. Someone not like my father. Someone, anyone other than me.
But always, no matter what, I could not kill the self at my core. I tried, oh I tried. It has taken years of working on myself to finally not only feel comfortable in my own dark skin, but to love this tan skin I’m in. To love who I am–made up of equal parts of my mother, my father, my siblings, my mistakes, my triumphs.
And today, how I view myself has shifted once again. A dear friend finally met my father. She told me it was a delight to meet him, and that I have his laugh. And how he has this way of paying attention to the person who is speaking to him, how there is an active listening component to his interactions, how that reminded her of me.
I teared up. Because this was the first time in 41 years that I have ever heard any positive comparison of myself to my father. And I was so grateful. So grateful to realize that I carry parts of him with me every day. Parts of him that make me special and unique and caring and fun and kind. To know that one day when he does pass, he will always be here with me, in me. I find comfort in that revelation.
He’s a brilliant, resilient, kind, generous man. He’s accomplished quite a bit in his life. But today, after hearing my friend’s assessment about my father, I’ve never felt prouder than I do today. Proud to be his daughter who is so much like him. I am truly my father’s daughter.