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Category Archives: fatherhood & parenting

Listening to Rosanne Cash speak at the Times Center got me thinking about what “The List” I give my children would look like? What kind of intellectual/cultural legacy will I leave for them? What legacy will I be able to forge for them?

My father and I do not talk about music though we have argued politics.

Rosanne says this on her blog about The List:

The songs were culled from a List of "100 Essential Country Songs" that my dad made for me when I was 18 years old. It could have easily been called "100 Essential AMERICAN Songs", as the list covered every critical juncture in Roots music, from early Folk songs, protest songs, history songs, Appalachian, Southern blues and Delta bottomland songs, to Gospel and modern Country music. This list is not only a personal legacy, but I have come to realize it is also a cultural legacy, as important to who we are as Americans as the Civil War, or the Rocky Mountains.

Determined by time and place, my “America” is different than Rosanne’s. In 1973 when she was 18 and her father presented her with his list of “essential songs,” I was still in the single digits (born 12 years later but a day earlier). By the time I turned 18, the synthesizer and scratching had become as mainstream as the guitar and the fiddle.

And of course ethnicity plays a role. The word “country” has additional implications for me and my children (though we are all American born). A list of influential (if not essential) American songs for my children would have to include Jacky Cheung, Leslie, Faye Wong, and Andy Lau. These Cantopop singers made it far enough across the language barrier to reach me without Youtube or MP3 file-sharing.

They were influential partially because they represented a “modernizing” of what I perceived as Hong Kong music (which seemed overly preoccupied with ballads and overly “artificial” sounding synthesizers like the sound bites to 80s video games). These singers seemed to have a deeper understanding of the art of the English pop song and successfully bridged the aural sensibilities of both languages (English and Cantonese).

As a Second Generation ABC (American Born Chinese) I have a faulty grasp of Cantonese (my parents’ language). As Third Generation ABCs my children have no understanding at all of my parents’ (their grandparents) language. Everyone speaks English! (which is good in the respect that we have assimilated well but difficult in terms of a cultural legacy.)

I have written about the importance of my children learning Chinese. After reading about The List, I feel it is important that my children also have an understanding of the culture (art, music, and literature) that enriches their heritage as Asian Americans (or more specifically Chinese Americans).

(Digging around Youtube, Leslie Cheung’s Monica brought back memories. I couldn’t resist closing with it… )

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I remember our first Christmas together. I had gotten her one of those hand-held electric back massagers (which she asked me to return). She had gotten me a DVD player (which we had to buy a new TV to accommodate).

And we had a live tree that we bought from a reformed drug addict who was selling them outside the Rite Aid on Grand Street. He brought it to our apartment in a shopping cart that rattled and jangled across the islands on Delancey. He had a little hatchet he used to trim off the lower branches so the tree would fit into the stand. We didn’t question it at the time but later that night we kicked ourselves for being so naive. We let a self-admitted drug addict into our home with an axe.

There is a picture of the four of us (our youngest just over a month old) with Santa at Macy’s. It was the last time Christmas didn’t feel like a hassle. By “hassle” I mean it was the last time Christmas didn’t feel rushed or contrived. And by “contrived” I mean it was the last time Christmas felt like a celebration rather than an obligation.

I’ve been telling the same joke lately. For many of my friends and acquaintances, it is their babies’ first Christmases (or Hanukkahs). I’ve been telling them (jokingly of course): Enjoy baby’s first Christmas (or Hanukkah) because pretty soon he’ll (or she’ll) be asking for stuff.

I don’t mean it in a mean way. It’s not a cynical statement on the commercialism of Christmas and human greed. It’s more an amusing “circle of life” observation on my part. It’s normal child development for my boys to want specific things. It is also normal for them to want what their friends have. It’s a sign they are becoming self aware and constructing a personal aesthetic. It’s also a sign they are becoming socially aware.

A train set is no longer a train set, it is the Thomas the Tank Engine train set like the one [Insert Child’s Peer’s Name Here] got. A video game is not a video game , it’s a DS like the ones [the ominous] they have at school.

My boys are maturing and asserting themselves. The catalysts determining their desires is inconsequential for now. We will eventually have the “talk” about not mindlessly following peer groups but for now it is enough they are becoming sensitive to the norms of their peer group.

That said. It doesn’t mean I don’t get a little bit sentimental about the days when it was enough that the present was from me. With their newfound desires comes new burdens not to disappoint.

… humbug.

Elizabeth Bernstein writes about disappointing holiday gifts from husbands/boyfriends to wives/girlfriends in her Wall Street Journal article, “The Gift that Needs Forgiving.” It seems the “thought” is not enough.

After recounting several tales of “inappropriate” gifts she has been told, she concludes:

You shouldn’t need a gift consultant (or a marriage counselor) to tell you these presents are wrong. They’re utilitarian. Unromantic. Ugly. And, in many cases, more suitable for a man, or a cleaning woman, than the love of your life.

I am reminded of Cordelia’s plight in King Lear. She ineffectively expresses her love for her father and is cast out. However, the moral Shakespeare posits is the polar opposite of Bernstein’s. He chooses to show superficial gestures of affection paling in the light of those that are more subtle and genuine.

As I read Bernstein’s article, I felt a swell rise from my gut. It wasn’t the holiday sweets charitably giving me a second taste. It was annoyance. As clever as she was in her article, she (perhaps inadvertently) portrayed women as shallow, demanding princesses whose emotional investments are in tokens of homage instead of more meaningful, potentially sincere gifts.

To illustrate my point, Bernstein includes Tom Valentino’s story among the tales of disappointed wives and girlfriends. He is meant represent the “men’s perspective.” He tells of his upbringing and its influence on his values.

In his parents’ house, Christmas was all about religious values—and food. Gifts were an afterthought.

“I started to think, well, we have three kids already, so no need for anything from Victoria’s Secret,” he says. “And I bought her a fancy watch last year for her birthday. How many of those does she need?”

Then he remembered his wife had said she needed a vacuum and a bigger pasta pot. Off to Macy’s he went. “I could almost smell the sauce cooking with meatballs, sausage and braciole,” he says. “How could a woman not be happy with these?”

He found out, because the gifts made his wife cry.

What would have been an appropriate gift? For the most part, the true desires of the women included in the story are never revealed. Is it a matter of not knowing what you want but knowing enough that you don’t want what you were given?

I am reminded of “Rosebud” and a little snow globe given by a man to a woman. She rejects the gift and goes on to say he never gave her anything of value.

Bernstein concludes:

Sometimes men aren’t listening to their wives. But just as often, women aren’t clear about their desires. They want men to pick up on their subtle clues, rather than telling them outright what they’d like. As one woman I know explains, “It means we are special to them if they detect what we want without us telling them.”

So what’s a Rice Daddy to do? The Asian side of me says: Gift Cards! The American side of me says: That’s so “utilitarian, unromantic,” and “ugly.”