Happy Father’s Day: Asian American Dads Write Letters to Their Children

Scott "CHOPS" Jung and his daughter.
Scott "CHOPS" Jung and his daughter.

Papa. Tatay. Ba. Bo. Father. Baba. Papi. Appa. Dad. Daddy. Abu. These are just some of the titles and names we call our fathers.

We acknowledge that Father’s Day can also be a painful time for some, reminders of absent or fathers gone-too-soon.

At CAAM, we also want to we celebrate fathers, including Asian American ones, and those who have taken on fatherly roles (shoutout to the Super Uncles!).

Inspired by Time’s “Letters from Dad,” we asked some Asian American dads to write letters to their children.

Scott “CHOPS” Jung

Hey Bug,

I wasn’t ready. Books, experts, doctors, nothing prepares.

Before you, I’d been responsible for two things: a turtle that didn’t last the weekend, and a hamster that went mental, spinning on one leg like a breakdancer until its demise. I didn’t even hold other people’s babies, fearing I’d fumble one. In your case I sorta had to.

Wasn’t ready for the poop. Tons. On me.  Throwup too. Even stinkier than poop. Speaking of smells, you had one smelly baby foot. The other one was okay.

Wasn’t ready for the smiles. I was never big on smiling. You are, even with two front teeth missing. Now I smile too, dammit.

Wasn’t ready for changes I’d make. Despite being Chinese with a natural love for tech, I never liked cameras. No urge to remember how things looked, how they were. Especially how I looked and how I was. Now I take pictures constantly. I’m in some too. Lots with you, smiling.

Wasn’t ready for changes I’d want to make. I’m the “drive for chips and ice cream for myself” guy, trying to be the “bike ride together for blueberries and peanuts” guy. The blueberries might be spoiled, we forgot to put them in the fridge (okay I forgot).

My biggest worry was teaching you to navigate this crazy world. But so far you’re doing great just being your dynamic, smart, friendly, spirited, joyful, outspoken self.  I consider it my duty to help you stay that way. Actually, when I grow up I want to be more like you.

Especially the outspoken part. You’re loud. That’s from your grandmothers. When they met each other, we heard them through closed car windows, in Chinatown traffic.

Wasn’t ready for the sappy stuff. So much hugs and kisses. Tears when I’m away. That mess is from your Mom!

So is the cuteness. People in this country statistically consider Asian men and Black women the least desirable mates, but hey we’re outliers. And we got ourselves a beautiful kid. All around.

For many people, Father’s Day is the only time we even think of letting our dads know they’re loved. I usually get your silly Pop-Pop a card with some kind of fart joke, and a gift certificate to a BBQ place. Usually late, like this year.

But we know.

With you it’s obvious from all the damn hugs and stuff, plus you say the L word all time. Make sure later in life you save that word for the right people, ones who mean it.

Speaking of later in life, they say once you hit your teens and start getting all independent and whatnot, I’ll be the least coolest person on the planet. I’m trying to be ready for that.

But for now I’m enjoying my temporary cool dad status.

Love (there’s that word),

Dad

Scott “CHOPS” Jung is a music producer/composer/writer/artist whose credits include scoring for 9-Man and Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story,” plus artists such as Kanye West, Ice Cube, Snoop, Bun B, Lil Wayne, The Lonely Island, and Nicki Minaj. He got his start as a member of the Mountain Brothers, the first Asian American rap group ever signed to a major label. To see and hear more, look for @CHOPSmusic on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, etc.

Mandeep Singh Dhillon

Mandeep Singh Dhillon familyDear Zoraver, Hazuri and Nivaaz –

As I approach my 13th Father’s Day as a father, I want to give you a bit of advice and encouragement to help you on your way.

You Can’t Be Anybody Else, so Get Really Good at Being Yourself. In 1969, your grandparents moved from India to England, and two years later to America, so we could have a better life. When they crossed the world to settle in rural North Carolina, our unique appearance invited as much racism as it did intrigue. I hope you never have to hear “you don’t look American” the way I did when I was a kid. But if you do, I hope you have the strength to hold your head high and push even harder to achieve your potential. Life is more about principal than popularity, so when times get tough, don’t lose faith in God and don’t lose your identity. The people around you will change, but you will always have to live with yourself. Know who you are and learn to be comfortable inside your own skin.

