On the surface, my dad is your typical Japanese-American man. He wears Dockers and button-down shirts–EVERYWHERE. He works in the medical field, plays golf, and is more of a thinker than a speaker. The thing about “thinkers” is, when they do speak, it’s usually about something important.
I don’t want to paint a portrait of my pops as some “Gandhi-like” deep thinker or the “perfect supportive parent” either. He is neither of those things. He is, however,, a realist. He wanted to provide me with the truths about the world that he had to figure out through his own struggle and let me decide how I would navigate them as I arrived upon them in my own journey.
Until I was 29, my dad actually never told me I was “beautiful”. What he did tell me was the “beauty” was never going to be enough. I think I was about 13yrs old when dad sat me down while I cried my eyes out due to some girls in my junior high making fun of me at school. The girls had torn me apart and now 20yrs later I can only remember a bit of the reason why…something about my hair, having “sideburns”, and not being skinny or pretty enough for the “cool boys” to make out with me. Burn. Dad was visibly shaken watching me cry and say things like “I want to bleach my hair”, “can I cut off my leg fat?”, and “I don’t want to live”. Thinking about it now, I honestly don’t know how he didn’t burst into tears himself. He did not though. Instead, he looked at me and told me something he would tell me dozens of times throughout my life. He said: “Amanda, the world is not built for your success. Statistics show that taller white men and women hold higher positions and more opportunities in society right now (remember this was 20yrs ago and my dad went to college in the early 1970’s). Unfortunately for you baby, mom and I didn’t give you the genetics of a tall white girl. You are short. You are brown colored. You have thick black hair and brown eyes. Your grandma gave you big strong calves and legs. You will ALWAYS look this way. You have to learn to navigate the world with what you have! You may have to try harder, work longer, be better! It isn’t fair but it’s just the world we live in.”
Now at the time my father first gave me this speech (cut to 10yrs later and I could recite it word for word as I roll my eyes) it was the LAST thing I wanted or thought I needed to hear. I wanted him to tell me I was GREAT! I wanted to hear “honey, you’re the most beautiful girl in the universe, to hell with those girls!!”. I was pissed. How could he shit on me like that? Why wouldn’t he just see my side and commiserate with me!! Join this pity party I was hosting!! It wasn’t until much later that I understood that THIS speech was exactly what that little awkward mixed girl needed. The world that was waiting for her over the next 20yrs wasn’t going to stroke her ego or soften the punches.
Of course, my dad also didn’t know that the pop culture beauty standards of the nineties would also shift into a J-Lo obsessed, “thick thighs save lives” chanting two-thousands. Things were no longer as blonde or as tall as they were in my formative years and I was sorta-kinda “in” by the time my mid-twenties hit! All of that aside though, I am not sure if I would have pushed as hard, been as outspoken, or had as much resiliency had it not been for dads tough talk. To this day I appreciate honesty over flattery so much more. I listen when others give me constructive and informed criticism and use is to grow and better my skills and mindset. Don’t get me wrong, no compliment has ever given me more life than when my dad told me I was beautiful in 2014…It’s just that by then, I realized it wasn’t the most important thing about me.