Letters in an Old Trunk

Lindsay’s post about MommyBloggers , and whether they are exploiting their children got me to thinking.

I guess you could call me a DaddyBlogger since 90% of my posts are about my children. Am I exploiting my children? Will they one day hate me for what I am writing? These questions roll around in my mind. And then I remember the Letters in the Old Trunk.

My grandfather was a man of few words. He was of the generation that grew up during the Depression, and came of age in World War II. My father remembers him as a stern man, but my memories are of a quiet but very loving grandfather. He never told me he loved me (men in my family just do not do that), but the look he gave me on his deathbed when I was 18 told me all I needed to know.

Shortly after his death, we were sorting through his “stuff”; you know, the pre-estate-sale kind of scouring a family does when a loved one dies. It was then that we opened the old trunk that had always been shut in his bedroom. Inside the trunk were the astounding letters. They were letters he had written to my grandmother before they were married.

They were beautiful. Poetic. They told an incredibly romantic story of a man who set out to make his way so he could provide for the woman he wished to marry. They told of hard struggles, setback, toil. They told of loneliness, longing, love.

Suddenly to me, the man I had only known as my dad’s old dad – came to life. Now, I could see him not just as a sick old man, but as a young, vibrant man desperately in love and struggling to make his way. They filled in the holes in my perception of my grandfather. With The Letters, I not only grieved the death of a sick old man, I also could celebrate the knowledge of a Life Well Lived.

I am definitely my grandfather’s grandson. There are many things I could NEVER say to my children face to face. So, I write them down, and strangely enough, post them for the world to see. Hiding in plain sight, as it were.

We have no idea what the internet will look like in 10 years, much less 40. But hopefully, when I am gone, my children (and grandchildren) can cling to my words and hold them close like a grainy photograph. Someday, they can look at my silly posts about Halloween, Christmas, elections, raking leaves, television shows, and the rest, and get a clearer picture of who I was. If anything, they will know that I loved them more than life itself.

Maybe, just maybe they’ll see the evidence of a Life Well Lived.

Candy Moochers

Once again, we’ll be leaving our sparsely populated, geriatric neighborhood to let our children go trick-or-treating in a more densely populated neighborhood filled with young families.

Should we feel guilty?

Pahl Gahn Sak Mohk

Zaphod and Trillian are adopted. They were born in Pusan, South Korea. We are extremely unique as a family in that both of our children were adopted as infants, separately, two years apart, yet they share the same birthmother. You always hear the story of the couple that adopt a child, then have a surprise baby; well, we did that, except our surprise was a “pickup” instead of a “delivery”. I would post the whole story, but I’m saving it for my best-selling memoirs.

Being an adoptive family, and an interracial one at that can be a tricky situation. We have to deal with issues of culture, and race, and all kinds of adoption-related circumstances. Some are serious issues (Like culture – where does it come from? The color of one’s skin? The place of one’s birth? Or the place one was raised?). Race is interesting when you’re raising Asian children, because many of the stereotypes are positive stereotypes. How much do you discourage teachers from making the assumption that your children are highly intelligent?

It can be quite maddening, so I am proud, VERY proud, that Zaphod and Trillian have a very strong sense of humor. My kids are hilarious. And of all the things I am passing along to the children, the one I am most proud of (besides a strong love of God), is the ability to let the silliness of the rest of the world bounce off of them and have a good laugh about it.

Trillian has a very pronounced southern accent. If you’ve ever seen Henry Cho, you know how off-putting this can seem at first. You see the face, you expect a very different accent than the one you get. It’s not racism, it’s just Pavlovian. I’ve taught my children, especially my daughter to say when they get “that” look:

I’m from SOUTH Korea…I’m a “Pahl gahn sak mohk” (Korean for ‘Red Neck’)

Instead of joining the Perpetually Offended club, we’ve compiled a list of all the silly questions we’ve been asked by totals strangers over the years, to pull out when we need a good laugh. People generally mean well, they are just curious. Why get mad? I’m not going to punch some dude out just because he says “Oriental” instead of “Asian”. Big Deal.

Anyway, here’s some of the things on our list:

  • (When each was a baby) Do they speak English?
  • How much do they cost? (That’s a more appropriate question for Madonna)
  • Do they know they’re adopted?
  • (To Trillian, who was adopted at 8 months) Do you remember your REAL parents?
  • Are they yours?
  • Do you have any children of your own?