Ask “Why” – A Lot. Every inequality in history began to be addressed when somebody with determination asked “why.” If something seems unfair or does not make sense, I hope you will have the courage to ask “why”. If you don’t like the answer, change things. Your forefathers were innovators, and you have an obligation to leave the world in a better position than when you got here. Asking “why” will help you focus on the societal improvements you want to leave behind for your own kids.

What Defines You is What You Do Next. Mistakes happen. Things don’t always work out the way you or I hoped they would. Learn from mistakes and experiences, but don’t spend your life looking backwards. Your greatest work is ahead of you. I hope the three of you move from victory to greater victory, but if you don’t, remember that you are only one opportunity away from the greatest experience of your life. Never stop getting better.

Life can be filled with challenges. I want you to be equipped with inner strength, a positive attitude and perseverance. Live every day as an adventure, hold your head high, change what you cannot accept, build a better future and remember that your family is always there with love, support and encouragement.

Love always!
Dad

Mandeep Singh Dhillon is the Co-Founder and CEO of 1StudentBody (1sb.com). 

Giles Li

Giles Li and familyTo my three incredible kids:

It’s been two months since your Yeye – my dad – died. He was old, and you may also remember that he was getting more and more sick before he left us. I hope you know he loved you so much, and having you in his life made him happy. Before any of you were born, Yeye was not always happy, and also, sometimes your Baba and Yeye did not get along. But we always loved each other, and as you three came into our family, that love grew so much, that it became the only thing we felt, and we felt it every single day.

Being your Baba has taught me a lot about who I am, and the pure love that I feel for you three reminds me that your Yeye and Nai Nai felt that way for me! And I hope one day you all will feel that way about your own children.

One thing that Yeye taught me, and that I teach you is that you must always try your hardest. It doesn’t matter if you are the best or the worst at something, as long as you try your hardest. Sometimes I scold you for not trying; that is because this is the most important thing to Baba.

But I will tell you a little secret. There are times when I come home from work, and I feel as though I didn’t try my hardest. Those are the days when Baba comes home not feeling well, and asks everyone for extra hugs.

On those days, Baba is sometimes mad at myself. But when I see you together, it reminds me to be inspired, instead of down. It reminds me that you are better than my best; you are more perfect than the three most perfect kids I could have ever imagined. And that makes me remember that even after a really bad day, I can still have a good day tomorrow – because I get to start the morning with you, and that means I get to start my day happy, open-hearted, and in love.

Being a grownup comes with a lot of responsibilities, and sometimes it can be confusing. But you three are not confusing at all. I love you. Simply. Simply and so much.

Arybelle, you have been extra sad since Yeye died, but please remember that he loved that you were always so happy and smiley every day. He would not want you to change now, even if he is gone.

Cooper, Yeye was impressed by your curiosity, so never stop asking questions even when the answers are hard or make you feel a little bad.

Maxwell, I hope you will always remember your best buddy Yeye. You filled the end of his life with laughter, which makes it a little easier for everyone to say goodbye. And also, please stop peeing on everything in the house.

I don’t know what I would be without you three. But I do know that I am your Baba, and there is nothing in the world that means more to me than that.

Love,
Baba

Giles Li is the Executive Director of the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, a family-centered multiservice organization that gives children, youth, and families the resources and supports they need to achieve economic success and social well-being. 

Konrad Ng

To Suhaila and Savita –

KonradwithkidsAs I write this letter, I am sitting beside you while you are sleeping. It is morning. The summer sun is shining outside. I can see your beautiful faces. I can hear your breathing. I am counting your toes and fingers; same number as before, but not as tiny. Nothing feels more precious than right now. I want to put this moment in a bottle and keep it forever.

Being your dad has been my greatest achievement. Seeing you is the brightest part of my day. You remind me that the best parts of life are the simple pleasures of your company. Watching you dance. Listening to you sing. Feeling the warmth of your hug. Your presence in the world makes me want to be a better man.

I hope that I have been able to show how men can—and should—respect and empower women of color. I hope that I have been able to help you realize your potential as agents of change and as humans of conscience. You can change the world in small and large ways, you can remake the world through kindness, humor, art and activism. Your world already feels more complicated than the world I grew up in, and I hope that I have been able to help you learn how to navigate its tangles and knots. There will be times when life will not be easy. As your grandmother said to me, “If what you are doing was easy, then everyone would do it.” During those times of adversity and hardship, continue to strive towards being your better self – I am confident it will emerge. You will realize how powerful you truly are.

