My Parents’ Daughter

Faded photograph of an Asian woman and man in sepia

I have spent many years claiming that I am, above all, my mother’s daughter, and this is true. My mother raised me alone for as long as I can remember. She loved me far more than she loved herself. She sacrificed everything to give me a chance at a life that was better than her own. She was beautiful and brilliant, kind and generous, but also at times lonely and prone to outbursts of anger. All of this, I have seen or been told is reflected in me.

I did not grow up with my father, but I realize that I am still his daughter, in ways that mirror traits of my mother, and in ways that are distinctly his. I am a charmer and a quick thinker, incredibly impatient, have unreasonable expectations of myself and others, and often struggle with desire and deservingness. I am hard to live with and want things my way. I want all the things, even if I have learned to suppress those wants in fear of judgment of others.

For most of my life, my parents have been polar opposites in my mind — my mother representing all that is good and pure and my father representing all that is bad, above all selfishness. But now that they are both gone, I am left to reflect more honestly and with nuance on who they were and who they are, who I am and how I am a reflection of them. I realize that things are not so simple, that no one is ever all good or all bad, that purity and selfishness aren’t always moral standards to ascribe to or to be avoided.

My mother’s self-sacrifice became such a model to me. Her deep belief in swallowing her own pain, putting everyone else’s needs before her own, and delaying her joy, set me up to believe that I should do the same because I, for so long, believed that to honor these beliefs was to honor her life, to finally give her freedom.

My father’s unwillingness to compromise himself for others and desire to be loved and admired, in spite of all the things that made him impossible to live with, became a subconscious weight in my heart, inescapable but laden with guilt.

I love easily; I give easily; I sacrifice easily — this is my mother’s legacy. I want so much that I have denied myself; I am never satisfied; I can be so hard to live with — this is my father’s legacy.

What is left of those legacies?

For many years, possibly my whole life, I have been almost completely unable to choose myself. I have been so afraid of the judgment of my family, my community (those that I have worked so hard to earn respect from), and even total strangers, that I choose based on calculated risk (leaning always towards safety) and based on the desires of others. I never want to let anyone down.

In doing so, I have settled for so much less than I deserve.

I say this not because my life is not beautiful in so many ways. I am deeply loved, held in my hardest moments. I live a life of contribution. I have had so many incredible experiences and have worked so hard to be where I am personally and professionally.

I say this because I am searching to live a more honest, authentic, and integrated life — a life that dares to ask for more, to dream of the seemingly impossible, to love wholeheartedly, to live freely — after neatly compartmentalizing my whole life into manageable parts of myself that no one sees completely.

It is HARD.

It is especially hard in an academic setting that keeps pushing for more. It is hard in a society that leaves little room for women of color to want, within and without multiple spheres of judgment. It is hard carrying the legacy of my parents.

But, I have been doing hard things for years; it is also a part of their legacy.

I am my parents’ daughter.

But I am also myself.

I am learning and unlearning.

I am choosing my own legacy.

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