Posts tagged with "growing up"


Thumbnail: My grandparents

When I was young and it was summer, my maternal grandparents would come from Hong Kong to babysit me. It was a strange time in my life, what I consider my fetal years when I don’t remember learning anything, or having any awareness of my own consciousness.

My grandfather was a strong, intelligent, loving, gentle man, and my biggest hero. He showed me his war wounds, and taught me about states of matter. I even learned the term “civil war” from him when he used it (in English!) one time when some old black-and-white footage of Chinese battles came on the TV, but his English wasn’t great so I thought he was saying, “zero war”.

He was my favourite person in the world because he gave me the attention and stimulation I never got from my parents.

In one of those summers, I stole his cigarettes, two at a time so he wouldn’t notice, and hid them in the compartment of a red and white childrens drafting table. It was my way of getting him to stop smoking.

One time, I heard my grandparents shouting in the kitchen. They were fighting. My grandmother accused him of peeing on the toilet seat. It was the first time I heard them raise their voices at all, let alone at each other. I thought it was strange because at that age I was probably peeing all over the toilet seat, and no one ever yelled at me for it, so I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal.

My aunt and uncle were over because they wanted to spend time with them, and they came to see what the commotion was about. But they just stood there, listening, not wanting to take sides.

Eventually, my grandfather slowly bent at the knees, his entire body sagging, buried the heels of his hands in his eyes to rub out the tears, and said to my aunt and uncle with languishing pauses, “Sometimes, she makes me want to kill myself”.

And I knew he meant it.

I was too young to even be shocked, but for my grandfather to say something like that was completely out of character. He was invincible to me. I never understood it.

Until now.

Eventually, he went to live with my aunt and uncle for a while. They slowly became warmer when they saw each other a few weeks later. I don’t know if they ever talked about it.


In my last year of high school — which was also my first year at that school, so no one really knew me — I had a creative English class. We were given 15 minutes of free writing time at the beginning of each class, of which I mostly spent making verbal doodles to any kind of cinema stimulation I had recently seen at the time. Around then, it would have been quotes from Monty Python and lines from Casino. Anyone could put a CD in the stereo for everyone to hear, so one week I put my most recent mix in.

In the middle was Creep by Radiohead , and another guy in class suddenly exclaimed, “A great song!”, amidst the silence of our working minds. Everyone looked at him, then at me, and I felt a redness flush on my face.

That was followed by One by Metallica, and again he said, “Another great song!”, and the same chain of events happened as last time.

He was that edgy kid with bleached blond hair and always got in trouble for wearing walking shoes with his uniform. He did his own thing, had his own tastes, and fit in with the crowds he wanted, not necessarily the crowds that wanted him. I was that awkward kid who had no real friends, had a mop for hair, and a perpetually taciturn demeanour. To have him acknowledge my taste for two songs in a row had suddenly given me some kind of street cred because he was far more popular than me.

Some of the other kids started looking at me differently from then on.

The Measure of a Man

I’m still not sure if I feel like a man.

I always imagined that it’s a mindset you suddenly develop (or a way people view you) once you have kids, or pass 30, whichever one comes first. There’s this idea stuck in my head that adults are these people who don’t have fun. They don’t watch (and enjoy) stupid movies, or play Warcraft, or talk on the phone for hours. It’s probably from growing up with my parents, who never did anything that made them laugh or smile. Or maybe I’m having too much fun and freedom to really feel like I’m grown-up.

There was definitely some point between getting my first job and house, and now, that I started to feel like an adult. It was never a distinct line though.

It’s still foreign for me to say that I date women, as opposed to girls. To think I’ll ever grow out of saying that is very strange.

For now, the only thing I do that makes me feel like I’m a man is when I’m paying and filing my bills.

Defining Myself Through Others, Revisited

A deeper look at an old topic

Some time when I was a child, I asked my mother if she loved her nails more than she loved me. She had this kit full of nail tools — clippers, files made of metal and emery, toe separators, fake nails separated in little boxes, even a small hand-held, battery-operated dremel with different attachments used to grind, sand, and polish — that she would carry with her around the house. When I asked her this question, she picked me up in her arms, and vehemently denied it. I didn’t believe her though, not in my heart. She had always paid more attention to her nails than to me.

My dad was no better. One time I googled his name to find his work number, and came across an audio/visual site where he had written a small paragraph as a review on a projector he had. I was crushed. It was more effort than he had ever put into my life, sitting in a couple of short sentences in front of me. It would have been okay if he had been so uninterested in everything, but he wasn’t. He loved his car, he loved his home theatre, he loved his karaoke, but me he had no interest in.

So, before I had become a teenager, I started to look for some kind of approval from other people. At that point, it was Andrew and Alex. They were my best friends in grade 3 and 4, but I changed schools in grade 5. Even after this, I tried to hang out with them but they seemed to be more interested in school, and we lost touch.

Pretty soon, I realized that I wasn’t anyone’s “best friend”. I cried and I cried and I cried. I felt like I needed this to define myself. I needed be a priority to someone because I certainly wasn’t a priority to my parents. Without being someone’s best friend, I was worthless.

As an adult, you may feel insecure about certain aspects of your life. You lack self-confidence in areas where you feel vulnerable — intimate relationships, social situations, or work. Within your vulnerable areas, you feel inferior to other people. You are hypersensitive to criticism or rejection.

I still feel this way now. The problem is that the need isn’t being met. Everyone puts other people first, and the one foundation I believed I had in my life has crumbled. I’m never important enough.

Two things keep me from killing myself.

The thought that one day, I may mean something to someone. Or the thought that one day, I’ll be able to stop defining myself through others, and simply be content with who I am.

Either way, something’s gotta give.