Life lessons from my immigrant dad to reflect on this Father’s Day

In my infancy, my Bàba would cradle me in his arms throughout the entire night to avoid the blood-curdling cries that often followed being set down in the crib. In my teens, he opted out of teaching me to drive, and left the horror of being in a vehicle with a first-time driver to my mom. In my early adulthood, he solely took on the financial weight of my college education so I wouldn’t be buried in insurmountable debt upon graduation.

Born with nine other siblings, my Bàba and his family’s immigration to the states began shortly after the Khmer Rouge’s occupation of Cambodia. So, as many other children of immigrants will surely be able to attest, my privileged childhood was often interwoven with hardship-filled tales of the Southeast Asian countryside, where people were often dirt poor, but culture was aplenty.

While our relationship has never been as streamlined as the one with my mom, much of who I am has been molded by my dad — whether it be learning to choose the right paint at Home Depot (interior semi-gloss paint-and-primer-in-one is best for a room) or possessing a driven work ethic in a country of opportunity.

Below are a few life lessons from my immigrant dad that I’m reflecting on this Father’s Day.

1. When dining out with friends, aggressively fight over covering the check at restaurants. This is commonplace at Asian joints, but people will totally stare at you at American restaurants.

2. There are many different variations of “I love you,” whether in the form of “have you eaten yet?”, “don’t forget your jacket,” or “watch out for intoxicated drivers because it’s a long-weekend holiday.”

3. Disco balls and laser lights will never go out of style. Crank up the Chinese karaoke, mixed with the occasional English ‘80s ballads, until the floors reverberate and the neighbors lodge a complaint with the police department.

4. There is great significance in being able to communicate with people different from you. Learn as many languages as you can. Whereas I’m a Chinese school drop-out no longer fluent in my native Mandarin tongue, my Bàba speaks about seven different languages.


5. Eat more food, eat less rice. Rice is a filler. Why would you get full on something you could so easily make at home when you’re dining out? Hello! Pass the crab legs, please.

6. The gratification of doing something on your own is so much more rewarding than paying someone else to do it — whether it’s replacing two stories of carpet with wood or building a colorful, McDonald’s Play Place-inspired deck to surround the kiddy pool from Costco.

7. When there’s nothing to eat and you’re too lazy to buy out, salted duck eggs with jasmine rice is the ultimate go-to meal. Throw in some sardines in spicy tomato sauce for enhanced comfort.

8. Work your ass off even if it goes unnoticed.

9. Vietnamese coffee is the best type of coffee.

10. Let it go. This lesson’s a negation. My Bàba and his siblings have a tendency to hold grudges from decades ago, which might be some type of cultural thing. Witnessing first-hand the tolls of holding onto the past, I’ve learned that some things just need to be let go to preserve mental stability.

11. The dog will always low-key be the favorite kid. The dog never asked for money, nor has the dog ever dented the bumper of the Toyota 4Runner after a rear-end collision.

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