Tough love

Graphic+courtesy+of+Canva.

Graphic courtesy of Canva.

Huy Huynh, Contributor

“Huy! I need to talk to you right now!”

The words echoed off the walls like a giant bell ringing in an empty hallway. Never failing to obey a command, I got up off of my bed and rushed downstairs to meet my dad’s booming, demanding voice. That same voice I’ve grown ever so familiar with hearing every time I messed up. Knowing something was wrong, I acted as casually as I could, making my way to the kitchen and letting out a fun “what’s up?” before turning the corner to meet them. 

They probably just want me to do something, that’s all. It can’t be anything serious. It’s probably nothing.

Had I known the magnitude of my problem, however, I would’ve never done anything as stupid as even stepping a foot out of my room. But I did and when I saw my mom’s distressed face, my dad’s cold dark stare, and that dreaded yellow envelope with my name while turning that corner, my stomach dropped.

“What’s up? There’s a C on your report card, that’s what’s up!” my dad’s steely, sharp voice yelled. “How the hell did you manage to get a C on a subject as easy as 7th-grade art?!!”

All I could do was look at him, my face red hot with shame and failure, tears starting to form in my eyes. For the next minute, I just stood there, having no clue what to do, what to say, or even how to react. I was lost, alone, and scared, feeling abandoned by my parents who just looked at me. Their faces filled with anger and disappointment for that whole minute. It felt like an eternity of shame.
Why can’t they just let it go! It’s just art class!

Calming my raging thoughts and mustering all the strength I had, I spoke, “It’s only a C in art dad, please it’s not that bad. It could’ve been a subject as important as math.” 

My dad stared at me like I was a lunatic. So much so that if there hadn’t been any context as to what was going on, I would’ve probably thought I had killed somebody based off their faces. He opened his mouth to speak and what came out was the most heartbreaking thing I’d heard in my whole 13 years of life. 

The thing that I wished I would never have to hear: “You’re a disappointment.”

I’ll never forget this moment. Like a nightmare that never goes away, it plays in my head pretty often. My fear of failure stems from this very moment of my life, but in a way that fear has made me put my all into everything I do. But that wasn’t the important part. 

A question I’ve always wondered about was why were my parents always so hard on me? 

Good was never enough. 

Great was only ok. 

Outstanding was just good. 

That was how my parents raised me growing up and it left an itch that needed to be scratched. A never-ending itch to meet my parent’s standards and to make them happy. It angered me. It angered me that I could never do enough, it angered me that I was never praised for my efforts, it angered me that they looked at nothing but my flaws. And in the heat of the moment, with tears streaming down my face, I muttered the question with all the built-up anger, sadness, and spitefulness I had in me.

“Why are you guys so hard on me? Do you hate me?”

My dad and mom looked at me with confusion, their anger disappearing in an instant.

“What did you say?” my dad said.

“Why are you so hard on me all the time!” I repeated a little bit louder.

Then there was silence. Long and empty silence. During this silence, I saw a lot. I saw my dad shed a tear for the first time since the death of bà nội, his mom, and my grandmother. My mom looked like she was about to cry as well. After a while, my dad wiped the tears from his eyes and looked at me again. This look wasn’t out of anger or disappointment or anything negative, however. This look was the same look I saw in the photographs of him holding me as a little baby. That calm look of love and thoughtfulness.

“We don’t hate you, Huy. In fact, we couldn’t be more proud of you.”

I was dumbfounded.

“You are our child. More than that actually, you are the firstborn kid from our family in America. We want nothing more than to see you work hard and give it your all. When I first came to America, I didn’t take school seriously. I got bad grades and said the same thing you just said. ‘It’s only art or it’s only English.’ Do you see how hard I have to work now? How hard we have to work? Your mom has to rub feet for a living. Does that sound enjoyable to you? We don’t hate you son, but we are hard on you. You have the biggest opportunity of your life and we want you to take it. That is why we push you so much. Why we always say you can do better because we know you can.” 

Just like that everything clicked. It felt like an elephant had just been lifted off of my chest. I finally had the answer to the question that had been mentally and emotionally draining me ever since I started school as a little kid. I finally knew the answer to why they had always pushed me so hard in life. I realized that their intention was never bad and that they did love me. 

It was just … well … tough love.