3.05.2016

What a Difference a Generation Makes

Although my dad and I are very different people, it is natural for me to see him as a yardstick for my maturation as a man, husband, father, professional, and citizen.  Such is the subject of today's post.  It is my hope that this post simultaneously honors him and allows me to some self-reflection.

To begin with, the title says it all.  What a difference a generation makes.  He would be considered "first generation in the US," and consider for a moment what that entailed: making it, in a new country where the language, cultural norms, and social networks are all foreign.  (By the way, it's no coincidence that I am now on the board of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, which recognizes how difficult this is, even for people as well-educated or credentialed as my dad, and provides all kinds of useful resources to help people in this situation to thrive in this country/state/city.)

That generation gap is, really, everything.  My dad chose a highly technical career path so that he could make good enough money to make sure my sister and I had every opportunity and advantage growing up so we could succeed in our lives and in this country.  In additional to his professional path, he made choices in the social dimensions so we had a strong tie to our home culture, whether sending us to Chinese school (which I failed miserably at) or getting us involved in Taiwanese youth leadership activities (cute girls there = I was significantly more motivated).

Our choice of extra-curricular activities solidified the foot we had in our new culture: baseball, soccer, gymnastics, ice skating, swimming.  Of course, what Asian parent didn't make their kid learn a musical instrument, and so we did piano too.  If there was any time left over in his life or ours, it was to impart on us other important lessons, like respect for nature (National Geographic subscription, endless nature documentaries) or taking care of your body (exercising together as a family, whether at the local community college track or on a long nature hike).

You will find some of these themes in my life and in my parenting.  Poor Aaron and Jada are subject to Chinese language tapes, nature documentaries, and individual and group exercise outlets.  And, more broadly speaking, I've inherited my dad's absolute commitment to doing right by the children, whether in providing for them or in otherwise preparing them for their own lives.  In these senses, the proverbial apples has not fallen far from the tree.

And yet there are some considerable differences.  I came to faith through my friend and his church community, so Christianity is an overarching influence in my life and so we have church activities and spiritual gatherings that were absent from my childhood.  Also, whereas my mom stayed home and handled most of the kid and home tasks, Amy and I have a more balanced division of labor, so the roles that were more distinct in my parents' parenting of my sister and me are more shared out between my wife and me.

Finally, my job involves running the business and getting new business, so my extra-curricular outlets get me into issues and circles that help me be out there with my work hat on, like sitting on boards or getting involved in my local civic association or going to business events.  Whereas my dad hewed to things like Taiwanese gatherings, fitness events, and coaching my baseball team.  Notably, my dad's activities had a lot of intersection with our lives, whereas my activities have very little if any intersection with my kids'.

Ultimately, as a dad you want your kids to take from you the values you hold dear but live them out in new ways commensurate with the new contexts in which you're growing up.  I think I can say that that's largely what's happened.  A generation between my dad and me has also included a cultural/language/country gap and a faith gap.  Though they won't have as far to bridge, maybe Aaron and Jada will find someday that there is a lot to compare and contrast for them as well.
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