Wherever life will take you, please remember that somewhere in the world, I am marveling at the incredible person that is you, gushing over who you are, ever proud. Somewhere in the world, I am loving you with all my heart. Always.

Dad.

Konrad Ng is Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center – a national culture laboratory for exploring the global Asian Pacific American experience through exhibitions, public programs and digital initiatives. www.smithsonianapa.org.

Bambu

IMG_9975Dear Kahlil,

What more can I say that I haven’t already said – and continue to say to you everyday… You’re my everything, kid. I love you.

I remember holding you in the hospital and feeling your heart beat throughout your whole body. It was beautiful, son. It was music. When I hug and squeeze you now I feel it. I feel music. That’s the best way to describe how I feel about you. It’s nothing I can convey to someone else, because it’s how it makes me feel that is unique – there is no word. Everything you do is awesome to me! Thank you for keeping me on my toes – challenging me to be a better ant on the ant hill.

You are a piece of our community and I know you’ll prove invaluable to our continued fight for justice, Kahlil. Your Mommy and I love you ridiculously!

Love,
Dad

Bambu is a Dad, a community organizer and a performance artist. As an emcee, Bambu uses Hip Hop to help raise awareness around community issues – specifically youth in disenfranchised communities of color.

Bhajneet Singh

Bhajneet Singh family photoDear Ajeet Singh,

On day 1, as I held you in my arms the very first time, I realized that you were proof of God’s greatness. You somehow managed to form a body, hang out in 98.6-degree weather for 41 weeks (with no Air Conditioner), and come out into this world perfect and pure. You are my reminder that God’s blessings make the most amazing things possible.

On day 2 of your life, I was changing your diaper full of super sticky meconium and I was trying my best to get it all cleaned. Your patience wore out and you began to cry and I told you that I’m almost done. I rubbed a black dot on your bum with wipe after wipe while you cried and squirmed. After a few minutes, I realized the black dot was not meconium but just a skin blemish and all the crying and wiping was for nothing. I felt terrible, like the worst Dad ever, and I quickly put your clothes back on and held you in my arms. You looked up at me, forgave me with your eyes, and proceeded to fall asleep in my arms. You taught me that despite trying to do my absolute best, I will still make countless mistakes, but that forgiveness can happen within seconds.

On day 35, I was boiling some water to warm up your milk and it accidentally spilled and burned my entire hand. It had been 2.5 hours since your last feed, but you were crying as if you hadn’t eaten for a month. I ignored my burning hand and quickly picked you up and began to feed you. As you drank (for 15 minutes), my hand burned in agony, but the pain paled in comparison to you crying. Previously, I thought giving my leftover food to a homeless man as I left a restaurant was being selfless. But you took my understanding of the word from a first grade level to a high school level and you inspire me to attempt to be selfless.

On day 62, you hadn’t gone potty in 9 days. Although you were a happy baby, and our pediatrician said this is normal for breastfed babies, I just couldn’t fathom 9 days without going to the bathroom. Where was all that milk going if it wasn’t coming out? When you finally went later that day, your mom and I celebrated as if we won the lottery; we took pictures of the diaper and announced it to the world. You taught me the joy of celebrating and appreciating the little things.

On day 108, you started to hold your head up and your mom and I were ecstatic. It was as if you had gotten your PhD in neck control and we were the proud parents. We made videos and sent them out and people humored us with congratulations but nobody truly knew how we felt inside. Every small step you take makes me the happiest person in the world.

You are 122 days old, and you have already taught me so much. I hope that you can teach others the same concepts that you have taught me, and that you use every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. I pray that you can constantly remember God’s greatness so that you can battle the ego and that you realize the important things in life and are not tricked by the alluring distractions. I pray that you can have the strength to respond to life’s ups and downs with a radiant smile and that you laugh often and contagiously. I pray that contentment, compassion, love, and righteousness guide your thoughts, words, and actions and lead you to a life of selfless service. I pray that you never hesitate from doing the right thing and that you be a lifeguard helping others cross this ocean of life.

You give me the best Father’s Day present every morning when you look at me with a huge smile. I love you.