    There are so many more, I’ll share them later. Being a Caucasian parent of Asian children has been an incredible learning experience. For instance, because of the insular cultures of China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, with a little practice one can tell what someone from each of those countries “looks like” (unlike the US). Also, I’ve learned that Koreans do NOT like Japanese (It mostly goes back to this and this), and that many Chinese look down upon the Koreans as a “lower race”. I’ll never forget being in a Chinese restaurant, having Trillian doted over by the staff – until they found out she was Korean. Quite an eye-opener there. I thought only whites were racist/xenophobic!

    Of course, in the southern US, everything about race is black and white, unless the discussion is about immigration. But once again, why get angry? Asians are only about 2% of the population of Nashville – even less in the outlying counties.

    I’ve actually had people get angry with me for teaching my children to laugh off ignorance of all sorts. No, they won’t be joining your little knee-jerk club. Yes, they’ll politely correct people that ask silly questions.

    We’ve had people stop us in the supermarket to thank us, and tell us how blessed our children are. That remains to be seen. I CAN tell you that the blessings to Lintilla and me have been beyond measure.

  • Express Yourself

    To my children,
    Lately, the idea of dress codes in school has been in the news. As always, I’ve heard quotes from students, administrators, an even parents an argument to the effect of: “We mustn’t stifle the students’ self-expression”. I’d like to let you know in advance how I feel about this.

    Now, I KNOW that you are pre-teens, and that they already have uniforms at St. Bob’s Academy, so it would appear that this argument doesn’t affect you. Yet, I also know that the hormone body-snatchers will appear very soon, turning you into walking balls of nerves and sexual impulses, as well as the fact that there is no school on weekends. So, since we aren’t immune to this madness, I’d like to make a logical argument whilst both of you are still logical.

    I’m not going to make the argument that dress is not expression; it is. However, it is a higher form of expression, not lower. You have to earn it. The fact is, for all the cheap talk, people who express themselves through their appearance often are completely unable to articulate in writing or spoken word just what it is they’re trying to say.

    So, I’ll make you a deal. When you get to the age when you wish to “express” yourselves in such a non-verbal way (no matter how weird I find it), I will not reflexively say no. But FIRST, you have to convey to me, in writing, just what it is you wish to express. Want to wear a nose ring to display your angst over the suffering in Darfur? OK – convince me. Write it down, using correct form and grammar. It cannot be simply factual. It must be persuasive.

    Zaphod, I know that you are more left brained than Trillian, and I’ll acknowledge that. You can, instead, make a convincing PowerPoint presentation. You must present it formally, using correct English. Then, if I’m convinced, you can bleach your hair.

    I’m not really looking for candor. If I were, I would get some variation of one of these three essays:

    I want to dress like ‘x’ so the other kids will think I’m cool.
    I want to dress like ‘y’ so the opposite sex will like me.
    I want to dress as weird as possible so other kids will notice me.

    Full disclosure: when I was young, I fell into the third category. I was a very, shall we say, unusual teenager; I wouldn’t wish my high school experience on anyone. However, I seriously doubt that you will attempt to submit any of these arguments to me. First of all, no teenager will ever admit to himself that one of these situations is the case. Secondly, After you say, “I want to fit in” or “I want to be noticed”, what more is there to say? But, give it a shot, if you so desire.

    If you are stuck – maybe you can’t come up with a good way to express yourselves verbally or in a literary way – I’ll get you started:

    Write me a 500-word essay on irony. Use as the main illustration the fact that you want to dress like all the other non-conformists.

    Belated Ugly Betty Review

    This week, the show really found its feet. Unfortunately, it may have lost me. More on that later.

    This week was all about “playing the field” and its consequences. Betty found herself in a triangle of sorts with Walter and the Guy from Accounting (Henry – I like him much better than whiney Walter) . Walter asked Betty to move in with him, and Henry asks her to lunch. This storyline was pretty predictable; sometimes I have to remind myself that this is a female oriented show. Having two men fight over you is a pretty common female fantasy, so that’s cool, even if it does nothing for me.

    However, this episode really shined in the subplots. There were moments when everyone in my family laughed out loud (this almost never happens). Justin was a HOOT! He dressed as a sailor for Halloween. But not just any sailor. He was Gene Kelly. The moment when the family left the house to trick-or-treat and Justin broke into dance (to his mother’s mortification) was priceless. I think I’ve finally figured out this character. He gives the producers the ability to have the stereotypical flaming gay character, without offending annyone. Because of his young age, it would be highly innapproprate for him to have an on-screen relationship. So, he is “gay-like”, without being overtly gay. This means they can bring all the sterotypes out of mothballs, without offending homosexual activists OR red-staters. Genius.

