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.

Old Family Portrait

Old family portrait

I found this pic­ture at my uncle’s house. It is:

  1. Hilarious
  2. Hilarious
  3. Hilarious
  4. All of the above

How weird is it that I did­n’t even rec­og­nize myself. And look at those glass­es! They were my first pair, which prob­a­bly means I was around 14 or 15. Apparently, I was still wear­ing my cal­cu­la­tor watch at that age.

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.