Dad

Bhajneet Singh is the president of Papillon Eastern Imports and contributes to the Sikh community of Los Angeles by being an avid volunteer for the Khalsa Care Foundation.

Photo by Anna Min.

Photo by Anna Min.

Bao Phi

Dear Sông,

When you were five, you came up to me and sang “this little light of mine.” You couldn’t tell I was depressed and full of anxiety. But for whatever reason you stopped singing and told me, “your little light is inside your heart, and uh, you should not let people make you mad or sad because that’s how people blow the light in your heart out.”

This is just one of the times you pulled me out of the bomb crater I fall into seemingly every day. There is so much I want to protect you from. The racists you fear and ask me to lock the windows against. The violence and hate that me and my family had to face daily, during the war and as refugees in America. The people who will want to tell you what you can do or who you can be or who try to hurt you because of what gender you are or who you decide to love.

And there are times when I doubt I can be a good father. When the world seems like a place I regret helping bring you into. When I am frustrated that you won’t listen to me, or that I can’t help you when you have nightmares, or fear I can’t provide for you or see you as much as I want to. These are the times when life feels impossible. It has nothing to do with love, because even in those moments of hopelessness I love you. It’s just that being a parent is hard. The hardest thing i’ve ever done.

You, my little loris, are worth it. As a baby, before you could talk, you would sometimes look over your shoulder right at me and smile, knowingly and lovingly. When you were a little bit older, you would sometimes get scared and nervous and shout, “daddy-ohs, daddy-ohs!” and reach for my hand. And recently, though you can’t read, you came up to me while I was wearing my “Nobody Loves an Angry Asian Man” shirt and put a heart sticker on me, and told me you loved me. You are proof that there is magic, and wonder, and love beyond my understanding and comprehension in the world. I thank you for that. Thank you.

Bao Phi is a spoken word artist, Program Director of the Loft Literary Center, and a single co-parent.

Gee_Fathers_Day_2015Brian Gee

Dear Lucas and Chloe,

I am so blessed to be your father. Both of you have given me so many wondrous moments that I cannot remember what life was like before you came into my life.

Watching you grow up and come into your own identities has been a privilege like no other. I take seriously the responsibility of helping you become the best people you can be; to help you reach all your dreams while also making sure you learn about your past and culture and its proper place in your life.

It’s been amazing not only to recognize aspects of both your parents in your personalities, but also how those aspects have melded with your own uniquenesses to become such strong independent little people.

Chloe, you are 8 years old going on 30. Thank you for keeping me and your mom grounded and pointing out any gaps in our logic when we give you reasons to do your homework or chores.

Lucas, your round-the-clock energy is something to behold. Thank you for helping us stay fit as we chase you around the house trying to get you to put on your underwear.

Every day, in between early morning wake-up screams of “It’s wake-up time Daddy!” and the inevitable cries of “I don’t want to go to sleep!!” every evening, I have had the greatest pleasure to see you grow up before my eyes. To see the excitement in your faces as you discover the world around you; whether it’s something as majestic as climbing to the top of a mountain or as mundane as learning to tie your shoe, I’m glad to have shared those moments with you.
​​
Your mom and I look forward to creating more memories with you both in the years to come.

Love,

Dad (or as Lucas would say, “D-A-DD-Y”)

Brian is an artist who lives at the intersection of art and technology, otherwise known as San Mateo, CA. He’s excited that dinosaurs are cool in movies again and looks forward to attending CAAMFest San Jose this Fall.

Sonny Singh CaberwalSonny Caberwal

Dear Rania, Arman, and Arjun:

I am so happy that I have you three in my life.  Your sense of wonder in exploring your new world has energized my life and given a new, broader sense of purpose.

While I’ve done virtually everything there is to do under the sun—from fashion modeling and being in a band that’s sold a million records, to corporate law and startups—being a dad is the most fulfilling challenge yet, and I’ve learned a lot.  Take these lessons and do with them what you will:

Lesson 1: Don’t worry too much about trying to figure it all out.  Adults have no idea what they’re doing- they’re just better at faking it.

Lesson 2: The greatest thing you can do for yourself is to find out what you’re capable of.  I’ve found 3 keys to unlocking your potential:

  1. Risk– Nothing ventured, nothing gained- or in sports parlance, you’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
  2. Reason:  Make sure you have a good reason before you take a risk.  While the reasons you take risks may change, the one thing that shouldn’t change is that you have a reason.  Everyone doesn’t need to believe in your reason- but you do.
  3. Relationships: People are the key to helping unlock your true potential.  Surround yourself with smart, good people- and remember that anyone can help change your life, so be nice.

