My parents are the only two people that I feel so personally damaging to my wellbeing that I've chosen to cut off ties with. It's not something I share often but I don't hide it or feel shameful either. Over the decades though, they became more human as I got older and found compassion for two very brilliant and capable people riddled with troubled values and emotional immaturity. But I can say I'm grateful for some of the things they did right.
They always made sure their two daughters, born in the 70s in patriarchal Korea, never felt that we were not good enough. If anything, I was explicitly told that I, a girl, can do better than any man, in school work, in owning a business and in leadership. They taught me taking a backseat was never an option. If there were a slight possibility that a teacher or an adult put a conflicting thought in our heads, they declared a battle and made them pay. These two people who brought me a lot of pain, sadness and agony, were undoubtedly also an army behind my back, unwaveringly, when it came to equality. Sis and I were the same people then as we are now. Seo was a class president for all of the years I can remember, and I read, wrote and mothered other kids. We never doubted we could do anything we set our minds to.
The first time Seo and I met my now-ex husband, he tried to give us direction to get out of the area we were in. He was immediately dismissed by both of us. Months later he said, "You and your sister cannot be told you can't do something. Your backs get straighter, you immediately stand up taller and broaden your shoulders as if you are ready to fight." I always tucked that observation away. In our 30s then, it was a compliment that we became those women with lifelong practice of not taking "no/not good enough" for an answer.
I've always had way more sensitive and introverted nature that proving to my parents I felt I was good enough came at a personal price. I really would have preferred not to stand up or fight, but I learned to put on the armor if I had to fight. In fifth grade they made me campaign for class presidency because a teacher told me I should give up my spot for someone else and now we had to prove a point. I hated every moment of it and didn't win, but my parents took a great pride in the fact we stood our ground. Every morning during the campaign, I wanted to hide. But I showed up instead.
Add the lifelong practice of putting up a good front when your family life is burdened with alcoholism, violence and emotional abuse, I became a pro fighter. You channel all the anger and frustration into something positive, showing up for people and yourself.
This morning I find myself in that familiar feeling of getting into a battle mode even when I'm scared, sad and don't want to. I am reading the posts of you my friends, especially those with children, especially daughters, and especially minority women as daughters, and I think of my parents. At 42 and childless, your kids are all my future too, and I'll get up today and every day and do what I know to be right, so they have one more able advocate for them.
That is a promise.