When I was seven years old I wished that I were white, or had white parents.  I would visit my Canadian friend’s place and study her family and the interactions between them, realizing my family was completely opposite.  I love you?  Hugging?  These signs of affection were utterly foreign to me.  Toys? Pets?  It all seemed like another world – a world that I longed to be a part of, yet could not understand why my family, specifically my father, wasn’t like the rest of my peers’ families.  Why was my dad so mean?  Not just to me, but everyone!  I did not know how to fix the situation that I was in, but I soon realized that dating outside my race was the closest thing to distancing myself from my own race.

            At age twelve I had my first and last Asian boyfriend.  His name was Ivan, and he would always speak to me in Cantonese, and I would answer him in English.   Ivan liked basketball and was proficient in math.  He always wore basketball jerseys with the matching shorts (all reversible).  The duration of our tumultuous relationship lasted all of three weeks; its demise occurred when he asked me what my problem was.  I was sitting on the kitchen countertop one evening, my bare legs dangling as I played with the telephone cord in annoyance, trying to come up with excuses in order to get out of this tired conversation. 

“Why don’t you ever speak Chinese?  You are Chinese, aren’t you?”   His voice was serious, although the Chinese language often comes across as pretty serious, even if the conversation is light hearted.  One can usually tell if it’s funny right away if laughing is involved; however, laughing was a rare occurrence for Ivan.

“Why don’t you ever speak English?  We are in Canada.  I’m Canadian.  I was born here.  I go to school here.  I speak English.  I know how to speak English.  I don’t know how to speak Chinese properly!”

The kitchen light buzzed away and I held the phone tightly, angry with this boy for trying to change me in order to fit his mould of an ideal Asian girlfriend.  I was not going to take this sitting down.  The line was silent, but I was on a roll.  I jumped from the countertop, my little duck feet slapping the cold, white marble tiles, as I raised my fist while yelling into the telephone. 

“I don’t even like you!  You remind me of my dad!”

Click.  It was at that moment when I realized why I was not attracted to my “own kind” and was a race traitor.  Who wants to be with someone who is a constant reminder of his or her father? 

            My father, Simon, is a man of few words who often chooses to yell or grunt instead of speaking in what I would consider to be a normal voice.

“Oh he’s not yelling at you!  That’s just how he is, Erika!” my mother, Serena, would always say, rolling her eyes at my sensitivity and tears – a western trait she suspected that the public school system was injecting into me. 

            The first boy that I introduced to my family was Rob.  He was 6’3”, an artist, and white.   It took my father three years before he actually acknowledged Rob by his name.  I remember giving Rob warning about my father’s behaviour.

“Listen, my dad is mean.  He probably won’t talk to you but don’t worry about it – he doesn’t talk kindly to anyone, really.”

I had been lying stretched out across the couch, my head resting on Rob’s legs.

“No way!  It can’t be that bad…”

Oh, if only he knew!  Right at 5:45pm my dad opened the front door, with only twenty minutes of relaxation before having to motor off to his evening job.   The minute Rob had heard the keys jingle and slide into the lock, he pushed my head off of his lap and sat straight up, hands on his lap, eyes wild with fear.

“Hi, dad.  This is Rob.”

My father looked up at his eighteen year old daughter with this tall gwai lo (ghost man), in his house, sitting on his couch and watching his television, sighed heavily while shaking his head in what seemed to be disgust, and tromped off into his bedroom.  Not even a hello. 

“See, I warned you.”

“Is it going to get better?”  He looked like he was going to throw up.   “My hands are sweaty already!  He hates me.”
“Here’s hoping,” I mutter under my breath.

It did get better though.  By the time Rob and I were in the fifth and final year of our relationship, my dad had moved from the disappointed sigh to the grunts of recognition, and finally managed to utter “Rob” without having to gag or roll his eyes.  Although I’m sure he won’t admit it, my father probably misses Rob a little – who is going to mow his lawn and shovel the snow now without putting up a fight?

            Asian fathers are pretty stoic, and my father is no different.   My father always claimed that he was allergic to animals, and that was the main reason why my sister and I were not allowed to have pets in the house.  I had a rabbit named Lucky for a while, but he never was really lucky.  A birthday present from my godparents (I did not wish for a rabbit, asking specifically for a Super Nintendo instead, but received this mangled creature in a cardboard box, as if they had bought it in an attempt to save it from becoming someone’s dinner), Lucky was not an affectionate animal, choosing to sit in the corner of the cage even when the door was opened, and nipping my fingers whenever I tried to pet him.  I didn’t like him, but I never wished for death on an animal.  I came home one day to find the cage and its contents missing.  When I interrogated my dad, he told me he took Lucky out for a drive.

“Where?  To the 7-11 garbage dump?”

I caught him.  He started laughing, his shoulders shaking wildly.  My dad was an asshole and he knew it too. 

            Then, Casey came into our lives.  This fat, needy, scaredy-cat was now in our possession, much to my dad’s dismay.  My aunt couldn’t keep him anymore because Casey had gotten jealous of the newborn and attempted several times to murder both mother and child, trying to trip them while walking up and down the stairs.  But I wanted a cat desperately, as most of my Caucasian friends owned cats of their own.  All I ever heard from my dad was how much of a nuisance the chubby feline was to him. 

“He is too messy with his food!” my dad would exclaim, staring hard as Casey would meekly crunch on his kibble, ashamed, knowing full on what the conversation was about.  I always envisioned horrible thoughts of coming home from school, only to discover Casey missing and my father later telling me that he went for a quick drive to 7-11.  To my surprise, one afternoon after school, I walked through the front door and discovered my dad taking a nap, with the cat acting as a footstool for him.  They both looked eerily relaxed and content.  I tried to sneak by without being noticed, but the slight creak in the hardwood floor woke my dad, who was embarrassed to have the stereotype of the heartless Asian man shattered by a little cat nap.  Since then, I have also caught him speaking to Casey in Chinese affectionately.

“Why are you so fat and lazy?  You are just like me!” he’d exclaim, his foot massaging the cat’s back wildly, with Casey purring and drooling in bliss.

            These days, my father is the only one in the family who is concerned about the well being of Casey, since I am not allowed to have pets in my apartment building.  When I drop by my parents’ house, he will yell, I mean speak in an excited, yet stern tone, asking in Chinglish which brand of pet food he ought to buy. 

“How come we have to go all the way there for cat food? It’s so expensive!”

“Well that’s the food he’ll eat and that’s the food that I buy him!  If you don’t like it, ask Casey what he wants to eat then.”

Casey and I both look up at my dad, my eyes egging him on to speak to his feline friend, who was mewing intermittently and pawing at my dad’s foot.  He doesn’t bite. 

“Ugh,” he grunts, trudging up the stairs, his hand firmly on the stairwell’s handle.  The door slams shut.  Three minutes later I hear his car engine start.  I smile, knowing exactly where my father was headed.


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