Lesson 3: Dare to dream big dreams.  Those are the best kind.

Lesson 4: There are 3 ideas you can control that define your life experience:

  1. Positivity– Surround yourself with positive people.  Cut negativity out of your life.
  2. Perspective– Put yourself in other peoples’ shoes to understand them.  And there’s virtually nothing so bad that it can’t get worse, so keep it in perspective.
  3. Empowerment: You can do anything in the world that you want.  What do you want to do?  Close your eyes, see it in your head, and jump into it.

Lesson 5: Very few things are all good, or all bad.  Find the good in the things that seem toughest, and make sure to be aware of the bad in things that are too good to be true. 

Okay, that’s enough lecturing for one lifetime.   I promise that for as long as I live, I’ll make sure you never have to learn these lessons just by reading a letter: I’ll try to live them so you can learn by seeing.

You three inspire me to be a better person, and that’s the best gift you could ever give me.

At least while you’re in diapers.  Let’s revisit the gifting when you get old enough to help out around the house.

With eternal love and gratitude,

Dad

Sonny Caberwal is a serial entrepreneur and is currently the Founder & CEO of Bond.  

tran-family-1287Ky-Phong Tran

Dear Dominic and soon Donovan,

On my fourth Father’s Day, I think it’s safe to admit this by now: I am not a perfect father. 

Dominic, there was the day I was so exhausted that I put a clean diaper on over your dirty diaper— and then pulled your pants back on. After a few minutes, with the room smelling like stale Flaming Hot Cheetos, I finally figured out from your crying and giant badonkadonk what I had done.

There was the also the time at the Pasadena Rose Bowl playground that I turned my head and you disappeared. Those were the longest, scariest twenty seconds of my life. When I found you around the corner on an adult exercise machine being watched by a stranger, I’d never felt more relief or shame.

And just a few months ago, we had bought you groceries and some toys at the Target in Alameda. We took the bags in a cart to the parking lot and then drove off. Only I never loaded them into the car. When we got home, there was nothing in the trunk. When I drove back to the store just ten minutes later, there was nothing in the cart. That’s how my heart felt that day. Empty.

But hey, at least my mistakes have range, right? Pathos, logos, ethos.

Despite all this, I am better for you having you and raising you, Dominic. And when your baby brother Donovan is born next month, I will be better because of him, too.

How do I know this?

Because almost exactly a year ago, we were together in the emergency room. You’d been coughing so bad, you vomited. You and I arrived around midnight. We weren’t seen for three or four hours. We slept in a spare bed in a cold room with only a sheet to keep us warm. After they finally saw you and prescribed medication, we left. The sun was out. I was so tired, my eyes physically ached. But you were okay and that’s all that mattered. And I know there was no other place I would have rather been.

And just last month, you had your first dance recital at preschool. To be honest, I have absolutely no clue what it was about, just a vague recollection of butterfly wings and headband antennas and giggling and running around. But holy DNA-passing, the way I felt watching you flap your arms and spin around and be so fully in the moment, I knew for a fact that the heart was a muscle that day. A series of chambers and valves. A pump. And that day, as I uncontrollably gripped the seat in front of me, it pumped joy and happiness and most of all, pride.

Proud of you, of course. But also proud of myself for being the type of dad who shows up to his kid’s events. I didn’t have that. My Vietnamese refugee parents didn’t attend my games or events because they were busy working. I know they loved me but it still made me sad when other kids had their parents around.

So I wanted to be present for you. Because it’s important for the both of us.

Because when I’m with you, reading, talking, teaching, and yes, learning, you inspire to be a better person, husband, and father. To say you make me selfless is hyperbole, but you have taught me, forced me actually, to be less selfish, and that is remarkable in of itself.

I am not a perfect father. But you—your crooked smile, your giant eyes, your cool-ass toddler swag– make me want to be one.

Love, Daddy Bo

Ky-Phong Tran is a writer from Long Beach, California. His work has appeared in the Huffington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Register, Hyphen Magazine, and the anthology Dismantle. For more information, visit www.frequentwind.com.