When I was a little kid, I just wanted to be happy.
As I became a teenager and into adulthood, being happy was still my priority. I often hear people around me with aspirations earning a lot of money, a good career and becoming successful, travel the world, etc .. I didn’t have any of those aspirations. They were able to define what they can do and achieve to make them happy. And here I am, not wanting or have any yearning for those stuff, I just want to be happy.
I am one of 3 in my family. My oldest brother is 5 years older than me, my sister is 15 years younger than me. Whereas my brother and I grew up together in Saigon, Vietnam, my sister was born here in Australia.
Mum and dad was an arranged marriage. Mum come from a well off family but her upbringing was adhered and restricted to family’s expectations. She was told and was taught how girls shouldn’t go out and behave in certain way. She told me how much she loves clothes and how her brother don’t accept certain length and would have her clothes thrown from upper level down to ground level. She doesn’t like fish sauce but would be forced swallowing it repeatedly, with a cane waiting to strike when she won’t and she would then get pulled to school by her brother to tell the teachers how she doesn’t listen and ask them to discipline her. My grandparents wanted her to marry a smart boy and dad was a very academic kid known to be a good boy as he “looked after his grandma”. She didn’t want to but gave in to family’s expectations. As I’m writing this, my heart hurts and I’m crying knowing my mum never had a nice childhood nor had she ever lived.
Dad come from a poor family but he lived a carefree life. Though he’s poor, he had many friends and travelled around alot. He was free & was able to roam to wherever his heart takes him. His house door is always wide open welcoming everyone. Perhaps when you have nothing, there’s no fear to lose anything. Dad saw mum and her beauty took his breath away and he wanted to marry her.
My parents fought like cat and dog. They are black and white, left and right, cold and hot, north and south .. always at opposite end of spectrum. They can’t pass one sentence without fighting.
In 1986, dad left on a boat as a refugee. He risked his life for a better future for us. He sponsored mum, my brother and I and we came to Australia on Valentine’s Day 1990. I vaguely remember, though I don’t know for certain if it was my imagination or a reality but the night before dad left, electricity was out and in those dim light lamps, I heard soft promises were exchanged that mum will be strong to look after us and that we will wait for dad. Dad in return promised to stay safe and that we will see each other again. That may be the only tender moment I have witnessed between Mum and Dad.
Life in Australia was lonely and quiet. Dad was a single income earner. Mum attempted to help but decided to be a stay at home mum when she came home one afternoon and saw my brother hanging out with “naughty scary” looking boys. We lived in Cabramatta then and the streets were filled with drug addicts. She wanted to make sure she’s home for us everyday when we come home from school.
My brother and I used to share a bedroom. He doesn’t talk much but he always make me feel safe in his presence. Mum and dad fought a lot. Daily. There was never a day that we don’t feel a thick tension in the house. It was thick, and suffocating. There was never an afternoon/night passes by that my heart don’t beat at a rapid rate. The anticipation and the nerves got familiar but the rate of my heartbeats never reduced. I remember nights I held my sister close and keep repeating everything is ok as we tucked each other into bed together as the screaming and yelling were outside the door. My sister and I bonded through those years. We were each other’s shadow and comforter. I fell in love with my brother more and more as I saw how composed and calm he maintains for our sake. I knew he was stress and deeply affected. Not only did he witnessed my parents fight, he also witnessed my mum’s parents fought. I remember a sign my grandpa had up on the wall about “better to tolerate and say one less word to keep peace”.
Mum and dad struggle to end things. It was hard when there are kids involved. My sister was standing at the screendoor waiting for him. The sight would soften and breaks anyone’s heart. My parents would always say they can’t do it as they “feel sorry for the kids”. Their love for us kept them together but break them as individuals. Eventually, after an incident that alarms us all, Dad had the courage to move out, because it’s better for all. He only lives 5 minutes away from the house.
Till this day, dad would still provide financially to the family. He always took my sister to and from school and be there for her everyday, the way he knows how to.
I was reading on generations trauma on how our parents only know how to love the way they were taught and experienced. As two broken individuals, they loved us the way they knew. As I get older, I understand more. Instead of thinking they don’t know how to love us and be upset that they are so different to other parents, no picnic, no family homecooked dinners etc .. I now understand what they have endured all the years.
We have family gathering on special occasion such as birthdays and Xmas and it’s hard for mum as she doesn’t want to see dad. I never understood that but I understand boundaries now. Mum and dad are entitled to their feelings. They have suppressed and make sacrifices long enough.
This is us. A broken family. Mum and dad’s relationship are complicated but though we are broken, we are still a family and it works. They love us the best way they know how to. This is my family. These are the hands, the heart and the soul who raised me, love me and will always be here for me. They are the big puzzle pieces that complete who I am.
Looking at my parents, I identified what’s the most valuable, most precious thing I want in this lifetime. It’s to be happy, truly happy and be at peace in your soul.
Jan 27, 2021