    The other great comedic moments belonged to Wilhelmina. I never knew Vannessa Williams had such great comedic talent. Her subplot involved her coming to terms that she was aging – through the device of a too-small size 2 dress. She was over the top. Even being a man, I sympathized. And laughed. When she decided to stop having boy-toys accompany her to social functions (after FashionTV flamed her for it) , she had Marc search for an appropriate man closer to her age. This gave her the line of the night: “At least try to bring me a man that doesn’t leak“. Ouch.

    This week’s NOT-so-sympatheic character was Daniel (has anyone ever noticed how much he looks like Ty Pennington?). He, as usual, had slept around every night of the week, and in the process lost a very important watch. Betty’s mission was to visit the women one by one to find the watch. In the process, we find out that Miss “Monday” was Amanda, and Daniel didn’t even remember it. This whole subplot was sad, and thought-provoking. But Daniel came out of it looking like a real jerk.

    They further developed the plot with Betty’s father (who also showed some great comedic talent this week) – in a pretty unsurpising way. So, I guess Betty will be fighting with ICE instead of HMOs in the future.

    Daniel also confronted his father about his affair, and had lunch with his mother. (Judith Light? JUDITH LIGHT? – How the heck did she get so OLD? Considering I used to have a crush on her, seeing her look so old makes ME feel old). Oh, well.

    All in all, this was a wonderfully funny, well written, well acted episode.

    But there’s a problem. They’ve totally dropped the “unnattractive girl surrounded by beautiful, superficial people” premise of the show. It’s as if the first three episodes never happened. Betty not only fits in, she’s actually looked up to by most at Mode. This premise was what drew me to the show in the first place. I had a personal connection. I’ve always boldy walked into situations where I’m surrounded by people who consider themselves my betters. Not because I’m some bold activist for the little people, but because I just don’t know any better. If I want to do something, I do it – society be damned. I REALLY identified with the Betty character. It was ME on the screen.

    Well, a female, hispanic, New Yorker me.

    Anyway, I’ll keep watching the show, because I’ve invested a good amount emotionally to it. I guess I just need to grow up and enjoy the ride.

    Episode Parental Advisory: Well, this week’s show WAS all about “sleeping around”. However, if you have teens, this episode would be a good teaching tool about the negative effects of promiscuity. Pre-Teens Zaphod and Trillian know what sex is, and they know that unmarried people have “sleepovers” on TV, but they haven’t yet put the two together.
    Betty tastefully refers to having lost her virginity to Walter.
    Justin is, well, Justin.
    I think the show has figured out that it’s in the 7pm CST timeslot. Nothing objectionable here.
    Your mileage may vary.

    Make Like A Tree

    One thing about living in the Hillwood/West Meade part of Nashville: trees are everywhere. Not the decorative, “we’ve cut down a forest to buid this subdivision so let’s plant a few paltry trees” trees, but true, indigineous foliage. in fact, in my neighborhood, it looks like the houses were planted in the forest for decoration.

    This is a wonderful thing in the summertime. If it weren’t for the blood-sucking insects, and the stifling humidity, going outside would actually be possible because of all the shade.

    However, autumn – for lack of a better word – sucks. Oh, it’s beautiful. This year has been particularly spectacular. But those tons of spectacular leaves do something interesting in the fall. They FALL.

    First come the acorns. We have three humongous oak trees surrounding our house. The other day, I was outside with my children trying to enjoy the beautiful fall weather. We watched in awe as a flock of blackbirds decided to pay us a visit. Little did we know they would be mocking us.

    They flew from oak tree to oak tree, and every time they lit, a shower of acorns would descend upon us. Of course, it was all fun and games until Trillian got hit on the noggin by a few.

    After the acorns, the leaves start to fall. Oh, they tease us at first. By the first weekend of autumn, we have a dusting of multi-colored leaves in our yard and driveway. We happily get out the rakes and whistle while we gather up the leaves (while dodging acorn showers) and dump them in the woods behind our house.

    This was last weekend. I was feeling pretty good about myself: the yard and driveway looked neat and clean. We had worked hard. We were tired, but it was a good kind of tired. Then I looked up. 90% of the leaves were still on the trees!

