Typical Asian Fathers

My dad is a typical Asian father. He took a tough love, hands-off approach when raising his children, and showed his love by making sure I had enough and never letting me worry about money.

When my parents divorced and I moved into my grandparents’ home to live with him, he paid for my room’s S$500 renovations. When I entered Uni, he wired S$350 into my bank account every first and fifteenth of the month so I didn’t have to work while studying.

But like typical Asian dads, he was stubborn and emotionally distant. And for a while, I felt utterly let down that he was my dad.

The ‘typical Asian dad’ isn’t good enough for me

My father was 25 when he married my mum. Two years later, they had me; they waited for another two before they had my sister.

Growing up, I remember him bringing me and my sister cycling at East Coast Park on Sundays. He’d come home for dinner on the weekdays whenever he could, and put us to bed after the 10.00pm Channel 8 dramas when he couldn’t.

Somewhere between my becoming a young woman and my parents falling out of love, he stopped tucking me in or asking how my day went. And when my parents separated, it felt like he had stopped parenting me altogether.

He used to ask me if I had eaten because if I hadn’t, he’d make the walk to the nearby hawker centre to get dinner for me. But now when he asks, I know it’s an attempt at making small talk because his reply to my not having taken dinner is, “Oh wow, it’s so late already” before leaving for his girlfriend’s house.

Or when my sister tried to buy him a gift two Christmases ago, he reprimanded her not because the gift was “extravagant and a waste of money” but because my sister didn’t get a gift for his girlfriend too.

Confronting him opened up a can of worms and I remember him telling me to “suck it up” that I’m living in my grandma’s cockroach-infested house he doesn’t return to because “no one owed me a living”.

It was then, I felt my typical Asian dad had failed me completely.

Trying to get him to come to a compromise

I used to be really angry that my dad couldn’t be the father I wanted him to be. I would scream and shout, telling him how he only thinks he’s trying his best, and how his best wasn’t good enough. He’d storm off in a huff, the gate clanging on his way out.

Admittedly, I behaved like a spoilt brat but it was only because I didn’t want to quantify my father’s affection in terms of dollars. I wanted a father who nurtured, engaged and guided me.

But in my father’s eyes, he was a good father and had done his part in financially supporting us. Now that his children were grown, he no longer had to be a parent to me and my sister.

It took a long while and many therapy sessions before I realised it wasn’t his fault.

My dad is a cock up but it’s okay

He presumed us to understand this was “the way things were” and we were to “stand on our own two feet”, ready or not. His expectations of what being a father should entail, no matter how skewed I believed them to be, were not wrong.

But in the process, he came off aloof and produced two kids who were resentful of him.

I think my dad failed to come across as a loving father because he was too focused on hitting adulthood milestones, which served as indicators of him having succeeded in life. He got married, bought a house, found a job, and had kids because it was “about time and the right thing to do”.

He did all these adulting things when he wasn’t ready. And when it was time to be a parent, he couldn’t unlearn what his own typical Asian dad—my grandfather—taught him about fatherhood and “the way things were”.

My dad probably didn’t know how to deal with children older than 10 and in turn, defaulted to the ‘tough love’ he was shown. In truth, my dad isn’t a terrible person; he’s just a flawed man who tried to raise his kids the best he could.

Understanding My Father

Understanding why my dad behaved the way he did doesn’t make it any less painful. After six long years, I’m still coming to grips with and trying to forgive how he turned away from his children and left the parenting to my mother.

Maybe he resents being a grown up and having to be a father. Maybe this is why he always leaves the house without a goodbye or no longer sleeps in his own bed.

Whatever it is, he’s still my dad. When this Sunday rolls around, I’ll make it a point to wish him a Happy Father’s Day.

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