    The next day, the leaf dusting was back. Then it rained. This is a very bad thing. You see, we live on a hill that is just a little less steep than Mount Krumpet. Wet leaves on a 45-degree concrete driveway might as well be ice. My Scion xB barely made it up the driveway, and I left in my wake wet, twice as slippery, crunched-up leaves. Can’t rake ’em when they’re wet, they just turn to mud. Might as well go leaf-skiing.

    So, the next 4 weekends or so (when it’s not raining), I will fight the Battle of the Leaves. My children will cease to think that working with the leaves is fun. So soon, it’ll just be me and them. Man against nature.

    And Nature toys with me, then laughs in my face. For every ton of leaves I haul (I think I’ve actually raised the height of my hill with leaves alone over the years), she’ll drop 2 more tons. A leaf blower? HA! The wind blows pretty strongly on my hill, always straight back against the direction I’m trying to blow the leaves. They don’t move forward, they move straight UP, then back in my face.

    No, I must fight this battle the hard way, and I must do it alone.

    This, too shall end. When winter arrives, the evil leaves will be gone. Winter in west Meade is glorious.

    But don’t expect me to get excited in the spring when the buds come out on the trees.

    Random Ruminations

    The Ugly Betty review for this week will have to wait until later tonight. Life has kept me distracted. Thank God for DVRs. Tonight, since it’s so blah outside, we’ll have pork chop pie and hot chocolate while catching up on Lost and Ugly Betty.

    Harold Ford Jr and Bob Corker:

    Make it.

    I’m politically aware enough that I can size up the candidates pretty quickly and know which way my vote is going. I knew by two hours after they had called the primary who I was voting for. I would imagine that 80% of the rest of voting Tennesseans decided fairly early as well. The rest are so inattentive or squishy that “the bimbo” ad will actually sway them, one way or the other.

    Most of us have made up our minds one way or the other. Those who haven’t are not serious people. Instead of talking past each other for the next two weeks (and making enemies out of people who should be friends), let’s talk about something more consequential.

    Like Dancing With the Stars.
    How the hell did I get drawn into watching this show? (Sara Evans). All I know is, even with my favorite (Sara Evans) off the show, I still watch. And although Rachel absolutely hates what Joey has become , he’s one of my favorite dancers left. He really knows how to dance, his partner’s HOT, and the bald thing is just what men do when their hair starts thinning. It’s their way of saying, “I meant to do that”.

    Jerry Springer has made this season. I’ve always severely disliked the man, but on this show he was VERY funny, sympathetic, and a pretty good dancer for a 62-year-old. He’s been voted off now, so the laughs are gone. At least we still have Emmitt Smith!

    I’ll leave you with my Slartibartfast Truism of the Week:
    Every generation thinks it’s the first one to discover that sex is good and war is bad.

    Friday Photo – 10/27

    Zaphod and Trillian getting close with the spaghetti Cow in front of the convention center in Boston,MA .

    One day, I’ll post about our absolutely insane road trip from Nashville to Boston, summer 2006 .

    I Think We’ve Found Her Signature Signoff

    Dork and Mindy

    Walk – no – run to iTunes or wherever you get your music and get Mindy Smith’s new CD Long Island Shores. It is, in a word, incredible. Better than her first (which was quite good).

    If you can hear the title track and not be moved to tears, you have no heart.

    Tennessee is a song I’ve been trying to write for 10 years. There are very few writers who can use so few words and still paint so vivid a picture.

    Little Devil comes across as flirty, You Know I Love You Baby is almost sultry.

    I’m Not the Only One Asking is a full-blooded conversation, which puts most of what passes for Contemporary Christian music to shame.

    I just can’t get enough of this new collection.

    Of course, considering the fact that I’ve been in full testosterone mode today, you might ask how a 42-year old Nascar Republican computer-geek could be going ga-ga over a female singer-songwriter. One that probably hangs out in Hillsboro Villiage with Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. How girly-man of me.

    Well, good writing is good writing. And even though I’ve put out a few decent songs in my time, this young lady is in another league. And her voice, oh that voice! Listen to Angel Doves from her first CD. I can’t put into words how beautiful her voice is on that song.

    So I say to you: embrace your inner coffee-house, clove cigarette-smoking, Prius driving girly man. To hear the heavenly music of Mindy Smith is worth it.

    Then, go shoot off a few M-80’s and say “How ’bout them Titans” to your male friends. No one ever has to know…